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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Leora Kohn, center, stands with her parents Jessica and Yehuda.

Leora Kohn is greeted by ex-Teneckers who have made aliyah, including Sarah and James Raanan, Gila Pollack, Nava Wiesel and her grandparents Meryle and Roy Saslow.

The Glass family

The Lankin family from Highland Park are shown upon landing in Israel.

Leora Kohn

Exhausted and inspired, I landed a few hours ago on July 4, along with over 200 new olim from North America, on the first Nefesh B’Nefesh (NBN) charter flight of the summer. It was a special trip for me, but it was particularly life-changing for those I came with. These olim were leaving their homes in Teaneck, Bergenfield, Highland Park and many other places to make their home in Israel.

Although the NBN representatives and speakers all spoke about the olim making their home in Israel, for me and for many of the olim I met, a stronger theme emerged—one of reunions and families getting back together, actively planning to all ultimately end up together in Israel. Nearly everyone walking off the plane was met by family and close friends already in Israel. It was one big family reunion.

My old friends Yehuda and Jessica Kohn of Teaneck flew ahead to Israel last week to be there to greet their daughter Leora, who is joining the IDF after graduating from Ma’ayanot and spending her shana alef year in Israel. Leora is hoping to become an instructor in the IDF, as that is what many of the religious young women joining the IDF do, according to her mother, Jessica, who is the
associate principal and early-childhood director at BPY.

Jessica had emailed me earlier, saying, “People think we’re nuts that we flew ahead to meet Leora...I guess we are.” I emailed her back, telling her she wasn’t crazy. Watching them as they greeted their daughter along with close to a thousand others, with song and dance, reaffirmed my snap response.

I spoke with Leora and her lovely and tearful grandparents from Teaneck, Gerry and Tamar Goldfischer, who saw her off from JFK in her parents’ absence. I asked her what inspired and pushed her to make aliyah now. Leora matter-of-factly explained that she has spent a lot of time in Israel over the past few years, and seeing her Israeli friends sacrificing and giving of themselves to their country inspired her to do the same. “Joining the IDF now is the easiest way I know to integrate into the country,” she told me.

Her father, Yehuda, who is also the COO/executive director of RPRY, radiated only joy and happiness as they were reunited with their daughter in Israel. They plan to spend the next few weeks together before Leora heads off to the IDF and her new life, while her parents will head back to continue overseeing two great local schools in New Jersey.

Another lovely family from our area making aliyah was the Lankin family from Highland Park, Jeanne and Eric Lankin and their daughter Gabi. They were all making aliyah together and were looking forward to reuniting with their son, Benji, who graduated from TABC a few years ago, went to Yeshivat Sha’alvim and is now serving in the IDF.

When I asked them why they are making aliyah, Eric, the patriarch of the family with a long and distinguished career in the Jewish communal world, told me simply, “This is our dream.”

They explained to me that when they questioned their son, Benji, after his shana alef year in Sha’alvim on his decision to make aliyah and join the IDF, he retorted, “You raised me this way...what did you think would happen?”

Gabi and her parents never dreamed they’d be making aliyah on the same flight, as it was something they all wanted to do eventually but never really talked about doing together. It just so happens that the time was right for everyone and it is really making this experience all the more special, according to Gabi.

The Lankins will be renting in Chashmonaim and are confident they will find good jobs in their respective fields. Both Jeanne and Gabi Lankin are social workers by profession and are looking forward to working in their fields when they land. They are also confident that their family, including a married daughter in Fair Lawn and a son at YU, will all end up in Israel in the very near future.

Another family from Bergenfield, Yitz and Shira Glass, and their three young children ages 5 and under, also made aliyah. Yitz will be keeping his job at a leading New York City asset-management firm and Shira, a teacher at Yavneh Academy, will be helping the kids settle into their new lives in Modi’in. Yitz Glass’s grandfather was born in Israel and was a fifth-generation Yerushalmi, but his parents forced him to flee before the War of Independence. Yitz and his family will be the first descendants to move back to Israel, and this was clearly a special return for Yitz.

Like many of the other married olim with younger children, Yitz explained that the timing was right for him and his family. “My kids are all the right age and young enough to go as my oldest is five...and we have close family, the Samters, who also made aliyah from the Five Towns to Modi’in a year ago, who we will be living near.”

Another unique feature of this flight was the fact that due to the Indian prime minister landing at the same time in Israel, the welcome ceremony was held completely outdoors under a large tent, and due to the hot weather, there were no speeches by the many prominent Israeli dignitaries who usually address the olim and their families.

For nearly an hour, the assembled crowd just sang and danced together and reveled in each other’s company before the olim were bused back to retrieve their luggage and finish their immigration processing. The energy was incredibly strong and partially provided by hundreds of young men and women from various youth and summer programs in Israel and from North America, including a few I recognized from Bergen County as well. I am sure some of these young men and women will be back on future NBN flights, and I am sure that many of their families and friends will already be here.

A few final flight facts: The flight I went on included a diverse group of newcomers to the country, including 14 soon-to-be IDF soldiers, five sets of twins, 34 families, 78 children and 51 singles, working in a range of professions who will reside in communities throughout Israel. Over 20 percent of the flight (47 people) will be moving to Israel’s periphery, or locations in the north and south of the country outside of the center’s metropolitan areas.

Lastly, I’d like to extend a special thank you to my friends at Nefesh B’Nefesh and its partners, Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah and Integration, The Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael and JNF-USA, for enabling my journey as a media representative and for making these flights possible for our neighbors and friends. We at The Jewish Link look forward to many happy NBN-sponsored aliyah reunions and aliyah journeys in the future!

By Moshe Kinderlehrer, Co-Publisher

 Moshe Kinderlehrer is the founder and co-publisher of the Jewish Link of New Jersey, The Jewish Link of the Bronx, Westchester and Connecticut, the Monsey.com print edition and the Jewish Link Media Group.