I didn’t have one. I’m talking about a Nefesh b’Nefesh Olim Welcome Ceremony. NbN is the nonprofit that helped me “make Aliyah,” and they arrange for charter flights where the whole plane is full of Olim (immigrants) doing this. But I needed to be in Israel for work before the next scheduled charter flight. (They also book up blocks of seats reserved for Olim on regular EL AL flights, but again – I couldn’t wait for one of these.) So, I made the 12-13 hour flight solo. And although the AACI (Association of Americans & Canadians in Israel) arranged for someone to greet me after I landed to help process my paperwork, basically there was no fanfare, and I just took my complimentary taxi to my friend’s house and crashed quietly started my new life.
But yesterday (at 4am!) I got up to go to Ben Gurion International Airport to welcome my blogging buddy Lauren Gelnick, an Olah Chadasha from New York City who was on the final Nefesh b’Nefesh Olim Charter flight of 2009. Lauren’s been supporting me by commenting on G-Fish all year, and she invited me to come welcome her to Israel, so how could I say no? Plus, since I never got one of these Official Welcome Ceremony deals, I was also going for me.
How awesome was it that I got a ride to the airport with my Besties the Becker-Barkins, who were coincidentally leaving for the US on an early morning flight? I’ll save you the trouble of racking your brains – it was pretty effing awesome. Our friend Moosh was in the car, too, so he could borrow it while Anna & Eric were away. Even though most of the flights depart and arrive at Terminal 1, my instructions were to go to Terminal 3, so Moosh dropped me off there.
There were a lot of people already there when I arrived at 6:15 a.m. Everyone had to be on a pre-approved registration list for security purposes, so I showed I.D. and got an official “Guest” sticker to wear, then waited in a line mob to clear security and go into the main terminal, where the ceremony was to be held.
Like I really needed it, but I had a few complimentary pastries and some coffee. The place kept filling up. There seemed to be a lot of youth groups. The energy kept rising. It was like a bunch of ‘Heads as the start of a Dead show approached – if no one was on drugs, had just showered and dressed preppy, didn’t know any Grateful Dead songs, and was incredibly Zionist.
I learned some cool stats that an official NbN guy announced from a stage: the 210 Olim on this flight were part of a record year for North American Aliyahs – 3800 people, of which I am one! The youngest Oleh on the flight was just two months old, and the oldest person was 86! Here’s a couple of shots as the anticipation built…
Then, they announced the plane had landed and the Olim would be bussed over shortly. Peeps got even more riled up, and when they removed a barrier, everyone bum-rushed the tarmac like it was some Black Friday shiz.
What happened next was very special. I tweeted that it was basically like Zionist Orgasmo. Throngs of tweens sang along to the instrumental muzak-ized adult contemporary songs (Phil Collins’ “You’ll Be In My Heart,” “A Whole New World) interspersed with more traditionally Jewish hora-style music. People were waving Israeli flags with a rapturous fervor. It was an explosion of happiness!
Then, I was lucky enough to see my personal Guest of Honor, Olah Chadasha Lauren Gelnick and get what will hopefully become memorable shots for her.
I know I’m going a little picture happy with this post, but I can’t resist. Here’s a great shot of who I presume is the 86-year-old Olah they were talking about. It’s hard to tell in this pic, but the younger man (son?) hugging her had tears streaming down his face. It’s was such a powerful and beautiful emotional force.
Then, I made my way back inside. I stayed for the ceremony. They had some very big VIPs there. Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom said, “Ahmadinejad may have his own plans for Israel, but you [Olim] make Israel possible, by continuing to come here.” Nefesh b’Nefesh founder and executive director Rabbi Yehoshua Fass quoted a remark Mark Twain made when he visited Israel, “You can’t depend on your eyes, when your imagination is out of focus.” (I didn’t exactly understand the point of the quote, but I was impressed by the fact that Mark Twain had visited Israel.) Then, he spouted a statistic that 81 singles were on this flight and there was some sort of promotion on J-Date about them, and that 1,100 single Israelis had signed up to meet them. Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel had a nice quote about the Olim on today’s flight, “finishing up a thousands-of-years march through the desert.” He also told us that a record 16,000 Olim made Aliyah in 2009 – double the amount that came last year (thank you, world economic crisis) – with 20% increases from the USA (the highest amount in 23 years), Latin America, South America, the UK, Russia this year over last year. He had another great line (you could tell this guy’s a really good speaker) about modern-day Zionism being criticized lately for being, “a bunch of wealthy American Jews paying to break Russian Jews out of the Iron Curtain to make Aliyah,” but today’s North American Olim deserve props for, “breaking the Golden Curtain around New York, breaking the Silicon Curtain [nice touch, Nate] around San Francisco….we need your knowledge, your experience with democracy, your commitment to civil rights.” Senior Deputy Head of the Division for Promotion of Aliyah at the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption Shifra Kirshenbaum also spoke, and I had to resist the urge to go up to her after and ask for a personal extension of my Sal Klita.
I really needed this infusion of Zionism. With fatigue from my current job, having to dip into savings to make ends meet now that my own Olim financial benefits have dried up, anxiety over an exciting job prospect I was waiting to hear back from, a potential search for new housing on the horizon…all of this felt like it had been piling up on me lately, and I used the ceremony as a personal pep rally to remind me what I was doing here, at least in part. Thanks, VIPs and fervent Olim energy.
I’m also kinda glad I didn’t have a ceremony like this when I arrived. I may not have had anyone there to receive me personally, and to be welcomed by such over-the-top enthusiasm in the aggregate, but have no one there for you personally, could have left me feeling very lonesome. I’m glad it worked out this way, that I got to have my ceremony ten months after-the-fact, by way of showing up to support someone else. Thanks, Lauren!
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