As first impressions go, Nefesh B’Nefesh olim (immigrants) received an impressive one after they disembarked the El Al plane that took them from New York to Tel Aviv last month.
“I felt like the Beatles. It was really incredible,” Sharon Greenberg gushed over the welcome ceremony at BenGurion Airport. From politicians like Aliya and Integration Minister Sofa Landver to Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, MK Michael Oren, to joyful Israeli music blaring from the loudspeakers to children passing along toys and sweets to other young olim, the morning was an exuberant occasion celebrating the planeload of immigrants who have finally come home. The summer flights are facilitated in cooperation with Israel’s Aliyah and Integration Ministry, The Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemeth Le’Israel (KKL), and Jewish National Fund USA.
“What a greeting! To be welcomed so warmly was so gratifying to see,” she said.
But after the celebration there is work to be done.
And hard work is very familiar territory for olim like Greenberg, who spent much of their life advocating for Israel.
Greenberg, who served as executive director of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, is parlaying her experience in fund-raising and discussing Jewish values into her new role here in Israel where she will serve as the Director of Communications at Eli Talks, a Jewish World version of Ted Talks.
With a carpe diem, no time like the present, spirit, Greenberg arrived with her children and husband and with the unwavering faith that it would all work out.
Fortunately, so far, it has.
“Everything really fell into place,” she said, adding that she credits Nefesh B’Nefesh with helping her and her husband to find a job. “There is the fear that you can get lost in the crowd, but because the olim network is so comprehensive, people really have each other’s back here.
I kept giving out my resumé and it was one person looking out for the other.”
As such, maintaining contacts is something that Fay Goldstein strongly suggests all potential olim do.
“I networked as hard as I could and maintained those connections.
Relationships really matter here,” the associate director of Hasbara Fellowships said.
Like most olim, the decision to come to Israel is not a one that is made overnight.
In Goldstein’s case, she was mulling the move since 2009.
“I took a lot of time. But I didn’t want to move here without a stable job, I wanted it to be a responsible life decision. So I spent the past eight years focused on doing that,” she said.
Finally, after leading several Hasbara Fellowship delegation tours around Israel, Goldstein simply didn’t want to go back home anymore.
“There was always a feeling of sadness I got every time I got on the plane to go back to the US after being here. I just didn’t want to get on that El Al plane anymore and go back. So I said, ‘All right, let’s book that oneway ticket,’” she said.
While here, she plans on reaching out to Hasbara Fellowship alumni to see how the organization can grow. Thus far, they have produced some key players in the Jewish world since its inception in 2001, many of whom – like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s English spokesperson David Keyes – have made aliyah.
By having a foot firmly in both worlds – the US and Israel – Goldstein hopes she can be a conduit for dialogue between the two groups.
“I know the theme of this year’s General Assembly is being able to sit down and talk to one another. I still am very much an American, I would need a lot more time being involved in Israeli society. Once I learn enough, I’d love to foster conversation between both worlds,” she said.
There is perhaps no better person to do just that than David Aaronson, who also made aliyah with Nefesh B’Nefesh last month.
Aaronson, who served as the chief of staff for former Israeli ambassador to the US Danny Ayalon, will continue working with the diplomat.
“I was always very active promoting Israel’s image in America and now I’m doing it from Israel,” Aaronson said. “It’s a big difference to be working with Israelis all of the time and see how their perspectives differ, but I think it’s certainly a great experience and I seem to prefer it a lot here working as an Israeli instead of advocate for Israel as a foreigner. When you see the land and live on the land, you are able to understand better how to advocate for it abroad.
“I think Nefesh B’Nefesh has been doing a great job with that, they have a very positive presence in the US and always have events across the US talking about life in Israel. Here in Israel, they have a bunch of events for people who have made aliyah to make Israel more open to the idea of Americans coming in. They help foster mutual understanding,” he added.
For new olah Judy Melzer, a key component to igniting a productive conversation starts with education.
“Zionism, Israel and what’s happening in the world at large has to be taught at a young age. They should know about what’s happening on college campuses and BDS.
Children are not encouraged to do this on their own. Children see misleading information all the time and we must teach them the truth,” she said.
The career educator, who served as the principal of Yeshiva of Belle Harbor, administrator at Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway in New York and associate principal at Manhattan Day School, will transition to working at the Inbal Hotel and will provide tutoring on the side while in Israel.
But it was her staunch advocacy for Israel that brought her to the Jewish state. “I thought what a hypocrite I am. What am I doing preaching about Israel and aliyah without doing it myself? So I said, you know what, the time is now,” she said, adding that a few of her peers back in the US were jealous of her decision.
“When I announced I was going, many said, ‘I wish I could do it,’” she recalled.
“So do it,” she responded.
While for even the most passionate of Israel supporters it is not always so simple, but should these new olim be successful in their advocacy here, life in Israel may seem even more appealing than it already is.
■ This article was written in cooperation with Nefesh B’Nefesh.