A local family experienced their first rocket — and a hero's welcome — as they landed in Israel to begin a new life.
With the help of Hashem and Nefesh B'Nefesh, my family and I were part of a charter flight of more than 230 new immigrants to Israel that landed at Ben Gurion Airport on Tuesday. Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, the director of Nefesh B'Nefesh, told us that while this was his organization's 51st charter flight (representing over 40,000 Jews making aliyah to Israel), this was the only flight taken during a time of war.
It is significant that of all those who had registered for this aliyah flight, not a single person postponed hir or her aliyah as a result of the fighting. This did not surprise me in the least. The flight included all kinds of Jews — Orthodox, including Chasidim, and non-Orthodox, singles and families, 100 children and an 86-year-old Holocaust survivor celebrating his birthday by making aliyah. What the group had in common was an intense desire to live in Israel, a refusal to let Hamas win by delaying aliyah and complete joy when the plane actually landed.
Because of the security situation, the arrival was different than the prior 50 flights. My family and I had time to make the Shecheyanu blessing — since this was the first time we have fulfilled the mitzvah of making aliyah — and to kiss the ground, but then we were quickly ushered onto buses. Instead of the usual ceremony with almost 2,000 celebrants, far more than would be allowed to assemble in one place during war time, a small crowd of 50 people sang and welcomed us. Former Chief Rabbi Yisrael Lau and Natan Sharansky were present to welcome us home. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu provided a recorded message.
Many people told us that we were heroes for making aliyah during war time. I told my children that though we clearly gave additional strength to our brothers and sisters already here, we certainly are not heroes. We were simply doing what we are supposed to do and what we have dreamed about. The heroes are our soldiers fighting in Gaza to free us from the danger of Hamas terrorism.
After we collected our baggage, we were sent outside to wait for our ride to our new community of Efrat. While there, the sirens wailed and we — and everyone else — ran for the protected area in the terminal. On the way in, we heard a "boom." We had no idea that this was the missile that provided Hamas with the great victory of having the FAA and European countries refuse to allow flights to Israel. All we knew is that we would be safe — and 10 minutes later we headed to a private bus to take us to Efrat. We chose Efrat, which is in Judea, because the schools have lots of experience with American olim and as it has everything a Religious Zionist family needs. It being in Yehuda was an added bonus.
Our children were somewhat relieved. They'd experienced their first siren and saw that everything would be OK. They just wanted to go home — to Efrat.
When we were arrived in our new community, we were met by local high school students singing and dancing to welcome us to our new home — and to take in all our baggage. What was clear to us is that every time a Jew makes aliyah, it is considered a great victory for the state of Israel and the Jewish people.
What else did we do in our first 48 hours? We went to synagogue. We shopped. We met new people. We noticed that most cars have Israeli flags flying from them. We filled out government forms and I arranged for job interviews. All of this — and the many, many more things we will need to do in the coming weeks — are significant as they are part of the mitzvah of living in Israel. They also are reminders that despite the challenges Israel faces, life goes on quite close to normal. Israel is strong and not even Hamas can keep us from living normal Jewish lives in our homeland.
During this challenging time, it is critical that Jews in North America continue to express their support of Israel in every way — from social media to rallies, from prayer to buying Israeli products — and by traveling to Israel. Many years ago, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, the chief rabbi of Efrat, observed that there is a difference between Disneyland and a Motherland. Disneyland is where you go for a vacation to have fun. If it's not fun, there's no need to bother. But a Motherland is where you go because it is yours, in good times and in challenging times. And it is during times of challenge that going is the most important — both for the victory it gives Israel and the defeat it hands our enemies.
Being an immigrant to Israel is the fulfillment of a lifetime of dreams. I am blessed to be doing this with my wife and five children. I know that we will face many challenges. But like all good Israelis, we will strive to meet them without fear, and with great love for our land, our state and our people. We are blessed to be living during the era described as "dawn of our redemption" as we continue to build up the State of Israel. We have no intention of letting anyone or anything get in our way.
Rabbi Shmuel Jablon is the former head of school of Torah Academy in Lower Merion.