by Yocheved Golani
Our planeload of nearly 400 olim/immigrants arrived in Israel in somewhat pungent condition; the air conditioning on our El Al flight coincidentally konked out as we lost a night's sleep walking the aisles getting to know each other and stepping around children, diaper-changing parents, toys, packages, the wonderful immigration officials processing our work aboard the flight (it saved us days of frustration and wandering the streets lost in the heat and ensuring confusion with our limited Hebrew skills.  Nefesh B'Nefesh made a tremendous Khap by having Misrad HaPnim officials aboard the plane to process our paperwork as we flew home.  We walked off the plane and into the throbbing, singing crowd on the tarmac with our Teudat Zehut booklet, able to open Israeli bank accounts and to recieve our oleh stipends.  The most cheeful flight crew ever truly meant it when they said "Thanks for flying El Al.  Welcome home!"  To disembarking passengers.

It looked like half of Israel had turned out to say 'hello,' receiving us in the most generous manner:  mass media crews, pilots, ground crews, friends, relatives and other singing well-wishers holding Israeli flags of all sizes beamed at us without wrinkling their noses (we had to have been the biggest wave of stinky by happy arrivals ever), jamming the hanger with the enthusiasm of
a flag waving rock concert audience and loudly singing several hardy rounds of "Heveinu Shalom Aleichem,"  the traditional song of greeting to friends and family.  Cameras flashed and alot of people on both sides of the tarmac wept for unprecedented joy.  Then a professional concert in our honor took place on the stage and government officials later greeted us in this historic moment (Nefesh B'Nefesh has changed the standard for aliyah/Israeli immigration with this first planeload of new Israeli citizens from North America).

Many of us gulped the ice from the silver buckets with the many bottles of water available on the reception table.  A few of us wore the ice, rubbing it along our parched lips and extremely hot skin and/or just holding it in our hot, hot hands in between noshed cake, finger sandwiches and fruit.  We guzzled much-appreciated bottles of water, juice and melting ice chips.  I drank enough water and juice on the plane and in the hanger to start a pond and my mouth is still dry. 

The gifts bestowed on us by the well wishers are many:  Commemorative posters and baseball hats, fond blessings for our successful immigration, oodles of information about how to find employment, social services, medical practitioners, specific shoping sites, press releases regarding our arrival and more. 

Mi k'amcha Yisrael, goy echad ba'aretz, there is simply no other people on earth who could be this enthusiastic about receiving
its own people with so much love.  There is simply no other people on earth who would relish a reunion of this nature during
such trying times.  As the many media people ask us repeatedly why we've moved to Israel at this dangerous time, they're astonished at the oft-repeated phrase:
"It's time to come home.  This is our land, we are one people, and Hashem made all this possible.  We couldn't resist."

The UPI man who interviews me chuckles at learning that I am a journalist by profession.  His mouth slackens as I explain why
it is constant that we Nefesh B'Nefesh participants should enter Israel with our refuge Argentinian, French and Venezuelan coreligionists.  "Some of us are entering Israel through doors of economic possiblity, others through the door of economic deprivation; some by choice and others due to refuge conditions," I tell him.  "Whatever door G-d chose to open for us, that is
the one through which we enter this cherished land."  The man simply has no precedent by which to compare the phenomenon
he slowly comprehends.  Jews worldwide want to regroup in the place Bibi has just praised and this poor UPI man can't figure
out why.  "Next year you won't have to say 'Next Year In Jerusalem!  You are here now!"  Bibi has just declared into the microphones.  The cheers of the responsive crowd in my UPI interview and the reporters begin anew with other arrivals, asking the same questions, uncertain of the consistency in the answers among a crowd of deeply satisfied but previously unaquainted, unrehearsed Jews.

My days and nights are way out of wack as I try to overcome the heat, thirst, exhaustion and exhilaration.  As I write, it is 10:35 P.M.  July 9 US time and in the wee hours of an Israeli morning, the first day of the Jewish month of Av and the onset of the 9 saddest days on the Jewish calendar.  My Jewish birthday is Av 22, and I am ecstatic to know that I will mark it in the home of the Jewish people/my personal home.  Given the unprecedented enthusiasm of the immigrants/olim and the massive crowd that greeted us (it is a major media event here), I do not feel the usual onslaught of dread that normal comes with this Jewish date.  Rather than preparing to observe yet another shudder-inducing anniversary of the destruction of the 2 Temple's/Batei HaMikdash, I feel that history has qualitatively changed coarse because of the Nefesh B'Nefesh effort:  Our sadness is being turned to joy on this unusual era of challenging world history.  I believe it not only good for the Jews, but also wonderful for the world.  How
can I not feel this way, knowing that one of my non-religious Jewish brothers embraced me at the airport, weeping with joy to greet a fellow Jew whose name he did not know, and declaring "I am one of the Israeli Public Relations people for Nefesh B'Nefesh and I am so happy to have you home!"  How can I not rise after several hours of bone weary and heavy sleep, to write to you of my homecoming and my cheerful confidence that all of the Jewish People will make it back to Israel, that we will yet live in peace among each other, within the greater world and forever?  The facts are becoming evident to all, as if a great illumination of rescue and understanding sweep over us.

The sense of family and reunion in the midst of this galut is astonishing, a light of hope to us and to the entire world from the source of all light and understanding:  Israel and Torah.  G-d promised that we would experience the end-gathering of the exiles, and now former North Americans are being greeted by those brave souls who preceded us home:  Ethiopian dances and musicians, native and immigrant Israelis of all professions and backgrounds, Knesset officials, soldiers, French, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese, South African and other groups of Jews unaffected by religious or political differences, and the thrilled El Al staff.  Despite the draining preparations and travel coupled with the heat that wilts us, we are all beaming at each other and the happiness is sweeping everyone into its uplifting mood.  We see the reality of our situation:  we are a reunited people fondly awaited and greeted.  Bibi Netanyahu is still extolling on the virtues of this day from the dais and the crowd is grinning, radiating with joy
while the littlest arrivals suck their bottles, play with toys and spot each other among the happy throngs.  Babyish eyes brighten with every sighting of the bobbing blue and white balloons stationed around the sight.  We are home!   New rounds of songs
burst out among the crowd like a musical version of "The Wave" and smiles light each face as well as the entire area.  Aaaahhhh, Israel lights the world!
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