by Judy Lash Balint
They stepped off the plane into the heat and humidity of the hottest day of the year in Tel Aviv, carrying  stuffed animals, live
animals, and an assortment of other remnants of their former lives.

The 400 new immigrants from the US and Canada who arrived on a charter flight from New York today are part of the new
American aliya movement that's bringing hundreds of North American Jews home.  This summer, more than 1,500 North
American Jews will make aliya in four separate chartered flights.

Elana Balkin, 27, of West Bloomfield, MI, called her arrival in Israel "the most incredible day of my life."  For Balkin, the move
completes a circle of Jewish history.  She described her great-grandparents who were planning to escape Nazi Germany and flee
to Palestine.  They never made it.  "Everyone was supposed to meet here," Balkin said with emotion."  But I'm the one who has
the zchut (merit) to be here."

Like many of the young, single olim, Balkin is planning on attending an intensive residential ulpan before setting out to find work
in her field.

This year's group of olim includes a large group of singles.  Some 273 single men and women will arrive on the Nefesh B' Nefesh
planes this summer, joining 273 families.

In an effort that is largely privately funded, the Nefesh B' Nefesh organization partnered with the Jewish Agency has succeeded
where offical Israeli efforts to encourage Western aliya had previously failed.

The key element encouraging this new wave of immigrants is financial assistance and personal support.  Grants of anywhere
between $7- 18,000 per family are available from Nefesh B' Nefesh if the family stays in Israel for at least three years.  After
they get here, an agressive employment counseling service is at the disposal of the olim, as well as match-ups with veteran
immigrants and assistance dealing with immigration bureacracy.

"The financial support certainly helped me to decide to come that much quicker," notes Balkin.

Ron Karama, 22, from Seattle, a recent graduate and pro-Israel campus activist, hopes to serve in the IDF after his adjustment
period.  He was welcomed home by an uncle and cousin in iniform.

A crowd of several hundred Israeli-Americans was on hand in the El Al hangar at Ben Gurion airport this morning to greet the
newcomers.  For many, it was a chance to relive their own aliya experience.  "We didn't get this kind of hoopla when we arrived,"
Said Shalom Abramowitz who arrived in 1994, "but it's just great to see people coming in greater numbers today," he added,
as his eyes scanned the disembarking passengers for his cousin from Long Island.

The plane pulled up directly to the hangar with the normally tedious passport control and other immigration processing having
taken place with Interior Ministry officials during the flight.

Flag-waving Air Force cadets lined the walkway leading into the hangar, and a swarm of media descended on the new Israelis.
There were some great shots -- a middle-aged woman hugging her long haired white dog tight to her chest, her eyes filled with
tears;  a young mother who stopped to breastfeed her new-born baby before hugging all her waiting relatives;  the elderly mother
of an American oleh welcomed by a gaggle of grandchildren as she embarks on her new life close to her family.

The super-secular, hip Israeli film crews recording the event couldn't have looked more different than the largely observant
immigrants they were filming.

But as the new olim took their seats in the hangar, they were indistinguishable from the hundreds of more veteran immigrants
who had come to greet them.  Slightly younger, perhaps, but the same kind of people.

Around half of the olim are children, small children.  There are a few families with teenage kids in the group -- a testament to the
notoriously difficult absorption of teenagers into Israeli high school society.

On hand to greet the new olim were Finance Minister Benyamin Netanyahu:  Absorption Minister Tzippi Livni, Jewish Agency
director Sallai Meridor and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who told the olim:  "Our two thousand years of wandering have come
to an end."

Tony Gelbart one of the co-founders of Nefesh B' Nefesh, urged the government to continue to make aliya a priority:  "Israel
needs to know it can be a magnet for US Jews," he declared.  Strong aliya sends a message to our enemies too, he continued,
and could go a long way in dealing with Israel's demographic challenges.

The Furman family of Toronto was called up to receive their first official documents as Israeli citizens.  The father of four spoke
one sentence:  "Thank you for making our aliya dream come true."

The singing of Hatikva closed the ceremony.  Flags waved and tears flowed, cameras rolled and the olim took a deep breath
before dispersing to their new homes.

Judy Lash Balint
Shorashim of the Old City - a journal of insights, stories and torah thoughts from Jerusalem's Old City
A Project of Shorashim of the Old City - Tiferet Israel 3 - Jerusalem  97500 - tel:  011-972-9729
shorashim  -  Website:
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