1st Children’s Aliyah Flight Arrives: Record 106 Children Aboard

— by Rebecca (Langer) Modell

Gilad Shalit accompanied the 231 North American Olima board this summer’s first charter Aliyah flight including Nefesh b’Nefesh’s 35,000th Oleh

El-Al flight 3004 landed Monday morning at Ben Gurion Airport with 231 new Israeli citizens aboard. Even before they took off, the passengers knew not to expect getting any sleep, as close to 50% of the occupants were children. This is a new record of children arriving on a Nefesh B’Nefesh flight in cooperation with The Jewish Agency for Israel. The 106 young Olim are joining a whopping 989 children who will be making Aliyah throughout 2013 with Nefesh B’Nefesh in cooperation with the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, The Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemeth L’Israel and JNF. This is an increase of 20%, compared to 822 children that made Aliyah in 2012.

In anticipation of the arrival, Nefesh B’Nefesh prepared reinforcements to help the parents watch over their children and keep them occupied during the long flight and at the arrival ceremony. Amongst the activities that awaited the children were Aliyah coloring books, games and custom-made t-shirts. Former Israeli IDF captive, Gilad Shalit, also joined the flight as a show of support and appreciation for the thousands of North American Olim who are fulfilling their dream to return to Israel and their contribution to the State of Israel.

Also on board were 41 families, including the 106 children as well as 54 singles — 13 of whom will be joining the IDF. Also of note were the 41 Olim moving to Israel’s periphery as part of the Nefesh B’Nefesh and Keren Kayemeth L’Israel Go North and Go South programs.

Kindertransport 1938-1940

The Children’s Aliyah Flight reminds us for the story of the Kindertransport which saved “some ten thousand Jewish children out of Nazi Germany, Austria, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and the free city of Danzig nine month prior to the outbreak of World War II. For the most part, the children were placed in British foster homes, hostels, and farms. One of those children, fourteen-year-old Viennese native Renee Perl, was destined to become the mother of congressional representative Allyson Schwartz, Democrat of Pennsylvania.”
(Source:The Jews of Capitol Hill: A Compendium of Jewish Congressional Members)

The Co-Founder and Chairman of Nefesh B’Nefesh, Tony Gelbart said:

As we welcome our 35,000th Oleh, it is exciting to see so many children amongst the Zionistic modern day pioneers who are helping to build and secure the future of the State of Israel. This new generation is joining young adults volunteering for the IDF and Olim moving to Israel’s North and South to help strengthen the periphery, to infuse the country with renewed passion and idealism.

The Minister of Immigrant Absorption Sofa Landver said:

I am happy to welcome over 100 children who are making Aliyah today through Nefesh B’Nefesh and joining us here in Israel. Aliyah from North America is extremely important and makes us stronger as a nation.

The Chairman of The Jewish Agency for Israel, Natan Sharansky said:

The Jewish Agency, which brings tens of thousands of Olim from across the globe sees Nefesh B’Nefesh as a dedicated partner in this important work.  The children and their parents who are arriving on this Olim flight from North America represent the future of Israel and every one of them strengthens Israeli society.

Hundreds of families and friends as well as Israeli dignitaries gathered at Ben Gurion Airport to welcome the country’s newest citizens at the arrival ceremony.

Those present included:

  • Minister of Immigrant Absorption Sofa Landver;
  • Member of the Committee for Immigration, Absorption & Diaspora Affairs MK Dov Lipman;
  • Chairman of the Jewish Agency Natan Sharansky;
  • World Chairman of KKL-JNF, Effie Stenzler;
  • Vice President Global Sales of El Al, Offer Gat;
  • Vice Chairman of Nefesh B’Nefesh Erez Halfon and
  • Co-Founders of Nefesh B’Nefesh Rabbi Yehoshua Fass & Tony Gelbart.

Photo credit: Shafar Azran and Peter Hamalgyi.

About Nefesh B’Nefesh: Founded in 2002, Nefesh B’Nefesh in cooperation with the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency for Israel, is dedicated to revitalizing Aliyah from North America and the UK by removing or minimizing the financial, professional, logistical and social obstacles of Aliyah. The support and comprehensive social services provided by Nefesh B’Nefesh to its over 35,000 newcomers, has ensured that 97% of its Olim have remained in Israel.  

Sharansky Presents Western Wall Plan to Knesset Committee

— by Joshua Berkman

While Israelis were preparing for Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day), marking the unification of the city and renewed Jewish access to the Western Wall, Jewish Agency for Israel Chairman Natan Sharansky met last Tuesday with the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women, where he presented an outline of his plan to create a section for egalitarian prayer in the southern part of the Kotel (Western Wall).

More after the jump.
Mr. Sharansky addressed the committee:

Every Jew in the world has a unique relationship with the Kotel. There is no other place in the world that fulfills such a role in the life, history, and identity of any nation. It is naturally in our interest for every Jew to express his or her own connection as he or she sees fit. Ultimately, the solution will not come through court rulings or legislation, but rather through a broad agreement between all segments of the Jewish people.

Sharansky then laid out the details for an egalitarian prayer area that would be equal in size to the current prayer area, open around the clock, and accessible via a single, shared entrance, along with the current men’s and women’s sections. “Every Jew will enter the Kotel area through a single entryway and will then decide whether to pray in a traditional Orthodox manner or in a non-Orthodox manner,” he said. Sharansky also noted that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accepted the plan in principle.

I had a very impressive meeting with Reform and Conservative leaders, with representatives of the Orthodox Union, of Agudath Israel, of Chabad, of Modern Orthodox organizations, in which all said they would be willing to accept this solution.

With regards to implementation of the plan, Sharansky noted that certain archaeological elements would have to be resolved, but suggested that construction could begin within one month, an initial stage could be completed within 10 months, and the entire plan could be actualized within two years. The government has insisted on covering all costs, he said.

Members of Knesset from across the political spectrum hailed Sharansky’s plan, promising support for its implementation. Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, who serves as Rabbi of the Western Wall and of the Holy Sites of Israel, acknowledged that he has some reservations about the plan, but said that the fact that no one is entirely satisfied by it could be an indication that it is the correct solution. Rabbi Gilad Kariv of the Reform Movement, Rabbi Andrew Sacks of the Conservative Movement, and Anat Hoffman of Women of the Wall all expressed support for Mr. Sharansky’s efforts.

Committee Chairwoman MK Dr. Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid) summarized the discussion by reminding those in attendance that “we must never forget the Kotel’s place in the heart of the Jewish people,” and by telling Mr. Sharansky that “we are here for you and will extend any and all assistance in bringing your plan to fruition.”

“I share both the hopes and the concerns expressed today,” Sharansky concluded.

If we wish to reach a significant compromise, we will have to take unconventional steps. We must listen to one another and treat one another with respect, otherwise none of this will be possible.

Jewish Federations, Agency Provide Assist Burgas Victims

The Jewish Agency for Israel’s Fund for the Victims of Terror will provide financial assistance to Israelis wounded in the attack in Bulgaria and to the families of those killed.  The assistance, made possible by a contribution from The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), is meant to help those affected by the attack address supplemental needs not covered by Israeli government bodies.  Any family that experienced the loss or injury of a loved one in the attack may request assistance from the fund.

Jewish Agency Chairman of the Executive Natan Sharansky said that the assistance provided by The Jewish Federations of North America demonstrates the solidarity of Jews around the world with the terrible pain of those Israelis wounded in the attack and with the deep mourning of the families of those killed.

The Jewish Agency‘s Fund for the Victims of Terror, established in 2002, provides financial assistance to victims of terror in Israel.  Since its establishment, the fund-which is sustained by contributions from Jewish federations, philanthropic foundations, and donors around the world-has enabled The Jewish Agency to provide thousands of terror victims and their families with assistance at a scope of more than NIS 100 million.

Response from World Jewish Congress, Isareli Consulate, B’nai Brith, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Susan Rice, Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Shelley Berkley, Howard Berman, Jan Schakowsky, Sherrod Brown, Jerrold Nadler, Ted Deutsch, Eliot Engel, Alcee Hastings, Charles Rangel and Joe Crowley follow the jump.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

I was deeply saddened and angered to learn of today’s terrorist attack against Israeli tourists in Bulgaria…. The United States stands ready to offer any assistance necessary, and we will work with our partners in Bulgaria, Israel and elsewhere so that the perpetrators can be apprehended swiftly and brought to justice for this appalling crime.

President Barack Obama

I strongly condemn today’s barbaric terrorist attack on Israelis in Bulgaria. My thoughts and prayers are with the families of those killed and injured, and with the people of Israel … As Israel has tragically once more been a target of terrorism, the United States reaffirms our unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security, and our deep friendship and solidarity with the Israeli people.

World Jewish Congress:

World Jewish Congress (WJC) President Ronald S. Lauder has condemned the murderous terror attack in which six Israeli tourists and the Bulgarian bus driver were killed when one of three buses carrying mostly Israeli men, women and children was blown up outside the airport of Burgas, Bulgaria.

“It is no coincidence that this assault comes 18 years to the day since the Iranian regime sponsored attack against the AMIA  Jewish community center in Buenos Aires took the lives of 85 innocent victims”, Lauder said. The current Iranian Defense Minister, Ahmed Vahidi, was indicted by Argentinianauthorities, and is currently sought by Interpol.

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments regarding the Iranian regime’s involvement in this deadly attack reminds the world of the role Iran, and the terrorist groups it supports, play in global terrorism,” Lauder said.

The World Jewish Congress also salutes Israeli businessman Nochi Dankner for immediately dispatching a private plane with doctors and medical supplies to Burgas to treat the victims of this murderous assault.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice:

We extend our condolences to the families of the victims of this heinous act and stand with the people of Israel & Bulgaria.

The terrorist attack against Israeli tourists in Bulgaria today is outrageous, an act of supreme cowardice.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi:

Our thoughts and prayers rest with the families, friends, and loved ones of those killed and injured in today’s terrorist attack.

Whether within Israel’s borders or around the world, attacks against innocent Israeli men, women, and children are reprehensible and outrageous. All Members of Congress and the American people must stand together to condemn this bombing in the strongest terms possible.

Falling 18 years after the bombing against the AMIA Jewish Center in Buenos Aires, today’s attack is a clear reminder that we must redouble our efforts to bring terrorists to justice; we must maintain and strengthen our commitment to the security of the Jewish state; and we will always stand firm on side of the safety of the Israeli people.

B’nai B’rith International:

B’nai B’rith International condemns in the strongest terms possible the July 18 terrorist attack on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria. Early reports indicate at least five Israelis have been killed and almost 30 people have been rushed to the hospital, some in critical condition. The situation is still unfolding.

The bombing occurred on a tour bus near the Sarafovo Airport in Burgas, a Bulgarian city on the Black Sea. While it is unclear who the perpetrators are, Israeli leaders are suggesting Iran and Hezbollah may be behind the attacks.

B’nai B’rith urges Bulgarian and international agencies to work together to determine who was responsible for this attack that targeted Israelis.  

The attack occurred on the 18th anniversary of the terrorist attack on the Argentine-Israelite Mutual Association Jewish center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people and wounded 300.

This attack on Israelis, coming on the AMIA anniversary, is a chilling reminder that anti-Israel sentiment is alive and well worldwide. Our hearts and prayers go out to the victims and their families.

House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer:

Today’s attack is a tragic reminder of the threat of terrorism Israelis face at home and abroad.  Those who planned, carried out, and sponsored this attack will surely be identified and face justice for their actions and involvement.

The murder of innocent tourists is a shameful act of cowardice that should give all Americans pause.  My thoughts and prayers are with the victims’ families, with Israelis and Bulgarians wounded in today’s attack, and with those in Jewish communities throughout the world for whom it has brought a terrible moment of uncertainty and heightened vigilance.  Let there be no uncertainty, though, that the people of the United States stand side-by-side with the people of Israel in their quest for security and the peace all nations deserve.

Democratic National Committee Chair Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz :

I am saddened and outraged by this horrific and brutal attack against Israeli tourists in Bulgaria. On this 18th anniversary of the deadly bombing of the AMIA Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires, Argentina, today’s tragic and senseless attack serves as a constant reminder of the deplorable violence and anti-Semitism that still exists in our world. The United States stands strong with our ally Israel in condemning this atrocity and supporting the unshakable U.S.-Israel relationship. My thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Israel and Bulgaria, and the families of the victims of today’s unforgivable attack.

Representative Shelley Berkley:

Our hearts are with the families of those killed in the horrific Bulgarian bus bombing and our thoughts and prayers for a full recovery are with those injured in this terrorist attack.  Those responsible for this bloodshed and for targeting innocent Israeli tourists in a brutal massacre cannot go unpunished and they must be brought to justice.  No justification ever exists for bombing a bus loaded with innocent men, women and children, and we are once again reminded of the dangers that Israelis face on a daily basis both at home and when traveling abroad.  Americans stand shoulder to shoulder with our special ally Israel at this time of mourning and we share the grief that has been unleashed by this latest terrorist tragedy.

Representative Howard Berman:

I offer my heartfelt condolences to the victims of the terrorist attack against innocent Israeli tourists in Bulgaria and their loved ones.

Representative Jan Schakowsky:

I am deeply saddened by today’s despicable terrorist attack against Israeli tourists in Bulgaria that killed and injured innocent men, women, and children. My thoughts and prayers are with the families, friends and loved ones of those who were senselessly massacred.

These anti-Semitic, anti-Israel attacks anywhere in the world must be strongly condemned. The President has said that the United States has an unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security and I expect a robust effort to find out who is responsible for this act of terrorism.

Senator Sherrod Brown:

With the 40th anniversary of the 1972 Munich Massacre on the horizon, we are once again reminded that Israel and her allies are still targets of worldwide terrorism. The Israeli victims of this vicious terrorist attack in Burgas,  Bulgaria will not be forgotten and I stand with our allies who want to see the perpetrators brought to justice. Terrorism, in any form, cannot be allowed to stand. I am fully committed to supporting Israel’s right to defend herself. My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims.

May peace and solace find them in their time of grief.

Representative Jerrold Nadler:

Disgusted by the cowardly attack on Israelis in ‪#Bulgaria. My thoughts are with the families of the victims and the Israeli people.

Representative Ted Deutch:

The terrorist attack against innocent Israeli tourists in Bulgaria was horrific. We mourn the loss of life & stand w Israel in solidarity.

Representative Eliot Engel:

The United States and the rest of the civilized world must stand with the Israel against terrorism. Until terrorism ceases against Israeli citizens there will not be peace in the Middle East.   The violence must stop, and must stop now.  I find it more than coincidental that on the 18th anniversary of the bombing of the AMIA Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires, an Israeli target was attacked, this time in Europe.   We must stand up to the terrorists, wherever and whenever they strike.  The United States should provide whatever assistance Bulgaria requires to bring the perpetrators to justice. Should Iran or another nation be found responsible, it must be held accountable.

Let us keep all these victims and their families in our thoughts and prayers.

Representative Alcee Hastings:

I was deeply saddened to learn of today’s unconscionable attack on Israeli and Bulgarian tourists.  This kind of senseless violence is an act of cowardice and hatred.  It is yet another unnecessary reminder of the threats Israelis face both at home and abroad.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the victims during this most difficult time.  I stand with my friends in Israel and the Jewish community in praying for peace around the world.  This tragic event reminds us all that there are still people who choose hate and intolerance over understanding and compassion. We must continue to stand side-by-side with Israel as it pursues a safe and secure future, and we must work together across all racial, religious, gender, and cultural lines and not allow these senseless acts to continue.”

Representative Charles Rangel:

These attacks against innocent people are horrifying and reprehensible. Such violence targeting people for their ethnicity, nationality or religion has absolutely no place in our world.  I join my Colleagues in Congress and the American people in condemning such acts of terrorism.

Today’s horrendous attack reminds us that our Jewish friends are not any safer than they were 18 years ago, when the AMIA Jewish Center in Buenos Aires was bombed. The Israeli people still live under real threat every day. The United States will stand strongly with our Allies to protect the security of the Israeli people.

My thoughts and prayers are with today’s victims and their families and friends. May those who are injured recover soon and the families and friends of the deceased find peace.

Representative Joe Crowley:

I am deeply saddened and troubled by the heinous attack against innocent civilians, including children, in Bulgaria today. There is absolutely no place in any society for this type of cowardly act. Today’s tragedy serves as a painful reminder of the fact that Israel and her people remain under a constant threat of violence. My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims and those injured as a result of this senseless attack.

Jewish Agency to Provide Emergency Aid to Greek Jewish Community

— by Joshua Berkman

The Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel, comprised of leaders and representatives of Jewish communities around the world and meeting this week in Jerusalem, voted to grant emergency aid to the Jewish community of Greece in order to address immediate needs in the wake of the crippling financial crisis in the country.

Jewish Agency Chairman of the Executive Natan Sharansky convened an urgent meeting of the organization’s leadership, which decided to provide some $1 million over two years to help the Greek Jewish community weather one of the worst crises it has faced in living memory. The funds will enable communal institutions to continue their operations, including programs to strengthen the community’s ties with Israel and the development of unique aliyah (immigration) tracks for those members of the community who wish to immigrate to Israel.  

More after the jump.
The aid package will be funded by the Jewish Agency and by its partners, Keren Hayesod-United Israel Appeal (UIA) and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.

The Jewish Agency leadership, including the leaders of Keren Hayesod-UIA and the Jewish Federations of North America, also announced a special fundraising campaign for the Jews of Greece and the Jewish Agency decided to dispatch Hebrew teachers to local schools and summer camps in Greece, within the coming months, in order to preserve Hebrew instruction in the community.

Some 5,000 Jews live in Greece, of whom some 3,500 reside in Athens and an additional 1,000 in Thessaloniki.  The Jewish community operates synagogues, a Jewish school, a museum, and a soup kitchen.  According to community leaders, the majority of Jewish communal institutions in the country are on the verge of closure due to the financial crisis gripping the country, which has led to a dramatic decline in donations, the collapse of income from communal assets, and a series of new taxes imposed on the communal institutions themselves.  Many members of the Jewish community are now unemployed and falling below the poverty line. Some 70 elderly members of the community require financial support to pay for basic necessities such as food and shelter.

Jewish Agency Chairman of the Executive Natan Sharansky said,

The Jews of Greece are known for their tremendous generosity toward their needy brethren in Israel and around the Jewish world.  They have contributed some $20 million to Keren Hayesod-UIA over the past decade, a huge per capita sum that has helped support the disadvantaged in Israel and elsewhere.  Today, this wonderful community needs us, and it would be unthinkable for us not to come to their aid in their time of need.