The Jerusalem Post Internet Edition

Nefesh B'Nefesh sponsors 1,000 more US immigrants this summer
Jerusalem Post; Jerusalem; Jun 19, 2003; MELISSA RADLER;

NEW YORK - Abir Welhous, an African-American convert to Judaism, decided to immigrate to Israel 19 years ago, after a Jerusalem bus he missed getting on was blown up in a terrorist attack.

"I believe it was a blessing from Hashem," said Welhous, 45, who converted two years later and is now married with four children.

Welhous put his dream of aliya on hold for two decades while he paid off student loans and tried to save up money for the move. Next month, Welhous is to join 1,000 North American immigrants heading to Israel through Nefesh b'Nefesh, an organization that provides one-time grants of $5,000 to $25,000 to new immigrants.

"It's been a lifelong dream," said Welhous's wife Rivka, 47, at a farewell party this past Tuesday at the UJA-Federation of New York. The family has decided to settle in the Galilee. "I feel good when I'm there. I feel alive," said Rivka.

Of the 550 immigrants Nefesh b'Nefesh brought to Israel last year, 93% are currently employed, 29 families have given birth, and just one immigrant has returned to the US, temporarily, to seek medical treatment, said the organization's spokesman, George Birnbaum. This year, he said, the immigrants hail from 27 states, 65% are Orthodox, and the youngest immigrant is a yet unborn baby, scheduled to be delivered just two weeks before the plane takes off.

The immigrants will arrive on two chartered El Al flights, on July 9 and July 23, said Birnbaum. A smaller group of 40 Canadian singles is to arrive in August.

"I think it sends a remarkable message to those in the Diaspora who are contemplating aliya," said the executive director of Nefesh b'Nefesh, Rabbi Yehoshua Fass.

According to Jewish Agency statistics, 1,664 arrived from North America in 2002, a 20% increase over 2001, when just 1,378 Americans and Canadians immigrated. In 1995, more than 2,500 Americans and Canadians moved to Israel.

"You're not crazy. You're doing the right thing," the director of the Jewish Agency's Israel Aliyah Center, Michael Landsberg, told the immigrants on Tuesday. He noted that 355 immigrants are to arrive in Israel this week, of whom 197 are from the former Soviet Union. More than 500 North American immigrants have arrived since January, he said. Of those coming to Israel this summer, 10 are from the former Soviet Union, said Ronnie Vinnikov, a Jewish Agency emissary in New York.

For Chava Levi Julian, a 48-year-old Hasidic mother of four, her decision to move occurred during a chat with her Arab tour guide during a visit to the Dead Sea.

"My tour guide, a Beduin named Younis, asked me, why are you living in New York?" recalled Julian, a clinical social worker and director of the Jewish Association for Attention Deficit Disorder. "I said, what do you mean? He said, you are a Jew, you belong in Eretz Yisrael."

Julian said her husband, Sinai, and their children, ages five through 12, were apprehensive at first because of the security situation. After spending two weeks in Israel this past April, including several days with Younis's family in a Beduin town in the Negev, the family agreed to move. Julian plans to commute between her job in New York and her new life in Israel and her husband hopes to teach English in Arad, where they hope to settle.

"When God sends a Beduin as a messenger, you have to pay attention to that," she said.

For Aaron Singer, 31, this summer's move marks his second aliyah to Israel. In 1995, Singer immigrated to join the IDF. Last year, he spent a month with his paratrooper unit in Operation Defensive Shield, and on July 23, he is moving to Kochav Yaacov with his wife Deena and two daughters, Naama, 2, and Ahuva, who will be four months old.

"It's a dream that I've always had," said Singer, director of the Brooklyn-based SOS Fund, which raises money to buy lightweight bulletproof vests for Israeli soldiers.

"It's our responsibility to live life the way we are meant to live it, which is in Israel," he said.


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