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Despite the News....
Nathan Kluger. new immigrant from San Antonio, TX arrived in Israel today
by Judy Lash Balint
July 6, 2006

See who arrived in Israel today at
"I just wanted to scream with joy on the plane," exclaims Sam Kuras, 88, one of 240 new immigrants from North America who landed in Israel today on the first Nefesh B'Nefesh flight of summer 2006.

Sam's wife Norma, 78, expresses her feelings on arriving: "I'm just so happy that I'll never ever have to say goodbye to my children and grandchildren in Israel again and wonder if this will be the last time I'll see them," she says as tears of joy fill her eyes.

Sam and Norma have been regular visitors to Israel ever since their daughter, Linda Kuras Mizrahi and her family made aliya from Brooklyn to Petach Tikva almost twenty years ago. In all that time, Sam resisted making a permanent move to the Jewish state. "Life was comfortable. We had a beautiful home in Florida," he says. Sam relates that it was his grandson who finally convinced him the time had come to start a new life. "He asked me where I wanted to be buried. 'In Israel, of course.' "Then why not come here to live, already?" The young man was right," Sam concludes. "For all those years, I wasn't ready for Israel, now at 88, I'm ready..." he adds.

The 16th chartered aliya flight that arrived today was sponsored by Nefesh B'Nefesh and the Jewish Agency. It's the first of six flights that will arrive from N. America this summer bringing some 3500 new immigrants to Israel.

Despite the gloomy front page news about Israeli troops re-entering Gaza to stop the barrage of Kassam rockets raining down on southern Israeli towns, the new immigrants stepping off the plane are optimistic and passionate about their new home. Marti Leebhoff from California is anxious to get to the new home in Mitzpe Netufa near Tiberias that she'll share with her husband, four kids and mother-in-law. "We know it will be a better place to raise our kids," she says firmly.

Some new immigrants, like the Kuras' are reuniting with family. Others left close family behind.

Several of those arriving make the traditional gesture of kissing the ground in an emotional homecoming.

All the olim are welcomed by a crowd of several hundred flag-waving, cheering family and friends--most of whom are recent immigrants themselves.

For many, it was a chance to relive their own aliya experience. "We didn't get this kind of hoopla when we arrived," says Shalom Abramowitz who arrived in 1994, "but it's just great to see people coming in greater numbers today," he adds, as his eyes scan the disembarking passengers for his cousin from Long Island.

The plane pulls 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 soldiers line the walkway leading into the hangar as "Veshavu Banim," the anthem of aliya, blasts out over the speaker system and a swarm of media descend on the new Israelis. [Veshavu Banim Le'Gvulam--the children will return to their own border, is from a verse in Jeremiah (31:15-17): There is hope for your future, says God; and your children shall come again to their own border. [Veshavu Banim Le'Gvulam]

As the new olim take their seats in the hangar, they're almost indistinguishable from the hundreds of more veteran immigrants who have come to greet them. Slightly younger, perhaps, but the same kind of people.

Around half of the olim are children, small children. There are 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 are Absorption Minister Zev Boim and President Moshe Katzav and his wife. "Look at me, I was a new immigrant not so long ago, and now I'm President of the State of Israel," quips Mr. Katzav, who was born in Iran and came to Israel as a child.

President Katzav gives a warm personal welcome to new olim, Ben and Melissa Kurtzer and their five children who will be moving to Maale Adumim, just east of Jerusalem. Kurtzer is the brother of former US Ambassador to Israel, Dan Kurtzer.

The singing of Hatikva closes the ceremony. Flags wave and tears flow, cameras roll and the olim take a deep breath before dispersing to their new homes to start new lives as Israeli citizens.