The Ingathering of the Exiles is Still Happening Today!
An interview with Nefesh B'Nefesh
April 26, 2006 - Audio, 14.00 MIN
(Links at bottom of page to download free viewers.)
This is Dave Billington with you for this weeks Bible in the News. Ever heard of Nefesh B'nefesh? Well don't touch the dial, because they are an exciting organization that is making headlines!
(Audio News Clip....Arrival of a Nefesh B'nefesh Flight)
Years before the birth of modern Zionism, in the November 1856 Herald of the Kingdom and Age to Come, editor John Thomas reproduced a short piece of poetry that expressed his faith of the re-gathering of the Jews back to the land of Israel, which he wrote about in detail on many occasions. The piece is entitled: "The Restoration of Israel" and the first three stanzas read as follows:
Ye people of Israel remember the days,
When God for your fathers so wondrously wrought;
He still is a God who His glory displays,
And gladness shall yet to his people be brought.
Divided and peel'd as a people are ye:
The darkness of night is the noon of your day:
But gladsome and glorious your gathering shall be,
And sorrow and sighing shall far away flee.
Already the Highest outstretches his hand,
Already He calls from the height of the Heaven:
"Ye captives of Israel, return to your land,
"The land which to you by my cov'nant is given.
The Jewish people have been returning to the land of Israel now for over 100 years, and they are still returning or "making Aliyah" today. Aliyah is a word meaning "a going up." For the last few years there has been a small exodus from North America to Israel; the organization behind this is called Nefesh B'Nefesh and they have made news recently with their plans to expand into Great Britain. These Jews are not fleeing persecution or financial distress--in fact for many of them life is good in North America. Why leave to live in Israel, a country that many would consider dangerous. Referring to the first exodus from Egypt God says: "I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself." These Jews from America are coming on wings too -- El Al Jumbo Jets, and every seat is occupied by a new immigrant to Israel! To find out more about this exodus we spoke with Charley Levine, the spokesman for Nefesh B'Nefesh who lives in Israel.
Okay, Charley welcome to the program!
Thank-you very much.
To start with Charley could you tell all our listeners, who have never heard of Nefesh B'Nefesh, what your organization does?
Yes, our organization was started around 5 years ago as a means of making it easier for those North American Jews -- so far we have been concentrating on the United States and Canada -- to come live in Israel. Those who wish to do so face more than their share of bureaucracy and red tape and we try to help them in the process that can be sometimes challenging.
So, you said Nefesh B'nefesh has been around for about 5 years, so how many Jews have you brought home?
I think the number, so far, is close to, approaching 7000, actually. We are very pleased that last year -- although, again the numbers are relatively small, nevertheless every number counts because it is an individual who is fulfilling his dream -- but we we're really pleased, last year, 2005, was the record number of North Americans who came to Israel in the past 21 years, I believe, so it seems that we've hit upon something of a trend and we are trying to encourage it.
Wow, that's awesome...now there is an aspect here to Nefesh B'nefesh which would be really interesting to our listeners and that is really, your organization is fulfilling the words of the prophets in the Bible. When Chaim Weizman read out his appeal before the UN, he quoted from the prophet Isaiah, and I am just going to read exactly what he said. He said: "The Lord shall set again His hand the second time to recover the remnants of His people and He shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth." So really, Nefesh B'nefesh in a way is fulfilling the words of the prophets...so have you ever thought about that?
Oh, absolutely, it's impossible not to think about that when you are on one of the flights. One of our characteristics -- we have a few of them -- is that we very much encourage all of our people to come together, so that they have sort of a group experience and a spirituality... to each of our flights - we have had 15 of them, so far, since we were created. Each of those flights is just an amazing spiritual catharsis... you walk on and every seat on that plane is taken by a young couple, or their children, or grandparents or someone who is coming to live in Israel. It is not just Mr. Goldberg in row 17C, it's the entire plane, so of course one is confronted by the question, the big questions, like: "What does this mean?", "What is the significance of it?", "What is the value of it?", and the prophet's words very much echo and resound on each of those flights and in everything that we're doing.
So, Charley, have you ever been on one of these flights? I take it you have.
Oh, I've been on way too many of them...I've been on about eight or nine or them so far.
So, what's the atmosphere like on those flights, like you said, the whole flight is full of emigrants, you're coming over the Mediterranean Sea and the coast of Eretz Yisrael comes into view. What's the atmosphere on the plane at that moment?
With your permission, I'd love to get there, but you got ahead of us a little bit, cause I'd like to say that it's a real profound emotional thing. It starts at JFK in New York -- we've actually had one from Toronto as well, from Pearson -- it starts there and it's a little bit sad, because, again, you have the beginnings of a group, everybody is standing in line with their suitcases and everything, but there it is a place of tears, because they are saying good-bye. They are saying good-bye to elderly parents, grandparents, what-have-you, brothers and sisters who are not sure--although... I don't want to over-dramatize it--they're not sure exactly when they are going to see each other the next time around. It could be months, even over a year, two years, who knows. So there is that sort of tension on that side of it and then everybody gets on the plane, and nobody really knows each other and then an amazing phenomenon starts taking place immediately, because people start mingling and talking to each another and... "oh, I'm headed for Modiin, where are you headed for...I'm going to Bet Shemesh", whatever, and then the children start playing in the aisles together and by the end of the flight when, as you said, when that vision comes through the windows on either side of the plane, and you actually see the shoreline of Israel, the Land of Israel coming toward us...it's amazing emotional moment. When the plane lands, and then we always have a ceremony of some kind to greet the people as they disembark, often times soldiers in uniforms waving Israeli flags, music, dancing, representatives of the government greeting the newcomers...all that kind of stuff just makes for a tremendous high once they have landed, as you suspected. So, it was the long answer to the question, but I just wanted to give a little bit of context there.
Yes, thanks very much. So, when all the new immigrants are deplaning -- I know that a long time ago, or not that long ago, before they built the new terminal, you used to go straight down onto the blacktop of the Holy Land, but now you go straight into the terminal - do they go into the terminal, or do they go down onto the ground.
No, actually, for those of your listeners who are familiar with the airport, up until now we keep staying to the old terminal. Terminal 3 - the new terminal - is the one that is in use, but for whatever reasons we like to have the ceremony, and you can't just do that in the new terminal, so generally we have the planes disembark the passengers into the old terminal and we take that over for an hour or two and have the ceremony there.
It could change, I'm not sure that it will be always, but it's what's been up until now.
Okay, so, what are people's reaction when they walk down the steps of the plane?
Oh! Total emotional fulfillment, most of these people have been to Israel before -- almost all of them -- but this is a whole new ball game. Now they are coming, not as visitors or as tourists, but as owners and as citizens, so its a whole more emotionally charged - different level of experience.
Okay that's great. So, Charley, I would imagine it would take a special kind of Jew to emigrate to Israel during the last 5 years of unrest and everything like that...so do these immigrants tend to be a little more ideological, or what drives them to come home?
That's a great question - I really used to beg off it by saying that you have 7000 people and there's 7000 different stories - because you do find similar threads, but the truth of the matter is you find a wide variety of Jews - many of them are religiously observant, I mean, some of them are not. You find young people - we've had a 2 week old baby on, we've had two 90 year old sisters on, you find singles, you find marrieds, you find all kinds of different people, but the common denominator shared and enjoyed by all of them is, indeed, this real profound sense of connection to the land of Israel. These are people who are giving up a pretty comfortable lifestyle in America or Canada, and they know that - they know what it means; and at a time when tens of thousands of people are trying to cross the borders into those countries, either legally or illegally, here's a small, but idealistic group of people who are actually voluntarily giving it up, to make this tremendous move to a new country, new land, new language and they know why they're doing it. They are definitely highly motivated individuals and that's the dream and it's being fulfilled!
Right, so, I guess secular Zionism probably isn't such a driving force, maybe, as it was - although some people probably come for that reason, but, as you say, there are a lot of religious Jews that are coming and are they coming then... they must be coming for...maybe, a religious Zionist type of ideal?
There certainly are a significant proportion of the people who are coming with us thus far who are motivated by a religious sense of what their life and their values are all about, yes that's true. But listen, again, we're at the very beginning you know, so our goal is to bring this message and this invitation to all 6 million - plus Jews in North America and most of them are not actually religious Zionist, committed to doing this today. We want to bring the opportunity that exists to them, many of them have never even thought about it or considered it even for one minute of their lives and we want to say, look these thousands of other people are doing it, something is driving them, they're succeeding in what they're trying to do, maybe you should think about this for you. And certainly not everybody is going to say yes to that question, but it bothers me that most people aren't even considering the question.
Right, so Nefesh B'Nefesh is certainly getting that question into the news...
And interviews like this that we're doing.
Right on, that's great. So I heard on the news recently that you're expanding into Great Britain, so that's quite a big development, is it for you?
Yes, we haven't, to tell you the truth, we're in the middle of finalizing all of the details that are going to be involved, but what I can tell you that I know at this point is that probably in August we will have our first ever flight of newcomers from England as well. And more details of that I don't really have a lot of at the moment, but we are very energetically working at this very moment to fulfill that one.
Okay, that's great, so do you have any other goals or plans for the future, you mentioned some, but is there anything else...
Basically just more of the same and listen, we are at the very, very beginning of what we're trying to do. 7000 is a wonderful number but, between you and me compared to the potential that we envision here, it's nothing, and we want to just build upon that and make aliyah a commonly known goal in people's lives and then we want to make it much easier to fulfill. We want to get rid of government red tape, we want to help people financially, we want to help them find the right community for them, find the right schools for their children, and probably most importantly of all, we have 50 people who work for us just to match up newcomers with jobs. If you have a job and you come, the chances are you are going to be successful and stay, and if you don't it's the other story. So that's one of the main things we invest our efforts in, matching people up with jobs.
Okay, great, so if somebody wanted to find out more about Nefesh B'Nefesh, you have a website...
That's right, it's www.nefeshbnefesh.com
Okay, that's great. Charley thanks so much for doing this interview and I wish you all the success and you are doing a great work, thanks.
Thank-you for sharing in our vision bringing our words to so many people.
Thank-you very much Charley, bye now.
The LORD is still building up Zion, and when he builds up Zion he will appear in His glory!
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