Record aliyah includes local trio of soon-to-be soldiers

Some 350 people from the United States and Canada — including a group of 127 soon-to-be-Israeli soldiers that included at least three young adults from the Bay Area — made aliyah by arriving in Israel on the morning of Aug. 14.

The Nefesh B’Nefesh charter flight from New York included Elias Stahl of Berkeley, Diana Douglass of Campbell and Caleb Zipperstein of Greenbrae. Immediately after becoming Israeli citizens, they will join the Israel Defense Forces.

According to Nefesh B’Nefesh, the total of 127 future soldiers was “a record high” and “a vast majority of them have requested to serve in combat units.” They and the other passengers were greeted at Ben Gurion Airport by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

At John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, 127 soon-to-be Israeli soldiers gather Aug. 13 before boarding a charter flight. photo/jta-shahar azran

“Joining the army was what I wanted to do when I decided to make aliyah,” Douglass, 20, said. “I want to serve in a unit where I can help people.”

After arriving in Israel, Stahl, 21, sent an email describing the flight as an amazing experience.

“Everyone milled around the aisles and talked constantly, so much so that they could only [do a] drink service once and had to beg everyone to sit down for landing,” he wrote. “People switched seats constantly, burst into Hebrew songs and went through all the classes [of the airplane] with no regard for separation — and no one cared.”

Nefesh B’Nefesh this summer is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its inaugural charter aliyah flight in 2002. According to  the agency, it has helped 32,000 people from North America and the United Kingdom make aliyah, and 97 percent of those olim (immigrants) have remained in Israel. Nefesh B’Nefesh said it will bring 4,800 newcomers to Israel in 2012.

At the welcoming ceremony Aug. 14, Netanyahu was quoted as saying: “Welcome to Israel, welcome home. I was given a list of all the places you come from … from California, from New Jersey, from Ohio, from over two dozen states across America. And I understand you also come from Alberta and Quebec. But the truth is you all come from one place — Israel.” — & j. staff