The Diverse Faces Aboard the 53rd Nefesh B’Nefesh Aliyah Flight
JNS.org – “We will be a part of something so big—it is unthinkable to me,” Tracie Beavers said three-quarters of the way through a nearly 12-hour flight on July 13. The Columbus, Ohio, mother of three was on her way to Israel, making aliyah with the support of the Nefesh B’Nefesh (NBN) agency.
Tracie’s journey is an unlikely one that began about a decade ago, peaking in 2013 and triumphing when she boarded the plane to Israel. Tracie and her husband Aaron are both African-American converts to Judaism. Their long-winding path to the Jewish homeland began a generation ago with Aaron Beavers’s father, who “changed his lifestyle” when he discovered Torah, said Tracie.
Aaron’s father infused in him a love of yiddishkeit (Jewishness), though he never converted his wife or children. Aaron Beavers was raised Christian, but nearly two decades later, he came to the same conclusion as his father—that Torah is truth.
In 2009, Aaron and Tracie decided they wanted to be Jewish. In 2013, they completed their conversion. They proceeded converted their oldest children—Anayah, 8, and Gabrielle, 6. Chanan, 2, was born into the Jewish faith.
About a year ago, the family decided the next step was moving to Israel.
“If you believe something, you should do it as much as you possibly can. You should be as close to it as you can,” Aaron Beavers told JNS.org.
The family has moved to Bat Hefer, a community in the Sharon plain, east of the central Israeli city of Netanya. Aaron said he plans to be a plumber. Tracie will continue to stay at home with the children. A former member of the U.S. National Guard, she said she now hopes to volunteer for the Israel Defense Forces.
The members of the Beavers family were just a handful of the 221 diverse faces—all newly minted immigrants in the Jewish state—aboard the NBN charter flight on the El Al airline that took off from New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport on July 12. It was the 53rd charter flight in NBN’s history. Other organizational partners behind the flight included Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption, the Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael, and JNF-USA.
NBN’s co-founder, Rabbi Joshua Fass, told the group prior to takeoff, “Returning to Zion is like dreaming. … It is a diverse group of Jews coming together for a common dream.” The other co-founder, Tony Gelbart, said each aliyah flight is as exciting as the next.
“For these olim (immigrants to Israel), it is their first time,” he said.
Aboard the plane was a four-month-old baby and a 90-year-old bubbie, as well as two sets of three-generation families. In total, there were 32 families and 95 children. NBN has helped more than 45,000 olim get to Israel since its founding in 2001.
The 90-year-old bubbie was Sue Friedman, grandmother of Rachel Azaria, a member of the Israeli Knesset for the Kulanu party. Friedman said she has wanted to move to Israel since she left Germany at the age of 13, years before the Nazis annihilated 6 million Jews during the Holocaust. She spent many years raising a family in Riverdale, N.Y., but infused in all of her children a love of the Jewish state. She is being embraced in Israel by 27 great-grandchildren.
“I am ready,” she told JNS.org. Friedman is now residing in an independent living facility in Ra’anana.
While there were mixed emotions in the air as families boarded the flight in New York, leaving loved ones behind in America and feeling unsure of what exactly the future holds in Israel, there was nothing but joy upon landing.
“It is not a piece of cake, but it is our piece of cake,” said Member of Knesset Gila Gamliel (Likud).
En route to Israel at the same time as world powers were finalizing a nuclear deal with the terror-sponsoring nation of Iran, Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Ron Prosor told the olim, “You are the answer.”
“You and I share a common mission: standing every day on the front lines defending Israel to those who question Israel’s right to exist. You are the answer to BDS (the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement), to anti-Semitism. … I will feel strong today when I return to the U.N.,” Prosor said.
Jewish National Fund CEO Russell F. Robinson told the group upon their landing at Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport, “You are sending the message of victory—the Jewish people are coming home.”
As Tracie Beavers walked up the stairs to the airport entrance, greeted by Israeli flags and cheers from Israelis who came to greet the aliyah flight, she smiled deeply. Though she said she never felt out of place as a black Jew in Ohio, in Israel she already felt “in place.”
“I am on a God journey,” she said. “Israel binds us together.”