Tuesday, June 28th | 29 Sivan 5782

September 1, 2020 5:19 am

Aliyah During COVID-19

avatar by Shmuley Boteach


Children land at Ben-Gurion Airport and are greeted by Nefesh B’Nefesh co-founders Rabbi Yehoshua Fass and Tony Gelbart, as well as Israel’s Minister of Aliyah and Integration, Sofa Landver. Photo: Shahar Azran.

To see Israel today is to witness prophecies come true: the Jews are back in the mix, on their land, and at the helm of their destiny — precisely the way God promised. But we must also recognize the armies of men and women bringing these prophecies to fruition.

God told Ezekiel, “The towns shall be resettled and the ruined sites rebuilt,” and Israel’s brave pioneers and immigrants made good on that promise. The Irgun, Haganah, and the IDF were honoring another pledge: “They shall no longer be a spoil for the nations, they shall dwell secure and untroubled” (Ez. 34:28). Today, Israel’s agricultural workers help the “land to yield its produce and the tree to yield its fruit” (Lev. 26:4), while those in the bustling high-tech sector vindicate Moses’ prediction that Israel would be celebrated worldwide as “a wise and insightful people” (Deut. 4:6).

Equally awe-inspiring — though lesser known — is that prophecies are being confirmed by Jews in the Diaspora too. Right here in North America, there’s a small but specialized force bringing another beautiful promise to life: that God will bring His scattered people home.

From the online application through the touchdown at Ben Gurion airport and beyond, Nefesh B’Nefesh guides returning Jews through bureaucracies on both sides of the ocean, helping them navigate healthcare, banking, and the hunt for jobs, homes, and friends.

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“Even if your exiles are at the end of the heavens,” Moses assured us some 3,300 years ago, “the Lord your God will gather you from there, and from there He will take you.”

Over the past few months, I’ve seen these words rise like a tide — up close, firsthand, and inside my own home.

About a year ago, my 19-year-old son Yosef informed my wife and I that he’d be moving to Israel and joining the IDF. I knew it wouldn’t be easy; when the pandemic hit, I was sure he’d have to make peace with a dream delayed. What I didn’t know was that the global pandemic had only sent Nefesh B’Nefesh and the Jewish Agency, under the inspired leadership of Isaac Herzog, into overdrive.

In June, it was announced that they had received a record number of applications — 1,350 in a single month — and logged more than 25,000 calls from people still on the fence. The surge reflects Israel’s immigration estimates: In 2019, 35,000 Jews moved to Israel; over the next three to five years, Israel expects that figure to rise to an astounding 250,000.

With all of that going on, they still got Yosef in. Last week, he arrived in Israel, got an Israeli ID, and went off to his pre-military academy in the deserts of the south. He is the fourth of my children to become a citizen of the Jewish state. All of this was made possible through the ongoing assistance from volunteers and organizers at Nefesh B’Nefesh, the professionals at the Jewish Agency, and the amazing staff at the Israeli embassy in Washington.

Nefesh B’Nefesh brings Jews back to Israel in the way G-d would; amid unbridled kindness and compassion, and providing attention and dignity for every person in their care.

We’ve got a lot more prophecies to see through. God’s ultimate promise is a world without hunger, poverty, or war  — certainly without pandemics. We eagerly await that day of complete redemption. Until then, we continue to endure painful reminders that our exile hasn’t wholly ended. But the same prophecies that kindled Jews with a hope strong enough to endure nearly 20 centuries of suffering can keep us looking forward still.

The great sage Rabbi Akiva famously comforted a group of rabbis crying as they watched foxes frolic on the Temple Mount. Far from a sad sight, he insisted, they were witnessing the fruition of the prophet’s words, “Zion shall be plowed as a field.” He then told them of another passage, which predicted Jerusalem being reborn: “Old men and women shall yet sit in her streets.”

Isaiah predicted precisely how his predictions would be proven true: “All the nations assemble as one, The peoples gather. Who among them declared this and foretold to us things that have happened? Let them produce their witnesses and be vindicated! That men, hearing them, may say, ‘It is true!’” (43:9).

The prophets spoke three millennia ago, but today we can all say, “It is true!”

Thanks to organizations like the Jewish Agency and Nefesh B’Nefesh, there’s barely a need for faith or imagination — the accuracy speaks for itself.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is a writer, author, and commentator.

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