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    These Americans, undeterred by war, are moving to Israel. ‘We are stronger together’
    • October 18, 2023

    As the war rages in Israel, prompting many people to evacuate, some Americans instead are packing their bags to move to the Holy Land.

    Akiva Goldberger, 24, of Hollywood, plans to catch a one-way flight Wednesday from Miami to Ben Gurion Airport, Israel’s main international airport. The Princeton University graduate plans to find a job in electrical and computer engineering in Tel Aviv. Wednesday’s departure had been scheduled long ago, and he said he won’t be derailed.

    “I planned my whole life around it,” Goldberger said. “This isn’t a deterrent in any sort of way. Especially in difficult times like this, you see the Jewish community band together and stand united. We need to all show our support for each other. This is definitely a way of doing that.”

    When he gets on that plane, along with a couple from Miami, they’ll be the latest to make aliyah — a Hebrew word meaning to “go up” and describes the act of moving to Israel from the Diaspora.

    Goldberger is leaving with a group called Nefesh B’Nfesh, co-founded by a rabbi while he was living in Boca Raton more than 20 years ago. He’s among the Americans who are either moving this week, or made new plans for aliyah since the turmoil started last week.

    Goldberger is mindful about the safety precautions when he arrives in Israel. He’ll be staying with his sister in Jerusalem, until he finds a job and gets his own apartment. Goldberger’s sister has an assigned safe room, which is a bomb shelter, and he knows where it is if he has to use it. “Everyone knows where they need to be if the sirens goes off,” he said.

    He said he’s more worried about the soldiers being called to the front lines in an expected ground invasion of Gaza to both find the hostages and destroy Hamas. “Seeing them (the soldiers), the risk of me being injured in Jerusalem is so low it doesn’t register for me.”

    Helping people migrate

    The Boca Raton rabbi, Joshua Fass, was motivated to not just move to Israel, but to start the organization after his 14-year-old cousin was killed in Israel in 2001 while he waited for a school bus and so he decided at the time he would “stand in his stead.”

    Since then, the organization says it has aided more than 75,000 Jewish people migrate from the United States and Canada. The organization helps olim (what immigrants who make aliyah are known as) find jobs and housing. There are classes for those seeking career changes, and more ongoing hand-holding for English speakers to deal with the nuances of daily life, such as navigating school for children, and real estate purchases.

    The Israeli government also assists with free health insurance for a year, and grants as part of an “absorption basket” to help with relocation costs. That starts at $4,500 for a single person, and goes up depending on family size.

    In addition to the three people flying out of Miami, there are two more people flying out of Los Angeles on Wednesday. And 20 people from New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Ohio and Michigan are leaving out of Newark, also Wednesday, according to Nefesh B’Nefesh.

    The 25 olim leaving America on Wednesday range in age from 19 to 79.

    Seeking to leave Israel

    Amid the conflict, the State Department has said about 20,000 U.S. citizens have requested help getting out of Israel. There are about another 400 to 600 Americans in Gaza, according to published reports.

    Even with Nefesh B’Nefesh, many older empty nesters and retirees told the agency their plans would have to be postponed after the latest spat of violence, which is spiraling into a war, said Marc Rosenberg, the vice president of Diaspora Partnerships, speaking by cellphone from Jerusalem.

    But also since the events have unfolded more than a week ago, another 60 Jewish Americans have signed up to start their aliyah process, Rosenberg said. “It’s a gesture, it’s a statement. ‘I’m connected,’ and that’s remarkable,” Rosenberg said.

    Some South Floridians who already were living in Israel have decided to stay there to volunteer. “I don’t just want to leave and go back to America,” Marci Hartman, 24, who grew up in Boynton Beach, told WPBF-Ch. 25. “I don’t want to do that, because this is where I belong. These are my people, and I don’t want to leave my people.”

    Facing attacks

    Hamas fired rockets from Gaza into Israel on Oct. 7, a holiday called Simchat Torah, while also breaching what was supposed to be a security fence and invading Jewish neighborhoods and an outdoor music festival. Families were shot to death, burned alive, and an estimated 200 people kidnapped over the border into Hamas-ruled Gaza.

    The attacks, dredging up historical memories of European pogroms, was the largest single-day massacre of Jews since the Holocaust. In Israel, more than 1,400 people were killed. (Israel has responded with airstrikes in Gaza that, according to Palestinian health authorities, have killed at least at least 2,778 people as of Tuesday afternoon.)

    Rosenberg said immigrants are still going to Israel from around the world for ideological reasons. The current situation is temporary, he said. Others are going for the religious connection.

    “Israel is the only Jewish country in the world. A rough spot is not going to change that,” he said. Rosenberg said it won’t be easy.

    Jewish immigrants from the West have the same challenges: “Hebrew is a tough language, it’s hot here, we’re in a desert, and we have terrorists near us. People who are moving here know those things, it’s not that they think they are moving to Boca Raton.

    “It’s part of the reality, and they plan accordingly.”

    Relocating to his new home

    After Goldberger’s plans to rent an apartment fell apart, he’ll be bunking with his sister, who made aliyah long ago and who now lives in Jerusalem. Goldberger wants to be there, find someplace where he’d be useful to help, volunteer his time, until things settle down and he can find a job in tech.

    Goldberger’s bags are being packed, only two of them for now. He is figuring out what goes with him when he gets on a one-way flight Wednesday, and he’s thinking it will be mostly his clothes.

    “I haven’t decided which mementos come in these bags, that might be a game-time decision,” he said.

    Goldberger’s mom supports his decision.

    “He doesn’t want to be deterred, his commitment is to be there,” said Dr. Sharon Sholiton Goldberger, a pediatrician and an assistant dean at Nova Southeastern University. “He doesn’t want to be deterred, certainly not from a terrorist organization, from making his dream come true.”

    While this war disrupts his dreams of immediately entering the world of high-tech, “life isn’t perfect and he very much feels like he needs to be contributing,” his mother said. “I’m proud of him.”

    Lisa J. Huriash can be reached at [email protected]. Follow on X, formerly Twitter, at @LisaHuriash

    ​ Orange County Register