El Al, Nefesh B’Nefesh fly Pittsburgher to reunite with lone soldier
No family in IsraelChallenging experience for lone soldiers

El Al, Nefesh B’Nefesh fly Pittsburgher to reunite with lone soldier

Nancy Jo Aharon did not think that she would be able to make it to Israel to celebrate with her daughter, Tamar

Photo courtesy of Nefesh B'Nefesh
Photo courtesy of Nefesh B'Nefesh

After suffering from a stroke in April, Nancy Jo Aharon did not think that she would be able to make it to Israel to celebrate with her “lone soldier” daughter, Tamar, at her tekes sof maslul, the ceremony marking the end of basic training for the Israel Defense Forces. A lone soldier is a soldier in the IDF who has no immediate family in Israel.

Aharon, a dentist with a practice in Turtle Creek, faced financial challenges resulting from the time she had to take off from work recovering from the stroke, and the cost of a ticket to Israel became prohibitively expensive once she realized that she was healthy enough to travel.

That’s where a new partnership between Nefesh B’Nefesh and El Al providing flight subsidies to parents of lone soldiers came in to help, allowing Aharon to fly to Israel to be with Tamar at the tekes on July 26.

Tamar and her mother, Nancy Jo Aharon
Photo courtesy of Nefesh B’Nefesh

“They paid for all but $250 of the ticket,” said Aharon. “They made the ticket possible for me, and it meant everything in the world to me. I’ve got seven children, and one chose to be in the IDF. I had every intention to be there for her, and I didn’t think I’d be able to do that.”

Nefesh B’Nefesh, in cooperation with the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency for Israel, works to facilitate the aliyah process for those coming from the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom by helping to minimize the financial, logistical and social obstacles that those considering immigration to Israel might face. It began a partnership with El Al last March to help the parents of lone soldiers.

Tamar, who is in the Israeli Navy, was thrilled to have her mother with her at the tekes in Haifa.

“I was so happy she was able to make it,” Tamar wrote in a prepared statement. “She had a surgery a couple weeks before so she wasn’t sure she’d be able to come, but when I found out she was able to, I was so excited. Not only would she be at my tekes, but we got to spend a whole week together. It felt like I was just like the rest of the Israeli soldiers with their families when looking at my family in the audience, which I didn’t think I’d feel in my service.”

Serving in the IDF can be a “challenging experience” for lone soldiers, as well as “deeply emotional for parents,” according to Yael Katsman, director of communications for Nefesh B’Nefesh.

“A soldier participates in an average of three ceremonies throughout his or her IDF service: the ‘swearing-in ceremony,’ the ‘acceptance into his or her unit’ and the ‘end of basic training,’” said Katsman. “Nefesh B’Nefesh recognized the importance of having a parent present at these ceremonies and decided to approach El Al with the opportunity to take part in reuniting parents with their lone soldier children at these momentous occasions.”

So far, more than 50 parents have been able to attend their children’s ceremonies since the launch of the project. There are currently 100 subsidized tickets allocated for 2017 and Nefesh B’Nefesh is working on renewing the initiative for 2018.

One subsidized ticket can be allocated for each lone soldier family. The tickets are restricted to parents of lone soldiers serving in their first year of the IDF service, or to parents of lone soldiers in elite units who have training courses ending during their second year of service, and are nontransferable. Eligibility for the subsidized tickets is tied to financial need.

“It is a tremendous privilege for us to help parents of lone soldiers reunite with their sons and daughters during their army service,” said Nefesh B’Nefesh co-founder and executive director, Rabbi Yehoshua Fass. “We want to ensure that families have the ability and opportunity to participate in this special milestone.”

Nefesh B’Nefesh will bring more than 2,000 olim making aliyah from North America this summer, through two charter flights, 11 group flights and “olim arriving independently on a daily basis,” according to Jake Sharfman, a spokesperson for Nefesh B’Nefesh.

Jim and Leigh Lando, from Pittsburgh, were on the charter that left on Aug. 15 for Israel. The Landos are both physicians and will be moving to Be’er Sheva as part of Nefesh B’Nefesh’s Go South program. Jim Lando is a retired admiral and assistant surgeon general and regional health administrator for the U.S. Department and Health Human Services. pjc

Toby Tabachnick can be reached at ttabachnick@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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