BEN-GURION AIRPORT, Israel (AP) — Despite regional tensions, about 350 Jews from North America landed in Israel on Tuesday, planning to make the Jewish state their new home.
Their arrival coincides with an escalating internal debate over whether Israel should attack Iran's nuclear facilities. Israel and the West believe Iran may be aiming to produce nuclear weapons. Iran denies that.
Either and Israeli attack that could set off a regional conflagration, or an Iran with a nuclear bomb to back up its frequent calls for the destruction of Israel, would seem to be good enough reason to postpone moving to the Jewish state — but the newcomers dismissed that.
"I'm not nervous about Iran," said 18-year-old Becca Richman, who left her family in Philadelphia to serve in the Israeli military. "Honestly I'm more nervous about fitting into Israeli society than I am being in the army. This is my dream. This is what I came to do."
Nearly 130 other army recruits were on Tuesday's chartered flight. The immigrants were met by throngs of family members, flags, banners, a stage and live music.
Among the dignitaries greeting them was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He commended them for deciding to "link their personal future with the future of the Jewish state and the Jewish people."
Netanyahu singled out the prospective soldiers.
"As the Jewish state progresses and rises, so does anti-Semitism," Netanyahu warned, adding "we need to defend ourselves against that and those who give it intellectual support."
More than 4,000 immigrants have arrived in Israel from the U.S., Canada and United Kingdom this year.
Sidney and Naomi Schulman left their Massachusetts dental practice to retire in Jerusalem. Their three children and 12 grandchildren, who already live in Israel, all greeted them at the airport, wearing shirts listing their extensive family tree.
"It feels right here," said Naomi Schulman. "We feel very privileged that we've reached this stage in our lives, that we've had the opportunity to reunite on a permanent basis with our children and our grandchildren."
Most North American Jewish immigrants give up their jobs back home when they move, according to Nefesh B'Nefesh, a group that helps potential immigrants make the move and sponsored the flights that arrived Tuesday.
"We wanted to move, and nothing can change our minds," said 33-year-old Shalom Schwartz, a lawyer from New York who plans to continue his practice remotely from his new home outside Jerusalem.