“L’CHAIM!” rings out from the tables full of exuberant young adults at the Jerusalem Community Shabbat Dinner Welcoming New Olim. It only takes one glance to understand that it’s not a typical Friday night dinner, but a lively celebration of the newcomers who just made Aliyah. With the first of two charter flights recently landing in Israel, the Nefesh B’Nefesh team works hard to ensure its Olim experience a warm and inspirational welcome. To this end, on Friday, July 24, two hundred Olim – new and vetek, Israelis and other internationals, gathered to eat, drink and be Jewish together.
A peek around the large room on Emek Refaim Street, showed young people in their 20s and 30s greeting one another with hugs and laughter. The cheerful energy seemed contagious. Friday’s meal, with its honored guests, had a spirited effect on everyone in attendance; all of whom had come for the same reason – to play an active role in their Jerusalem community and to welcome those who are new to the scene. The vibe in the room was dynamic and fresh, like the Olim who stepped off the plane and the challah in the middle of each table.
Shlomo Wiesen, who made Aliyah in September 2011 from New Rochelle, New York, made a personal effort to ensure everyone knew about the Jerusalem Community Shabbat. When he first arrived in Israel 4 years ago, he didn’t have many friends and was starting from scratch, like many Olim. Shlomo says the dinners are the best way to meet many new people at once and recalls when he was the ‘newbie’, how overwhelming the new life can be. Now a seasoned Jerusalemite, he reaches out to the people he doesn’t recognize to ensure they feel comfortable. While these community dinners happen every two months, Shlomo says that “people don’t realize there is something happening in Jerusalem every night of the week. I tell people to friend me [on Facebook] and I send them a list of 15 events – enough to keep them busy for a couple of months.”
Rachel Gemara, who made Aliyah in 2008 from Toronto, Canada, signs up for the Shabbat dinners as soon as she sees the email in her inbox. While she often meets with friends for Shabbat meals, she and her group very much look forward to the Community Dinners. “You feel very much at home,” she says, “it’s like family…everyone is together; you meet old friends and make new ones.”
Although the Nefesh B’Nefesh Jerusalem Community Dinner follows the traditional trajectory – blessing the challah, a full dinner followed by a delicious spread of desserts – one thing clearly stands out, and that is the crowd! Though the group in attendance was diverse, something truly powerful happens when they gather for the same reason. With Friday night dedicated to young Jews who celebrate one another and their new home, it is simple to see how they connect like one big happy family, creating a festive atmosphere brimming with good vibes, good food, and good people.