Steven and Esther Accardi, with their two young children, will soon be leaving their Rockland County home and jobs to join a group of 531 American Jews from across the country who are making aliyah, en masse, next month.
That the tab, in part, is being picked up by Evangelical Christians (some of whom want to bring Jews to the Promised Land to hasten the Second Coming of Jesus) apparently doesn’t faze them.
The source of a cash grant of about $20,000, which the Accardis are getting through the organization coordinating the group emigration, Nefesh b’Nefesh: Jewish Souls United, originated from the Chicago-based International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. Evangelical Christians gave the fellowship more than $29 million last year for the immigration to Israel and absorption of Jews from distressed countries including Argentina, Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union.
"I have no problem with the source. It’s coming basically from God-fearing good people who recognize the truth in the idea of Jews being in the land" of Israel, said Steven Accardi, 42.
The money will go toward moving costs and living expenses during the couple’s first six months in Israel, when they will study Hebrew full time. All told, the fellowship has donated $2 million toward the Americans’ aliyah effort.
"We have already helped over 200,000 Jews immigrate to Israel," Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, president of the fellowship, told The Jewish Week.
The funding comes at a time of rising Evangelical support for Israel, which has prompted discomfort among some in the Jewish community who question the Christians’ ultimate theological motivation.
The Accardis, along with more than 130 other American families, will be leaving JFK airport on July 8, arriving at Ben Gurion airport the next day.
It is the largest American group to go as far as anyone can remember, says George Birnbaum, a spokesman for Nefesh b’Nefesh, which is based in Boca Raton, Fla.
Many of the American emigrants are in their 20s and 30s; some are single but most have young families. They come from all over the United States and identify themselves with all parts of the religious spectrum, though many are Orthodox and Conservative; just a few families are Reform, Birnbaum says.
After landing in Israel next month, the new Israelis will go to their new homes in Tiberias, Haifa, Beit Shemesh, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Almost all of the families plan to live inside the Green Line, Birnbaum said; but a few, like the Accardis, will be living in the West Bank settlements Efrat and Kochav Yaakov.
Nefesh b’Nefesh’s goal is to get a full planeload of Americans (about 400) going on aliyah four times a year, Birnbaum says. Already, they have two planeloads of screened American applicants who hope to go next year.
North Americans making aliyah aren’t eligible for the grants that the Israeli government often gives to new immigrants from distressed countries, though like all new citizens, they receive housing and tax subsidies.
When Israel’s Jewish Agency was seeking money to defray the Americans’ costs, it appealed to Rabbi Eckstein. He offered $1 million and asked the Jewish Agency to obtain the same amount from the U.S. Jewish community.
But American Jewish federations, stretched thin by fund-raising commitments including emergency campaigns for Israel, weren’t able to do it, says Rabbi Eckstein. He agreed to pledge the entire $2 million.
"It’s unfortunate that the American Jewish community is not paying for it," says Rabbi Eckstein. "Aliyah is just not on their radar screen."
The larger theological objective shared by many evangelical Christians (to fulfill the Biblical mandate to bring about an "ingathering of the exiles," in an effort to hasten Jesus’ return) was not an obstacle for Nefesh b’Nefesh.
"I don’t think the theological objective was a consideration," says Birnbaum. The money is "coming from an honest, reliable source who we’re happy to have participate in making people’s dreams come true."
And it poses no problem for Steven Accardi either, who will soon be leaving his job as a psychologist in a Monsey counseling center.
"The fact that they’re helping Jews, and are sincere about it, is very positive, " he says. "Their motives aren’t all that relevant to me."