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Boca Families Move to West Bank Despite Violence

Uri Pilichowski's new view is breathtaking. Last Monday, the Boca Raton rabbi packed up his wife and five kids, boarded a chartered flight, and relocated to Mitzpe Yercho, a suburb of Jericho. When he looks out his window, all he sees is Jordan.

Jericho -- one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world -- has had a posse of Americans moving in over the course of the past few weeks. And the place that's known in the Pentateuch as the "city of palm trees" is seeing this influx of people moving from what's known in the states as "Palm Beach County."

Despite the violence that's rocked Gaza in the past three weeks, the Pilichowski patriarch says he is more determined than ever to live out his dream of uprooting his life in Florida and plopping down in a West Bank settlement that's considered illegal by international law.

And he's not alone. Nefesh B'Nefesh, the nonprofit that helped the family make the move, find a place to live, and secure jobs in their new home, says the flight that departed on July 21 was packed with 230 people -- the most they've ever had. There wasn't a single cancellation.

"It's always very emotional, but given the war, it was especially moving that these families were still pursuing their dream of living in Israel," says Rachel Channon, who handles media relations for the company.

Nefesh B'Nefesh, which started in New York in 2002, has seen massive growth over the past decade. While organizers used to move 100 to 200 people to Israel a year, Katzman says they now transport about 5,000 a year. Even though more than 1,000 Palestinians have died in the region over the past month, these new immigrants feel they will be insulated from the bloodshed.

"There is a chance you'll get hit by a rocket, but unless you're right next to Gaza, you'd never really know there was a war going on," Pilichowski says. "We're not priority targets for Hamas."

Uri Pilichowski, a Judaic studies teacher who works in West Boca and North Miami Beach, has been telling his family for ten years about the impending move to Israel. He says the biggest hurdle has been bracing for the high cost of living there. Real estate is more expensive, he says, and he's had to liquidate all of his assets and prepare to buy new stuff overseas. He also says he has "complete confidence in God and the Israeli forces" when it comes to keeping his family safe.

Before leaving their home of ten years, the Pilichowskis traveled to every state in the U.S. They were in the news earlier this month for coming across several boxes of lost tefillin, or Jewish prayer boxes, while shopping for cheap electronics in Alabama. Uri Pilichowski used Facebook to return the religious objects to their original owners.

Three more families from Boca Raton will be on Nefesh B'Nefesh's August flight. Although it might seem like a bizarre coincidence, it isn't really that surprising. South Florida is the third-largest Jewish metro area in the country, trailing only New York and Los Angeles.

"I think what we're finding is that this is a very ideological immigration," says Yael Katzman, marketing director for Nefesh B'Nefesh. "Yeah, they're a little nervous, but for the most part, they're just determined to live their lifelong dreams."

Send your story tips to the author, Allie Conti.

Follow Allie Conti on Twitter: @allie_conti

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Allie Conti was a fellow at Miami New Times and a staff writer for New Times Broward-Palm Beach, where her writing won awards from the Florida Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists. She's now the senior staff writer at Vice and a contributor to the New York Times, New York Magazine, and the Atlantic.

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