NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — On Wednesday, a flight carrying more than 200 passengers from Israel landed in Nashville as part of a Murfreesboro nonprofit’s efforts to protect Americans and Israelis who were in the region when the war began.
Of the hundreds on the free flight, dozens of passengers will be staying in Middle Tennessee with volunteer host families or for a couple of nights before going to visit family and friends across the United States.
The flight was arranged by the Nazarene Fund, a Christian nonprofit founded by radio host Glen Beck, and the Shai Fund, which is based out of Murfreesboro.
The passengers were greeted by members of the Nashville Jewish community singing, waving Israeli and American flags, and handing out toys and treats.
“When you feel alone in the world, it’s nice to know that there are people that stand with you,” said Israeli-American Morris Rieger.
Rieger traveled with two of his children to Nashville before going to his parent’s home in Florida. He lives in a kibbutz about two miles from the Gaza border with Israel and is continuously haunted by what he saw and heard Saturday, Oct. 7.
“I mean, what I had to explain to my kids is something that I never in my life thought that I would have to tell them,” he said. “Explain to them where I put the knife and the baseball bat, you know, which is probably pointless anyway if people I’m charging with grenades and guns and RPGs, you know, made a makeshift lock on the safe room door with the children’s bed guardrail.”
He said three Israeli soldiers managed to keep the attackers away from their home.
“We were really just in complete darkness. You know, we had to turn off the lights and the air conditioners, close all the windows, make it look like nobody was home,” Rieger remembered.
Getting out of Israel wasn’t easy for him and his family. Many evacuation flights were canceled or postponed, but they kept their bags packed and at the ready. His wife and youngest child decided to stay in Israel with family in a safer region of the country.
For other passengers, this is their first time in the U.S. and they are staying with host families, like Todd Nichols.
Nichols is a former Green Beret living in Franklin who works with the Next Response Foundation. He said he learned about the flight while at a pickleball tournament.
“I just see the tears come out of their eyes and this makes me tear up,” he said.
The passengers said they hope to return to Israel once tensions de-escalate.