Israel arrivals: No regrets

“I really feel like in Israel, because it’s so new, there’s so much opportunity to do your own thing and a lot less pressure to follow a specific path."

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July 31, 2019 17:02
Israel arrivals: No regrets

BRACHA LAMM BERGER, 25. (photo credit: JONNY FINKEL PHOTOGRAPHY)

As the granddaughter of former Yeshiva University president Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, Bracha Lamm grew up assuming she would attend the university’s Stern College for Women. But after graduating from the university’s high school for girls, she did a gap year at the Migdal Oz seminary in Gush Etzion that changed her direction in life, steering her toward aliyah.
“I grew up in West Hempstead in a really warm, loving family and community. I never joined Bnei Akiva or went to a Bnei Akiva camp, so my Zionism didn’t come from there as it did for a lot of people I know, but from the emphasis that both my family and my school placed on the Jewish story,” she explains. “That led me to see Israel as a way I could have the biggest impact and be a part of Jewish history.”
Whereas most gap-year students return to their home countries to continue their education, Bracha opted to stay and do a year of national service (Sherut Leumi).
“Seeing all my Israeli peers at Migdal Oz going into the army or Sherut Leumi, I felt uncomfortable that they were doing service while I had taken a year for myself and was missing that second step of doing a year for others,” she explains.
Bracha was assigned to a foster home in the AMIT network in Jerusalem. “It was amazing. I really fell in love with the land, the people and the culture, and saw Sherut Leumi as step toward aliyah,” she says, noting that Israel now more strictly enforces a law requiring national service volunteers to be Israeli citizens.
The following August, Bracha came to Israel aboard a group flight organized by Nefesh B’Nefesh, settled into an apartment in Givat Shmuel with several friends from Migdal Oz, and started political science studies at Bar-Ilan University. Her schedule was light enough that she looked around for something meaningful to do in her spare time.
“When I was in Sherut Leumi I didn’t know a lot of people who had stayed in Israel after a year of seminary or yeshiva, but I met hundreds of people like that in Givat Shmuel. I felt that students considering doing the same thing needed a support system. So a bunch of friends and I made a Shabbaton for seminary and yeshiva students thinking of staying in Israel, and Nefesh B’Nefesh agreed to be a sponsor. We had 120 students come, and afterward a lot of those students started reaching out with a million questions and I realized there was a need to fill.”
With her sister, Peninah Kaplansky of Modi’in, Bracha founded Here Next Year, a nonprofit organization that provides information and community-building events to help such students in their decision-making process. After three successful years, NBN took over the program.
“That’s exactly what our goal was,” she says. “We wanted to be grassroots and build a reputation and then join with Nefesh B’Nefesh. We now have an amazing new director running Here Next Year.”

IN MARCH 2018, around the time she was looking for her next project, Bracha became engaged to one of her Givat Shmuel friends, Akiva Berger of Alon Shvut. They wanted to sign up for an Israeli gift registry but didn’t find any that were both affordable and user-friendly for overseas gift-givers.
“The best option for registering in Israel was to register on Bed, Bath & Beyond [in the US], and then to ask Aunt Rachel and a random person you once knew from summer camp to schlep a few items at a time to Israel so that one day down the line you would be able to start using that fine china. It was kind of crazy because Israel is a pretty big country with a lot of great products,” she explains on the website of La’Bayit Gift Registry (labayitgifts.com) which Bracha founded with her husband, and which now occupies most of her working hours.
Jumping from the nonprofit to the profit world was nerve-wracking, Bracha admits, “But it’s Israel, so everything is chill and informal. That’s actually the most frustrating thing and the best thing about Israel, and it was a smooth and easy process. Nobody thought not to trust me or have a business relationship with me.”
She had five free mentoring sessions with start-up consultant Shari Wright Pilo through the MATI Jerusalem Business Development Center. “Shari was amazing. She believed so much in the business and is one of my biggest champions. She had the social-media marketing expertise and super-valuable insights I needed to grow my business.”
La’Bayit Gifts launched in February 2019. “Our goal was 30 couples in the first year and we already have 115, so it far exceeded our expectations,” Bracha says.
The website is in English, and its clients hail from English-speaking countries. But many of the 25 vendors on the site are Israeli businesses – large ones such as Keter and Vardinon, and small ones such as Barbara Shaw Gifts, Michsaf Silver, Dorit Judaica, Einav Ceramics, Laura Cowan Modern Judaica, Slicer, Yair Emanuel, Sarah Raanan Photography and Nikki Sadek London Hair & Makeup Design. For brands based overseas, Bracha works with their Israeli importers.
She and her husband, a computer programmer with a hi-tech company, work from home in Arnona. This conveniently located and relatively affordable neighborhood attracts many immigrant retirees as well as immigrant young couples. “It’s like a little suburb in Jerusalem,” Bracha says.
If she had stayed in New York, there’s no telling what she would be doing professionally. Perhaps she would have gone to Stern College and gone on to law school. But she has no regrets.
“I really feel like in Israel, because it’s so new, there’s so much opportunity to do your own thing and a lot less pressure to follow a specific path. Sherut Leumi really highlighted that for me because they put so much responsibility and trust in the hands of a young person. As an entrepreneur, I have found this is the perfect environment for me.”


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