On Thanksgiving, Nefesh B’Nefesh olim are thankful for being in Israel

‘This is a country of miracles and magic.’

November 20, 2016 21:42

STEPHANIE NELSON.. (photo credit: Courtesy)

This Thanksgiving, Simcha and Rachel Gluck feel they have been blessed since they moved from Queens, New York, to Jerusalem’s Armon Hanatziv neighborhood.

“We sold our house and business in America, and moved to Israel on December 26, 2006,” says Simcha, 37. “When Nefesh B’Nefesh told us we were their 10,000th olim, we were so excited about it. We left some cool things in New York City, but man, coming here was the best decision of our lives. I am thankful to be living in the unfolding of Jewish history and to be part of the Start-Up Nation.”

It has not all been easy for the Glucks, who have just celebrated their 15th anniversary. They struggled for 12 years to have a baby, and Simcha’s first business venture failed.

“Today we have a three-year-old son and a one-year-old baby, Maor and Yakir, both born here in Israel,” says Gluck, whose grandparents were seventh-generation Jerusalemites. “I feel like I’m completing and continuing a circuit. I’m thankful really for the fact that this place is a country of miracles and magic.”

When the Glucks moved to Armon Hanatziv, they found just a handful of English-speakers.

“It was such a beautiful place, so we decided to go into real estate, and Rachel has been a real-estate agent for the past eight years,” says Gluck. “In that time, we have moved over 120 families here, building our community. Today, we are an awesome mix of people, English-speaking, French and Israeli, all living here in Armon Hanatziv.”

Six years ago, Simcha met his best friend and business partner, Ronen Gafni, and together they established FreshBiz (freshbizgame.com), an entrepreneurial game-based training company. “Today we’re in some 25 countries all over the world,” says Gluck. “I’m very thankful that I fell into exactly what I am meant to be doing in life.”

Together, Gluck and Gafni have written a popular book, The New Entrepreneurz: Changing the Way You Play Life (Wiley, 2014), and are currently working on their second, Entrepreneurship in the Torah.

“We feel blessed and privileged to be here, and we’re open to whatever comes next in our lives,” Gluck says. “We have a great company which trains people how to think like an entrepreneur, we have healthy kids we had no idea we could have, and we were able to build a real community here. We now have more friends and family making aliya, and we get to be that link in the chain for them.”

Gluck has a message for others contemplating immigration to Israel: “When it comes to making aliya, people make this assessment that it’s risky, whereas where they are right now is comfortable. Really they are both just choices and different sets of risks. I say to these people, Israel is a great choice. It’s a great new set of risks to choose, because the rewards and benefits are huge and awesome. I’d love to see more people come home.”

• Stephanie Nelson, 22, is thankful too, especially for being able to walk. Originally from Closter, New Jersey, Stephanie made aliya with Nefesh B’Nefesh in August 2013 and joined a combat unit in the army in March 2014. She was doing really well until February 2016.

“I was on my way to being a sergeant when the accident happened,” she says. “We had to do a paratroopers’ course, and I fell pretty badly on my back during one of the exercises. A CT scan showed that I had two split discs in my lower back.”

Nelson was forced to leave the army in July and begin a long process of rehabilitation. “I loved the army,” she says. “I seriously enjoyed every second of my service. It was really hard for me, and I may need surgery, but I’m super-thankful for the ability to walk. I’m especially thankful to my commander, who held my hand every step of the way, came with me to every doctor’s appointment and helped me, through a lawyer, to be recognized as a disabled IDF soldier.”

She recently moved into an apartment in Jerusalem’s Nahlaot neighborhood.

“I’m still in physical therapy and in the recuperation stage,” she says. “The discs won’t grow back, so it means getting used to a new lifestyle. I’m so lucky that I’m walking, I’m healthy and I’m going to be okay, but for now, I can’t work. I haven’t really decided yet what I want to do. I want to volunteer somewhere, but because of the injury, I can’t really start at the moment.”

• David Sokolow, 28, grew up in Texas, but made aliya from New York on June 29 of this year. “I would consider myself slightly more impulsive than the average person who makes aliya, as I’d only been to Israel once before making the move, and that was for a two-week Birthright trip,” he says. “I had been thinking about moving outside of New York for a while, and the opportunity to move to Israel was always on my mind, but it didn’t seem very real to me because I had started my own company, and it’s hard to run a business in a foreign country. However, I decided on a random Saturday to look into it anyway through Nefesh B’Nefesh, and was just amazed with how easy it was.”

Sokolow, the founder and CEO of a recruitment start-up called WeFind (trywefind.com), says he “decided to take the leap” and relocated the company to the SOSA entrepreneurial hub in south Tel Aviv.

“Right now, I am living in Tel Aviv (close to the beach, which is definitely a plus), running my company, and I am incredibly happy with my choice,” he says. “We are transforming how companies hire by doubling the talent networks they have access to. We’re able to do this by searching for talent in natural networks companies have access to – users, suppliers, vendors, etc. – and as a result we’re able to find the more than 55% of people who aren’t looking for jobs today.”

Moving WeFind to Israel was a big decision, Sokolow says, “but at the end of the day if you think about starting a company in the major tech sectors in the world – Silicon Valley, New York, Los Angeles, London, Tel Aviv – Israel really does come out on top.

“The talent here is really geared toward the start-up culture, everyone is very eager, inquisitive, and wants to do something big. It’s much cheaper to live in Israel than any of those other places, and you have access to a great venture capital investor environment, all things important for a start-up. It’s been great for WeFind thus far and we’re very excited to continue to grow our company in Israel.”

As Americans celebrate Thanksgiving this Thursday, what is he most thankful for?

“My parents,” he says. “When you make a big move like this and run a start-up, you start to realize how awesome your parents are in your life. My mom and dad were definitely surprised when I told them I was moving to Israel, but after many conversations, they were very supportive. You can’t put a price on that, and it’s really helped me push through the challenges of growing a company and moving to a new place.”

Asked what his future plans are, Sokolow says he is focused on “building WeFind into something amazing and adapting to life in Israel. I’m still learning Hebrew (and started to learn to sail randomly), so I have a long way until I will truly feel a part of Israel, but I am getting there. I don’t know what things will be like in six months, but I am excited for what could happen with both my company and my life, so I am feeling pretty good.”

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