When Avraham Lifshitz moved to Migdal Ha’emek years ago, his family didn’t have any furniture. Or rather, no furniture that was assembled. That is because as the family began to unpack, the movers decided to simply leave them in the lurch and left them with countless pieces of furniture that needed to be put together.
But rather than despair at this not-so-warm welcome to Israel, they were fortunate to encounter the kindness of their neighbors.
“One family brought a bunch of neighbors. Seven people came to assemble furniture in 25 minutes. We didn’t even know where our power tools were, we had 200 boxes – they could have been anywhere. This is the type of community we have,” he said of his town.
Lifshitz was part of a panel spotlighting those who did not just make aliya, but decided to begin their life anew as pioneers living in Israel’s North and South.
The panel’s audience was just a small fraction of around 1,800 people who attended the Nefesh B’Nefesh (NBN) Mega Event and Medical Seminar to explore their options for aliya. From doctors, to retirees, to families, potential olim (immigrants) had almost 70 lectures to choose from that would shed light on what living in Israel is like.
“Nefesh B’Nefesh is committed to assisting its olim throughout their entire aliya process and constantly strives to help them professionally, logistically and socially,” said Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, co-founder and executive director of Nefesh B’Nefesh.
The model of the fair is in such high demand that NBN, in conjunction with the Aliya and Integration Ministry, the Jewish Agency, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael and Jewish National Fund-USA, are holding other events in Montreal, Toronto and Los Angeles.
“We’ve seen this aliya fair grow over the years. To see 1,800 people walking through this place from morning to evening is remarkable,” Doreet Freedman, vice president of partnerships and development at Nefesh B’Nefesh said.
“It’s a testimony to the mindset that people are willing to entertain aliya. We’re here to give potential olim the tools so you can not only integrate, but succeed.”
For Freedman, this fair – and NBN in general – are essential for North American aliya because Jews coming from America embark on what Natan Sharansky has famously dubbed “an aliya of choice.”
“We’re talking about a population that has choices.
Aliya is no longer ‘one-size fits all.’ These aren’t people running away from something. North American olim are not uniform,” she said.
As such, Americans are interested in exploring options and that includes venturing off the beaten path and residing in the North and South. In fact, 20% of NBN’s olim decide to put down roots there, and it’s a figure that NBN and Jewish National Fund hopes will only grow as the years march on.
As caretakers of the land and people of Israel, one of Jewish National Fund’s main priorities is to ensure that new residents will have choices upon arrival to their new home. With its Blueprint Negev and Go North campaigns, which aim to drum up migration to Israel’s North and South, respectively, JNF is committed to ensuring that all of Israel thrives, not just its overpopulated center.
“The cities are congested and they’re expensive. Today’s olim are looking for an affordable lifestyle and a place where they can raise a family with pride. Tel Aviv is probably per square foot more expensive than New York City, and Jerusalem doesn’t lag far behind,” Freedman explained. “But there are amazing opportunities else- where.”
Sean and Dani, a young couple from Manhattan who asked that their last names not be published, came to the Mega Event to learn more about these opportunities.
“We’re looking for a small community where we can be a real integral part of the community. We want to be able to make a difference,” Dani said, adding that the two are both seniors in college and hope to make the aliya leap after graduation.
As someone who currently lives in the suburbs of Beersheba, Donna Horwitz, NBN’s Go South director, vividly recalls when she made the same life change with her husband years ago.
“The South is young and exciting. It’s a place where you can influence your surroundings. For people who are looking to find places that are bigger than themselves, it’s the place to be,” she said.
It is also a market ripe for English speakers, Horwitz explained.
“They have the ability to leverage their English skills in the South, whether you’re in non-profit or education, there are fewer English speakers in the South so there are many options,” she said.
As such, JNF’s Blueprint Negev campaign has helped make Beersheba the fastest growing city in Israel where major companies have set up shop.
From Lockheed Martin to PayPal, Beersheba is gradually becoming Tel Aviv’s competitor in the hi-tech arena.
With Blueprint Negev, JNF is ensuring David Ben-Gurion’s vision for a bustling Negev will come to fruition. So while this was a dream decades ago, as Israel is reaching its 70th birthday, the organization believes that by putting in place the infrastructure needed, making jobs available and providing a robust quality of life, that dream is becoming more and more attainable. The ultimate goal though, is not only attracting the 500,000 people they want to come down to the South within a decade – but that they will choose to stay.
From its Lauder Employment Center, which works closely with local businesses to help residents find jobs, to its new massive River Park project, the organization is doing its part to transform the desert into an oasis.
In the North, where Jewish National Fund hopes to bring 300,000 people, the organization’s stakeholders have taken the time to get to know the people of the region and identify their needs. The Western Galilee Tourist Information Center, for example, is a JNF partner that brings together small businesses in the area to drive up tourism and lend a healthy boost to the local economy.
Next up on the agenda is the newly formed Eastern Galilee Task Force, which is working hard to transform the area into the culinary capital of Israel.
Ultimately, though, Freedman believes that cultivating roots and developing communities is the way of the future for both Jewish National Fund and Nefesh B’Nefesh. It is what Freedman calls “NBN 2.0.”
“That’s what NBN 2.0 is about. The first 10 years of our aliya was about changing the conversation that aliya is possible, viable and a place where people can thrive. Now, NBN 2.0 is about building community,” she said. “And for Jewish National Fund, instead of planting trees, we are planting people all over Israel.”