Young professionals on the move with Nefesh B’Nefesh

For many young, single professional olim, moving to Israel is much more than ideology.

By ALAN ROSENBAUM
July 18, 2019 10:12
4 minute read.
Young professionals on the move with Nefesh B’Nefesh

YOUNG PROFESSIONALS land in Israel on a Nefesh B’Nefesh charter aliyah flight.. (photo credit: SHAHAR AZRAN)

‘Culturally I feel much more comfortable in Israel than I do in the United States,” says third-year Harvard student Razi Hecker, speaking from Cambridge. “I connect more to the culture there than I do to the culture here. Ideologically, it’s important for me to live in Israel as a Jew. Those are two pretty strong reasons for anyone to want to move anywhere.” Hecker, 21, will be making aliyah with a Nefesh B’Nefesh group flight on August 20th.

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Razi Hecker spent seventh grade in Israel with his family when his father, a professor of Jewish mysticism, was on sabbatical and returned for his gap year before college. Unlike most prospective new immigrants, Hecker is fluent in both Hebrew and Arabic. He has majored in Arabic and Islamic studies at Harvard and will be completing his undergraduate work in record time at Hebrew University of Jerusalem this fall. After receiving his degree, Hacker plans to join the IDF, where he hopes that his knowledge of Arabic will help him qualify for an intelligence unit.

Hecker explains that while he had originally wanted to study Arabic to help his future military service, he found Arabic and Islamic studies to be stimulating and challenging. “I enjoyed learning it,” he explains. “It seemed like something I could throw myself into.”

HARVARD STUDENT Razi Hecker. (Credit: Courtesy)

Hecker is among those young professionals – singles between the ages of 18 and 30 – who according to Nefesh B’Nefesh pre-aliyah director Marc Rosenberg, make up more than 30% of those who immigrate to Israel each year with the organization. “Every year there are between 1,300 and 1,400 singles under the age of 30 that make aliyah,” he says. Rosenberg explains that Nefesh B’Nefesh provides special services for young professionals who are making aliyah. “We help young professionals by providing them with additional employment and higher educational advisers in order to ensure they have the resources to create a strong post-aliyah plan for themselves.”

Rosenberg says that 1,200 North American immigrants are currently receiving tuition assistance from the Israeli government. “If you are under the age of 30,” he says, you might qualify for a highly subsidized bachelor’s or master’s degree. “A lot of young olim are coming and taking advantage of that college tuition assistance.” He notes that for most young aliyah applicants, “student” is the profession listed on their aliyah application. “They are either coming to study or they recently were students. They may have studied psychology or business, but they don’t really know what they’re going to do, and they’re coming to really start their careers.”

HECKER SAYS that Nefesh B’Nefesh has been helpful with his aliyah planning. “Nefesh B’Nefesh has a very easy platform with a good website. Everything that was ‘on me’ to do I have done, and everything that is ‘on them’ they’ve done.”

Rosenberg notes that 65% of the young single professionals who make aliyah with Nefesh B’Nefesh do not list their Jewish affiliation as Orthodox. “They affiliate with other senses of Judaism, whether it’s ‘just Jewish’ ‘other,’ ‘Conservative’ or ‘traditional.’ There’s a great diversity of people that are coming,” he says.

YOUNG PROFESSIONALS at work in the Nefesh B’Nefesh Tel Aviv Hub, a free co-working space for olim in the heart of the city. (Credit: YONIT SCHILLER)

For many young, single professional olim, moving to Israel is based on much more than ideology. “People don’t always make aliyah for ideological reasons,” says Rosenberg. “Sometimes the practical factors make sense. When they realize that they can get a good career and a great quality of life and go to the beach in Tel Aviv or the shuk in Mahaneh Yehuda in Jerusalem and not have to worry about health care, then aliyah becomes a significant draw. Israel is a competitive place to live when it comes to quality of life.” Rosenberg adds that women make up 55% of new young professional immigrants and men, 45%.

Razi Hecker has many friends who have made aliyah. “There are many different combinations of ‘college-army-Israel’ within my group,” he says. “I have a friend who served in the IDF in the Mahal volunteer program – which allows men and women to serve without going through the official aliyah process – then returned to college and now wants to make aliyah.”

“My parents are both supportive of my aliyah as long as I finish college,” says Hecker with a smile. “That’s the condition.” Is there anything from his life in the United States that he will miss once he makes aliyah? “I’ve gotten into rock climbing in the last six months. But then I learned that there is a rock-climbing gym in central Israel.” Grinning, he adds, “Of course, I can climb the real rocks in the Negev.”

Hecker, together with hundreds of other young professionals, will soon be taking his first steps toward aliyah, climbing over obstacles and rocks, both real and figurative, with the assistance of the team at Nefesh B’Nefesh, together with Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah and Integration, the Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael and the Jewish National Fund USA.

This article was written in cooperation with Nefesh B’Nefesh.


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