Jury still out on Nefesh b'Nefesh

Ultimately, many of the Anglo new arrivals will leave if Israeli society does not embrace them.

October 8, 2007 20:45
4 minute read.
Jury still out on Nefesh b'Nefesh

nefesh B-G 88. (photo credit: )


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A friend of mine recently made aliya from Texas and has become a sort of spokesperson for Nefesh b'Nefesh, the organization that seeks to revitalize aliya from Canada, the UK and the US. With her blond hair, blue eyes, cowboy hat and conversational Hebrew with a slight Texan drawl, she's been featured in newspapers and on morning talk shows. Now that Israel has absorbed most of the immigration potential from Eastern Europe, Russia and the Middle East, there has been a major shift, organizationally, financially and ideologically, to tap new markets - namely, communities in the US, UK, France, Australia and South America. The obvious clientele for these organizations are people who are predisposed to the Zionist dream - meaning those of a more religious and right-wing orientation. While groups like NBN are non-denominational, they naturally draw the more religious and right-wing crowd. PERSON-in-the-street reaction to the new Anglo arrivals has been mixed, as I see it. There is a sense that the newcomers bring with them a higher standard of living, which is good. But they tend to be too concentrated in English-speaking enclaves, primarily in Jerusalem. And there is the problem of them being perceived as more right-wing and more Orthodox than the average Tel Aviv sabra. Which brings me back to my friend. She presents an excellent PR image for NBN. She is young, attractive and, most importantly, she is non-Orthodox and politically pragmatic. Beyond all the hype surrounding NBN, Israel has actually been experiencing negative migration over the past three years. For every person who arrives, more than one leaves. The only previous time this happened was in 1984, when the economy was experiencing nearly 450% annual inflation. Fast forward 20 years, the economy is stable, any number of local industries have become dominant global players, and bus-bombings have become, thankfully, infrequent. Yet people are still leaving, and specifically those who would seem to benefit most from the improved economic situation. NBN BOASTS a 99% retention rate. As a general rule, self-published statistics by any organization should be taken with a grain of salt. In addition, there have been unofficial surveys and polls which point in the opposite direction - of Anglos leaving after two or three years. There is ample anecdotal evidence that many Anglos simply become fed up with Israeli society - much like other Israelis who have been leaving over the past three years. Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, one of the founders of NBN, stated in a recent interview that "many positive American influences are starting to seep into Israeli culture, from the demand for high-quality service to movements dedicated to the environment, health and consumer rights." And Liel Leibovitz, author of the book Aliyah, echoed this sentiment in another interview, saying: "On the most basic level, the American olim bring with them a sense of propriety and a penchant for order that is sorely lacking in the Israeli public sphere… The sort of methodical thinking that the American mind so excels at - analytical, strategic, computing - is an asset from which Israel stands to greatly benefit." I AGREE with Fass and Leibovitz. There are many pros that come with people raised in America, and that culture can have a definite positive effect on politics as well. Anglos make the effort to vote, and they are here with the intent of contributing, taking an active role in shaping the future. It is a safe assumption that over the coming years you will see more Anglo olim becoming influential members of the Israeli political scene - especially on the Right, and you will also see the political system start to reach out to the Anglos as well. THE RELIGIOUS sphere can also greatly benefit from the Anglo influence. While largely religious, the Anglos are not haredi, but rather represent a religious mix from Reform to modern Orthodox. Religious pluralism is something desperately needed in Israel. And their presence is already being positively felt; the number of previously non-observant Israelis now attending Reform services in Anglo-run and funded institutions such as Temple Beit Daniel is on the increase. Another example are the handful of unaffiliated "study houses" that have popped up in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and have attracted more and more Israelis every year. These have encouraged a renaissance of interest in Jewish culture and experimentation with various approaches to Jewish living. ULTIMATELY, how things play out for the Anglos, and for Nefesh b'Nefesh, depends largely not on the newcomers but on what happens in the larger Israeli society. Nefesh b'Nefesh seeks to make aliya easier for Anglos, who previously might have been discouraged over issues of logistics and red tape. While the organization greatly simplifies the process of arrival, of finding an apartment and a job, whether Anglos ultimately choose to stay will depend on how the greater society treats them. NBN can help you find a job, but would you chose to stay at that job if you're exploited? So I do agree that Anglos could have a beneficial, long-term influence on Israeli society, but it is yet to be determined if they will actually remain in the country long enough to have major impact. We could yet discover that the current Anglo influx - like the dribbles of the past - is more of a short phenomenon than a long-term trend. The writer was born in Jerusalem and has spent equal time in Israel and the US. He is currently a graduate student in economics and lives in Tel Aviv. He blogs on newzionist.com

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