J. Agency, Nefesh B'Nefesh near deal

Exclusive: NY-based group likely to be integrated closely into agency's aliya operations in US.

olim Nefesh 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
olim Nefesh 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
North American aliya, the source of acrimony between the Jewish Agency and the private Nefesh B'Nefesh organization, may soon get a boost from a cooperation agreement being developed between the two, The Jerusalem Post has learned. After two years of sparring over the sharing of funds and publicity, which last year saw a severing of ties between the groups, they entered into arbitration negotiations in the United States in January. The reported agreement has not yet been finalized, and the sides are forbidden to speak about the matter. But sources familiar with the discussions told the Post that the agreement will likely see the New York-based Nefesh B'Nefesh integrated closely into Jewish Agency aliya operations in North America. The discussions are reportedly not easy, with each group vying for more prominent roles in the aliya process. But the prize is not only credit. The five-million-strong American Jewish community, accounting for around 80 percent of the Diaspora, is the last of the major centers of Jewish life yet to come on aliya, with a trickle numbering less than 3,000 each year. In the past, Nefesh B'Nefesh has sought to obtain some of the special powers granted to the Jewish Agency by the government, including the right to open official immigration files and to recommend Interior Ministry entry visas for potential immigrants. These requests have yet to be approved by Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit. Sheetrit was slated to meet with Nefesh B'Nefesh cofounder and Florida businessman Tony Gelbart last month, a meeting that was reportedly canceled due to scheduling constraints. On Tuesday, Sheetrit toured the organization's offices and operations center in Jerusalem. Contradicting the speculation of some observers, a Sheetrit spokesman denied these events were related to Nefesh B'Nefesh's hopes for a raised status. Sheetrit declined several requests for an interview on the matter. It is unclear - and a spokesperson would not comment - whether Nefesh B'Nefesh is willing to forego these aspirations in the context of the reported agreement. The two organizations are markedly different creatures. The Jewish Agency, in its semi-official capacity vis-à-vis the Israeli government, maintains each oleh's official file and obtains entry visas. International in scope and fulfilling an official role in Israeli public policy, the agency is the vehicle through which every Jew or relative of a Jew around the world can make aliya. Nefesh B'Nefesh, as a private organization, chooses its participants through a careful screening process. With this selectivity, generous grants and extensive social networks and employment assistance on the ground in Israel, NBN boasts a retention rate for olim that is nearly 100%. But in North America, both run aliya information events, manage the flights of olim and offer them support once in Israel. According to the sources familiar with the discussions between the two groups, the redundancy of these activities and the perception among many that the public battle hurts donations are the driving rationales leading the two to seek a modus vivendi.