Customizing the Israel experience for the next generation

At Nefesh B’Nefesh, gone are the days of a one-size-fits-all aliya. At the organization’s Mega Event and Medical Seminar, potential olim get to explore what kind of aliya is right for them.

Nefesh B'Nefesh hosts its annual Mega Aliyah Fair in New York (photo credit: NEFESH B'NEFESH)
Nefesh B'Nefesh hosts its annual Mega Aliyah Fair in New York
(photo credit: NEFESH B'NEFESH)
Much has been made of one’s formative teen years as the most transformative time in a young person’s life. However, the journey truly begins after college – when one ventures out into the world and attempts to find a job, life partner and sense of purpose.
On Sunday, John Jay College in Manhattan was bustling with many bright-eyed professionals in their 20s weaving through the many booths to see how they can launch the rest of their life… in Israel.
They were some of around 1,800 people who attended the Nefesh B’Nefesh Mega Event and Medical Seminar to explore their options for aliya. Potential olim – doctors, retirees, families and others – had almost 70 lectures to choose from that would shed light on what living in Israel is like.
“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 NBN, said. “It’s a testimony to the mind-set that people are willing to entertain aliya. We’re here to give potential olim the tools so they 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, when these young professionals meandered through the college’s halls, they had a plethora of options to choose from.
Dvora Mansdorf and Shayna Whiteman, for example, spent some time learning from health care representatives about how to obtain licensing in Israel.
The two young women are currently finishing their residency as dentists in New York, and once that is complete, plan on taking the aliya leap.
“I thought the Mega was pretty well organized. I actually got to speak to someone about the licensing process, which was very helpful. I got contact info and met some other like-minded young professionals,” Mansdorf said. “The process itself is a little bit daunting, but having someone beside you who knows the process well and is able to walk you through it step by step is definitely helpful.”
While Whiteman can’t articulate exactly why she wants to make aliya, seeing the energy of like-minded people around her makes her more sure of her decision than ever before.
“I grew up in an Orthodox community that wasn’t very Zionistic, but I just got this feeling... When you get to Israel, you feel this unexplainable connection,” she said. “Then you come to these events where you meet so many people who have the same connection and it definitely makes the process less intimidating. It seems really scary, but we’re all in this together.”
As a young entrepreneur who created a career for himself in Israel, Hillel Davis encouraged young olim to take calculated risks and begin their professional career in Israel.
Davis was fresh out of school at Bar-Ilan University and unsure about what kind of career he wanted for himself in the Holy Land.
“I stumbled into my job by accident, which happens often in Israel, especially in the start-up scene. It’s the typical Israeli story – seeing a problem, then tackling it head-on to find a solution,” Davis, who now runs his own real-estate business, said.
“I think there are enough people out there that want to mentor you in whatever field there is. Things may seem intimidating at first, being half a world away, but once you get there, there really is so much room for growth. There’s so much to do and fix and build. The opportunities are endless,” he said.
At the Mega, NBN hoped to illustrate how olim can find these opportunities and cut through the red tape. Helping olim find tangible and realistic ways to achieve their dreams is exactly the goal of these aliya fairs – currently celebrating their 10th anniversary.
“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 NBN.
NBN is holding other events in Montreal, Toronto and Los Angeles in conjunction with the Aliya and Integration Ministry, the Jewish Agency, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael and JNF-USA.
Israel’s consul-general in New York, Dani Dayan, who made aliya himself from Buenos Aires decades ago, was energized by the sense of optimism reverberating through the halls.
“I can’t skip an event like this. It represents in the purest reason why I’m here in New York – to connect the Jewish community with Israel. The crux of that connection is bringing American Jews closer together with their brethren in Israel,” he said.
Most of the young professionals in attendance planned – not surprisingly – to put down roots in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. While these are some of the most popular cities in Israel, NBN believes the needs of olim who do move there should not be ignored.
As such, the organization recently opened a WeWork-like hub in Tel Aviv, where young professionals can network and commiserate with other like-minded olim. The hub also hosts regular Shabbat dinners for over 100 people.
This demonstrates a palpable need young professionals – and olim in general – have for creating not just a life for themselves, but a community.
That kind of community building and helping olim develop long-lasting relationships is the next phase for NBN, which has spent the past 16 years facilitating aliya for North Americans. It is what Freedman calls “NBN 2.0.”
“That’s what NBN 2.0 is about. The first 10 years of our aliya activities were 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.
As young professionals attend seminars about the mundane day-to-day aspects of relocation anywhere, like finding a roommate and filing their taxes, the aliya fair also helps them get a sense of how to cultivate something that they’ll only get in Israel: belonging to a mishpucha of Jews.
This article was written in cooperation with Nefesh B’Nefesh.