How Nefesh B’Nefesh's new headquarters returns to its roots

How the origin of the Nefesh B’Nefesh organization is intrinsically linked to construction of its new Aliyah Center headquarters.

NEWLY PLANNED Nefesh B’Nefesh Aliyah Center in Jerusalem (photo credit: THOMAS M. LEITERSDORF PLANNING & ARCHITECTURE LTD)
NEWLY PLANNED Nefesh B’Nefesh Aliyah Center in Jerusalem
‘There is no such thing as coincidence,” says Marty Herskovitz.
On Wednesday morning, March 28, 2001, Herskovitz’s teenage son Netanel was waiting at the Mifgash Hashalom gas station near the entrance to Kalkilya, east of Kfar Saba, for the armored bus to take him and his fellow students to Yeshivat B’nei Chayil in Kedumim, the yeshiva high school that they attended. A suicide bomber positioned himself among the students and blew himself up. Two students – Eliran Rosenberg-Zayat, 15, of Givat Shmuel and Naftali Lanzkron, 13, of Petah Tikva – were killed, and four students were injured. In the blast, Netanel’s sunglasses imploded, blinding him in one eye.
In 2004, a group of 74 families – including the Herskovitz family – who were victims of Palestinian terrorism during the al Aqsa Intifada sued the Arab Bank for providing financial support to Hamas, a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization. In September 2014, a federal jury found the Arab Bank liable for knowingly supporting terrorism efforts connected to two dozen attacks in the Middle East, among them the bombing at the Mifgash Hashalom gas station. The court decision was the first time a bank was held liable in a civil suit under a broad anti-terrorism statute. In 2017, the Herskovitzes and other families received financial compensation from Arab Bank.
“We didn’t expect the money,” he says. “I’m a middle-class person and I don’t really need this money. God sent this money for a reason.”
Using the money that they received, Marty and his spouse Pearl created the Steinmetz Herskovitz Family Fund, which has provided funding for numerous worthy charitable causes, including the Initiative for Zionist Innovation, a Nefesh B’Nefesh initiative that offers financial assistance to individuals and organizations who strive to improve and enhance their communities and neighborhoods; NATAL, a nonprofit organization that specializes in the field of war and terror-related trauma, advancing the resiliency of Israeli society through treatment, prevention, public awareness and research; and Creating Memory, an arts-based educational program intended to inspire future generations to retain their emotional connections to commemorating the Holocaust. The programs help the participants connect via shared emotional themes that they can relate to, such as family, identity, remembrance and forgetting separations, etc. Creating Memory runs workshops for high school and post-high school students as well as teacher training seminars in Israel and the United States.
“I am a second-generation from the Holocaust,” says Herskovitz, “and using creativity, art, writing and drama, people can feel emotionally connected with the Holocaust.”
Herskovitz grew up in a home where discussion of the Holocaust was off-limits. His initiative is designed to enable people to connect to the Holocaust and other narratives such as the journey of Ethiopian Jews to Israel (a joint program created together with Ono Academic College) with meaning and emotion.
SEVERAL MONTHS ago, Nefesh B’Nefesh contacted Herskovitz, requesting assistance in helping them obtain funding to secure a building that would serve as the organization’s Aliyah Center in Kiryat Haleom, Jerusalem’s National District, opposite Israel’s Supreme Court. A meeting was arranged for Herskovitz with Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, co-founder and executive director of Nefesh B’Nefesh.
Rabbi Fass, who before his aliyah had served as a rabbi in Boca Raton, Florida, started to tell Herskovitz of the origin of Nefesh B’Nefesh, and recounted that he had founded Nefesh B’Nefesh in 2002 in response to the murder of his cousin in a terrorist attack.
“I asked him,” says Herskovitz, “when the attack occurred, and he said that it was in March 2001. I then asked him if his cousin was Naftali Lanzkron, and he responded that he, in fact, was his cousin.”
Herskovitz looked at Rabbi Fass, and said, “Our son was injured in the same terror bombing, and the money that we are now providing comes from the same thing that made you realize that you wanted to set up Nefesh B’Nefesh, as a result of Naftali’s death. The coincidence was amazing, and we both became very emotional.”
Herskovitz adds that the exchange strengthened both Rabbi Fass’s faith that the path he had chosen was the correct one, as well as the family’s decision to support Nefesh B’Nefesh.
NBN CO-FOUNDER and executive director Rabbi Yehoshua Fass (left) and Marty and Pearl Herskovitz (center in jerseys) with IZI award recipients. (Photo: Tomer Malichi)NBN CO-FOUNDER and executive director Rabbi Yehoshua Fass (left) and Marty and Pearl Herskovitz (center in jerseys) with IZI award recipients. (Photo: Tomer Malichi)
In June of this year, the Jerusalem Municipality granted a designated property for Nefesh B’Nefesh to build its permanent Aliyah Center in the National District. The new center will enable Nefesh B’Nefesh to expand its services; offer more cultural experiences; and provide access to guidance, information and employment opportunities for current olim and to meet the growing demand of aliyah interest.
The new Nefesh B’Nefesh Aliyah Center will not only serve as a destination within Israel’s capital to help integrate all olim to Israel but will also help Jerusalem successfully absorb and acclimate the large number of olim who are now looking to move to the city.
Looking back at the convergence of events that made it possible for Marty and Pearl to enable Nefesh B’Nefesh to obtain its new Jerusalem headquarters, Herskovitz says, “It just seems so right that we got the money from Hamas and our enemies and are using it for good. It was the right thing for us to do.”
This article was written in cooperation with Nefesh B’Nefesh and its partners FIDF, Keren Kayemeth Le’Israel, the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration, The Jewish Agency and JNF-USA.