As a journalist who has closely followed the development of Nefesh B’Nefesh since it was founded 20 years ago by Rabbi Yehoshua Fass and Tony Gelbart, it was a proud moment to be at the inauguration of its state-of-the-art Marcus Foundation Aliyah Campus next to Cinema City and opposite the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on November 15.
In the presence of President Isaac Herzog, the spectacular new building and its rooftop with a breathtaking view of Jerusalem were packed with dozens of guests enjoying sushi and cocktails. The night culminiated in an emotional gathering in the auditorium at which Rabbi Fass, NBN’s executive director, presented Gelbart, its chairman, with his new immigrant card.
Herzog joined Fass and Gelbart in cutting the ribbon for the dedication of the campus, and a mezuzah was affixed by former Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, a Holocaust survivor. His son, Chief Rabbi David Lau, related how the Lau family home had always been open to new immigrants from the whole Diaspora.
The grounds for the campus were given to NBN by the Jerusalem Municipality, headed by Mayor Moshe Lion. Aside from the office floor, the building has multiple outdoor and indoor spaces for a myriad of aliyah-related event programming, including a conference hall, meeting rooms and a multimedia presentation center.
“The central motif of the structure’s design is the desire to highlight the significance of modern Zionism and aliyah, while serving as a welcoming environment for all those being hosted in the building,” NBN says. “Upon entering, new immigrants, visitors and staff encounter an office space and the Aliyah Campus that is a combination of enhanced technological systems and warm surroundings.”
“We are truly grateful to all those who were involved in making our new campus a reality,” said Gelbart and Fass in a joint statement. “Our permanent home in Jerusalem opens endless possibilities of expanding our aliyah services and initiating new projects.”
In his opening address, Herzog – whose father, Chaim, made aliyah from Ireland and who served as chairman of the Jewish Agency before becoming president – said he had a soft spot for “Anglo” (English-speaking) immigrants.
“I believe that the growth of this organization is vital for the story of aliyah from all over the world and the story of aliyah from the United States,” Herzog said. “We can bring half a million olim to Israel within five years and change the State of Israel, the nation-state of the Jewish people, in a very dramatic way.”
In the last 20 years, NBN has flown over 70,000 immigrants to Israel, of whom more than 90% have remained here. The organization, in cooperation with Israel’s Aliyah and Integration Ministry, the Jewish Agency, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael and JNF-USA, says it is “dedicated to revitalizing aliyah from North America by removing or minimizing the financial, professional, logistical and social obstacles of aliyah.”
In an eloquent address, Rabbi Fass said his favorite image (“forever etched in my heart”) from the dozens of flights NBN chartered in the last two decades was one of a Holocaust survivor who was almost 90, holding hands with a 10-year-old girl she had befriended on board as they disembarked from an El Al plane flying immigrants from New York.
I was fortunate to be on an NBN flight in 2015, after which Sue Friedman, 90, from Riverdale, NY, was greeted at Ben-Gurion Airport by her granddaughter, former MK Rachel Azaria. My eyes teared up as I watched Azaria hugging Friedman, and saying, “Welcome home, savta (grandmother)” before presenting her with a new immigrant card.
With the decision by Gelbart and his wife to make aliyah as Nefesh B’Nefesh opened its Aliyah Campus in Jerusalem – it’s our turn to say: Welcome home, NBN!