From Ground Zero to holy ground

A former NYPD officer and a top aide to Mayor Bloomberg set up their new life here.

Serkin 311 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Serkin 311
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
On July 7, 232 North American Jews made aliya on a charter flight sponsored by Nefesh B’Nefesh and the Jewish Agency. While its safe to assume that all of the immigrants will be missed back in their hometowns, former New Yorkers Yonit and Yosef (Joe) Serkin, should be especially missed in Manhattan.
Before making aliya, Yonit, 27, worked for nine years as an adviser to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, helping craft municipal politics at the very highest level in America’s largest city. She started volunteering at the mayor’s office as a college freshman studying international relations at Johns Hopkins University, and four years ago began working professionally as deputy chief of staff for economic development. She developed strategic communication plans for major redevelopments throughout the city, including the construction of the new Yankee stadium, the redevelopment of ground zero and the refurbishing of Shea Stadium.
After Serkin arrived, Bloomberg expressed his regret at losing a trusted adviser, but expressed confidence that Israel and Sirkin would benefit from her move.
“Yonit started working in politics and government at the same time I did,” Bloomberg said. “Back then, I was a firsttime candidate who all of the so-called experts said had no chance of winning, and Yonit was a student at my alma mater who thought we could prove them wrong. Luckily, Yonit made a lot fewer mistakes that summer than I did.
Nine years later, she had become one of my closest economic development advisers at city hall – in charge of reimagining entire swaths of our city and implementing the plans to make that happen. If she were leaving us for any other reason than making aliya, I’d be upset. But Israel, like New York City, is constantly being rebuilt by innovative and ambitious new arrivals, and I am sure what she can do there, like in the Five Boroughs will be virtually limitless.”
On the plane, Yonit said her time in city hall “has given me a good perspective on how government can be and the benefits of bringing a private sector approach to government.” She added that she is interested in working in strategic communications in Israel, either in the government or private sector.
YOSEF “JOE” Serkin, 28, will be missed by the residents of Harlem, where he spent three and a half years as a police officer in the New York Police Department’s 28th district.
When he was in college at Brandeis University, Serkin began working in emergency medical services with the local fire department. Serkin said that after two years in EMS, “the next logical step” was to go into the police department, which he said offers greater training and opportunities.
Serkin said that in EMS, “there are a limited number of roles you can play” and that he began looking at the police department, because “I wanted to explore more options and see what else I could do; so I started to get more exposure to the police department and see what it’s all about.”
“I always joked that Joe was possibly the only yeshiva and Brandeis University grad police officer wandering around Harlem,” Yonit said.
Joe worked as a patrol officer initially, before he and his partner formed a specialized team that focused on narcotics and violence enforcement in an at times dicey neighborhood. “We don’t say high-crime neighborhood, it’s a “busy precinct”; it has a high volume of 911 calls.”
Joe said that he would consider the prospect of working in law enforcement here, but not as a police officer.
“It’s a very writing and reading intensive job, and I don’t think my Hebrew is there yet. Also I’ve already been a police officer and I’m looking to expand on that.” Serkin added that it isn’t just a matter of the low pay police receive here, but also the fact that with his experience and English, there may be better opportunities out there. He did, however, say that he would consider working for an international crimes division of the Israel Police, which would draw on his English and his experience tracking down fugitives in New York.
In the meantime, he’ll return to school, starting studies in counterterrorism and homeland security at the IDC in Herzliya in the fall. He said he hopes to continue with his training and mix acculturation into Israel with his career.
AHEAD OF their marriage nearly two years ago, the couple managed to be written up in the weddings and celebrations section of The New York Times, where they described how they were fixed-up by their parents, a rare success story for the Jewish mothers dating service.
Within the first 10 minutes of their first date, they told one another that they planned on making aliya one day, realizing that they had that in common.
Unlike many new immigrant couples, the Serkins won’t be alone here. Yonit’s family made aliya in 1984 and lived in Haifa until 1991. She still has extended family in country.
Joe on the other hand is just the latest Serkin to make aliya. His father came last summer, and one of his sisters came here in September. Another sister is married to an Israeli and lives here as well.
“Eighty percent of us live here now”, he said, with Yonit adding that the Nefesh B’Nefesh flight was the fourth such flight for a member of Joe’s family.
The Serkins said that their decision to make aliya wasn’t spurred by religion or any sort of reason to leave America, rather they saw a better life for themselves here.
Both Yonit and Joe said they feel this is a great place for children to grow up, and presents a number of unique experiences that come along with being a Jewish state.
Following the couple’s disembarkation, Nefesh B’Nefesh vice president Erez Halfon welcomed the Serkins and the other 230 immigrants to their new home.
“It has been a great honor for us to assist new olim like Yonit [and Joe] Serkin and the additional 230 North American Jews who arrived on board this summer’s first chartered aliya flight organized by Nefesh B’Nefesh and the Jewish Agency,” he said. “These olim, together with the 5,000 North American and British Jews we are helping move to Israel this year, bring a wealth of talent and experience to Israel, impacting on our economy and culture and infusing renewed Zionistic passion and energy into Israeli society. ” Said Yonit: “I always wanted to come back as an adult and make my life here.
This was always part of a plan, and it was important to be with somebody who is interested in making aliya.”