‘Creating the impossible’

Nefesh B’Nefesh lauds its first group of Initiative for Zionist Innovation grant winners who found creative ways to contribute to the Jewish state.

Winners of NBN’s first Initiative for Zionist Innovation grants (photo credit: BEN KELMER)
Winners of NBN’s first Initiative for Zionist Innovation grants
(photo credit: BEN KELMER)
Most Israelis enjoying a fun night out know getting the check is the ultimate buzzkill. A couple of appetizers and a few beers out in a pub can set a young professional back quite a bit, especially when one enjoys going out on a regular basis.
“I moved to Tel Aviv paying incredible amounts to just drink a beer. You get your credit-card bill at the end of the month and it’s like, ‘Whoa, there’s no way it should cost this much,” Jason Barnett, who made aliya from Kansas, chuckled. Rather than sit back and accept the exorbitant cost of going out, he decided to try his hand at making beer at home.
“I found I could produce beer at home for a fraction of the cost,” Barnett who has been making beer out of his home for the past year said.
The oleh and former lone soldier has parlayed that skill into a fledgling business called Opus Brewing. Barnett brings his equipment to homes and businesses for team-building workshops that show how making beer at home can be fun, relatively easy and a money saver.
“Israel is this progressive country and a hotbed for start-ups and finding your own way. It’s totally possible to do that here, all you need to do identify your own strengths. I’m sustaining the Zionist ideals with a practical operation,” Barnett said.
This first crop of Initiative for Zionist Innovation (IZI) winners are doing just that – tapping into the entrepreneurial spirit of Zionism – in their own unique ways.
Barnett is just one example of the 20 organizations selected by Nefesh B’Nefesh for this new grant, which awards the recipients from $1,000 to $5,000.
The initiative, launched this year and funded by Keren Kayemeth Le’Israel and the Avram and Sharon Blumenthal family, awards the next generation of social and business entrepreneurs. As Barnett proved, merely complaining about a problem just won’t do. Instead, with gumption, creativity and some newly acquired Israeli chutzpah, they decided to find ways to solve these problems themselves.
“I’m looking at a room specializing in the impossible,” Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, co-founder and executive director of Nefesh B’Nefesh, said at the grant award ceremony, which took place at NBN’s new work hub in Tel Aviv.
“We are thrilled to award these grants to the inaugural recipients of the Initiative for Zionist Innovation, which will enable these successful olim to expand their ventures and further impact the State of Israel,” Fass added.
The grant winners’ work ranges from social-based and fun projects like Barnett’s to more serious ones hoping to rectify serious deficiencies within a community.
DR. RINAT Green is part of the latter. As a mother of a dyslexic child, she decided to establish Kol Koreh, a learning hub for children with dyslexia and other learning disabilities. At Kol Koreh, the goal is to identify learning disabilities in children at an early age, so treatment can be more preventive-oriented and not corrective.
As a psychologist by profession, Green was able to identify her child’s condition but saw many kids in her children’s classroom who went undiagnosed. With one out of five children affected by dyslexia, it seemed that this was a phenomenon largely ignored in Israeli schools.
“I realized very quickly that there are kids who were being misunderstood,” Green recalled. “They give other reasons why the child is struggling – ADD, behavioral issues – but at times, it’s really dyslexia which, if caught early, can be treated.”
The center is currently based in Beit Shemesh, but they are looking to open a larger facility in Jerusalem in the near future.
At the moment, their curriculum is integrated into two schools: Yeshivat Sha’alvim (a high school for boys) and the Beit Shulamit High School for Girls in Jerusalem. Their work is two-pronged: helping not only high school kids, but also children in kindergarten, so intervention can occur early on.
“I and everyone on my board all made aliya,” Green explained. “We all have children who have struggled because of learning disabilities. We are able to come in as outsiders and look in and say something is not as it should be and it should be corrected. We can bring our collective knowledge in education and mental health into the Israeli system.”
For Green, there is no excuse for sending a child to school with a condition that can easily be treated.
“Every day that a kid comes with a stomach ache, it’s a day lost. There’s no reason it should be that way,” she said.
ZEHAVA ARKY and Michal Lichy are deeply familiar with the struggle of caring for children as well, especially when most of their familial support system lives an ocean away.
The two young mothers opened Hub-Sheva, a hub center in Beersheba, where working parents can pay by the hour for a place to work that also provides daycare services for their children.
It’s an ideal solution for parents who usually work from home and paying for day care per month would be money wasted. This way, parents can load hours onto a card and swipe in whenever they need peace and quiet to get things done.
In Beersheba, a city regarded as being on the cusp of a boom socially, technologically and culturally, a facility like this is filling a gaping void for many working parents.
“Lots of people in Beersheba telecommute,” Lichy explained. “We know day care is very expensive and if you pay by the month it’s a use-it-or-lose-it scenario when it comes to the hours. As such, we wanted to come up with a solution so parents could work and have their children cared for and only pay for the hours they use.”
The two believe the hub – which has yet to open – will be extra beneficial for Anglos.
“Part of the challenge about making aliya in the south is many don’t realize there’s an English-speaking community here,” Arky explained. “We are going to have classes and different community events as part of our initiative to reach out to the community.”
Benji Davis, NBN Israel program manager, hopes the IZI grants will be part of an NBN tradition.
“This is the beginning of so much. Our communal strength creates the greatest impact. The strength of Jewish people is our strength in numbers. Please know that Nefesh B’Nefesh as an organization looks to strengthen olim and the impact they strive to create,” he said at Sunday’s ceremony. “We are here celebrating the Zionist dreamers.” 
This article was written in cooperation with Nefesh B’Nefesh.