Arrivals: Moving Israel forward

Jonathan and Nicky Newfield aim to help build this country in a positive way.

arrival 521 (photo credit: courtesy)
arrival 521
(photo credit: courtesy)
Johannesburg native Nicky Newfield made aliya just last June, but she’s no newcomer to Jerusalem.
She and her husband, Jonathan, lived in the South African city from 2003 to 2006, returning only because they missed their families terribly.
But from the start, they knew they would return.
“I felt my neshama [soul] had been ripped out of my body; that I had left half of it behind in Israel,” said Newfield. “We always held the dream of coming back.”
Actually, the dream began many years before, when she took her first trip to Israel at age 10. “I wrote in my diary that I felt I had arrived home,” she recalled.
After finishing her education as a physical therapist the University of Witwatersrand in 1999, she did a sixweek internship at Beit Loewenstein Rehabilitation Center in Ra’anana, working with patients suffering from serious head trauma.
“I knew not one word of Hebrew, but I loved it.
When I finished, I applied for a post there, and came for a year in 2000. I met my future husband in Jerusalem at Aish Hatorah when I went to learn in a seminary afterward. We had gone to the same school in South Africa, but had never met before.”
The couple married in Johannesburg, and in 2003 came to Jerusalem for a year that stretched into more than three. Jonathan earned his master’s in business administration and Nicky became a certified doula after giving birth to daughter Leah.
“We really worked and lived here, and it was amazing.
We felt it was a very ‘alive’ life, in which every holiday had a spark of its own. You could feel every nuance and energy.”
During their seven years back in Johannesburg, Newfield practiced physical therapy and taught Judaic studies classes to women. She gave birth to two more children, Yehuda and Michal.
While on bed rest during her third pregnancy in 2010, Newfield co-developed Shabbat Interactive, a pilot online curriculum whose success in Jewish schools worldwide led to the July 2011 launch of the nonprofit organization Jewish Interactive (JewishInteractive.
“It was created to digitize the Jewish studies curriculum from grade 1 to 6, making it interactive and dynamic in the digital age,” she explained. “We develop apps and provide teacher training and workshops in schools.”
The newest product, Succa Challenge, is an iPad app developed with educational advisers and Disney animator Saul Blinkoff, who did drawings for the films Pocahontas and Mulan.
Newfield likes the international flavor of the project and what she has been able to bring to it as a new immigrant.
“Working abroad in the educational field, we see how technology is utilized in schools and we hope to have an impact on education here, while taking the energy that exists in the Jewish nation to all the schools outside of Israel. It’s a two-way street,” she said.
Jewish Interactive is working directly with about 75 schools outside Israel and two, so far, in Israel.
Some 120 schools access the material through the website.
Jewish Interactive also had a role in bringing the Newfields back to Israel. They had brought the family on a working trip over Succot 2012. When Newfield met with principals at various schools to promote her curriculum, she was advised that her eight-year-old daughter would have a much easier time acquiring Hebrew fluency if they did not delay their move back.
The couple took this advice to heart, but they did not simply pack up and fly over.
“We made a plan to come here,” she stressed. “We didn’t just arrive. To make our aliya successful, we had to put certain things in motion. We worked out our budget and decided where to live by coming on a pilot trip to look at schools and housing. We drew up plans for everything, and spent a lot of time researching.
Our goal was that when we came, we would as much as possible draw on experiences we had before to work through any difficulties.”
They did not feel like new olim when they landed on June 30, 2013, and moved into the neighborhood of Katamon not too far from the Old City, where her parents have a vacation apartment.
“Walking in Jerusalem, it feels like each stone is an old friend we’re reconnecting with, and each one brings back beautiful memories and creates new ones – every single minute. Living in Jerusalem isn’t like living anywhere else, because everything we do creates history,” she said.
The children are settling in. “Our oldest loves it here, and she is determined to make it work. She chose to be in a Hebrew-speaking class, and if you ask her, ‘How is Israel?’ she’ll say, ‘Better than the best.’ Our four-yearold is having a hard time integrating, and the language is difficult for him. But he loves Israel. The three-yearold is as happy as can be, and is never ready to come home when I go to pick her up from gan. If I ask them if they want to go back to South Africa, they say, ‘No, but can you bring everybody here?’” Newfield hopes someday to get back into being a physical therapist and doula. “My dream is to open a center for women’s health,” she said. “My Hebrew is still not good, but slowly I’m learning. The difference coming here with a family is that, with children, I have to learn in order to help with homework.”
Her husband is doing strategic financial consulting and studying for rabbinical ordination.
The Newfields like living among the many young families in Katamon, a good percentage of them from English-speaking countries. “People have been very inviting and welcoming,” she said. “If you’re coming to Israel and have the opportunity to live in Jerusalem, I couldn’t imagine why you would live anywhere else.”
She and her husband want to have an active hand in their adopted country.
“Our goal is to be part of the process of moving Israel forward,” she said. “We want to be involved in building the country in a positive way. When things are tough, our attitude is that nothing comes easily, and even if we shed a lot of tears, our children have a future here. It’s the first time in my life that I feel I don’t have to leave to go anywhere else.”