Q&A With Nefesh B'Nefesh Founder & Executive Director, Rabbi Yehoshua Fass
Fri, 03/25/2011

Question: Nearly a decade after launching Nefesh B’Nefesh, are you surprised by the impact that North American Aliyah has made on Israel?

Rabbi Fass: In addition to the fact that 27,000 western olim are now living happy, successful and productive lives in Israel, this wave of aliyah has made a great impact on the country as a whole. Western olim are helping to build up the North and South of Israel.

They are making a tremendous economic impact on the county as well. Several years ago, a Deloitte study found that the net infusion into the Israeli economy by 8,000 Nefesh B’Nefesh olim over a five year period was approximately $300,000,000.

I think that Israel has also been witnessing a significant improvement in its customer service as a direct result of the standards that western olim have imparted on the local service providers.

 

Question: What were the biggest challenges for you on a personal and professional level?

Rabbi Fass: On a personal level, I found it challenging developing the necessary skills to manage an organization that was so much larger than initially anticipated. We rapidly grew from a small six-person operation to an organization of more than 75 employees.

I also found it challenging balancing the micro-level personal needs of the olim while simultaneously managing the macro-level day to day running of an organization. It was certainly an interesting task working out how to juggle all of the varied responsibilities.

Professionally, we have worked hard on interfacing with Israeli government agencies- networking and lobbying for the future of Anglo Aliyah, as well as the future of Nefesh B’Nefesh.

Question: Has the economic downturn in the USA impacted on Aliyah?

Rabbi Fass: Yes it has, in several ways. Some families who spent years saving for their Aliyah have had to dip into these reserves while still in America and are now consequently asking for more financial assistance from the organization.

Since the U.S. real estate market has yet to recover, we have also found that, while years ago families were able to sell their homes and bring some funds for a down payment on their new property in Israel, today families are selling their homes at a loss or deciding to rent them out to cover their mortgage. Additionally it is particularly challenging fundraising in this financial climate.

Although, having said all this, because the Israeli economy is doing better than the American one, we are also seeing a much larger population of young professionals expressing interest in Aliyah than ever before.

Question: Has Israeli society "accepted" the new olim?

Rabbi Fass: I have found that ten years after launching this project, the response and receptivity of Israelis to North American olim has certainly come a long way. Municipalities, agencies, corporations and government officials, all understand that apart from the ideological drive, talents, western values, education and resources that North American olim bring to Israel, they also infuse the country with a powerful Zionistic energy.

At the same time as Israel contends with the issue of so many of its own people departing the country, there are increasing numbers of Americans who are choosing to forgoe the “American Dream” in order to come to Israel. This therefore only ingratiates the olim into Israeli society. Recently an oleh told me that he was in the shuk (Israeli market) and someone yelled at him, “You made Aliyah from the U.S.? You are a meshuganah (crazy person)! Now come, let me give you a hug!”

Question: Can you give some examples of true Aliyah success stories?

Rabbi Fass: There are so many to choose from…From the IDF soldier who was adamant on getting into the most elite of units - even after being wounded, to the doctor who is making breakthroughs in cancer research.

From the special education expert who opened a unique clinic for autistic children, to the Rabbi who established a synagogue up North and welcomes Jews from all backgrounds into his home. From the high school student who persevered despite his difficult adjustment and who was recently accepted to an incredibly prestigious program, to the oleh who opened up his own franchise of slurpee style drinks.

Each oleh has his unique Aliyah story. Each oleh is helping to build a stronger Israel in his own way. It has been extremely gratifying for me to have had the opportunity of being part of all of these special experiences.

 

“This article is part of a promotional Aliyah section.”