By Eliana Rudee/JNS.org
Responding to rising demand for post-immigration services for English-speaking immigrants to Israel, the Nefesh B’Nefesh nonprofit will open two new aliyah centers in January 2017.
Headquartered in Jerusalem, Nefesh B’Nefesh works in cooperation with the Israeli government and The Jewish Agency for Israel to revitalize immigration to Israel from North America and the United Kingdom. Last year’s arrival of 29,715 new immigrants in Israel marked the highest single-year aliyah figure since 2002, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics; Nefesh B’Nefesh facilitated the aliyah of 4,450 immigrants from North America and the U.K. in 2015.
The new aliyah centers will be located in Tel Aviv and the northern Israeli city of Karmiel. Rachel Berger, director of post-aliyah and employment for Nefesh B’Nefesh, envisions a shared space where immigrants (“olim” in Hebrew) can “drop by, [and] get one-to-one services in times of employment and post-aliyah guidance.” The new centers will also offer a place for immigrants to build community upon their arrival.
Established in 2001, Nefesh B’Nefesh says it has welcomed more than 50,000 newcomers to Israel, 90 percent of whom stay in the Jewish state. Although the exact percentage of immigrants who stay in Israel is the subject of debate, Nefesh B’Nefesh’s services strive to increase immigrant retention by minimizing financial, professional, logistical, and social obstacles to aliyah.
There is a discernible difference between immigrants who come to Israel with or without Nefesh B’Nefesh guidance. With ongoing guidance—both before and after aliyah—immigrants who come to Israel with Nefesh B’Nefesh often understand their benefits and responsibilities as new Israelis long before stepping on the plane. Nefesh B’Nefesh brings the immigrants to Israel on chartered flights or in other groups, streamlines their bureaucratic tasks, and checks up on them every month. Arguably one of the most important services that Nefesh B’Nefesh offers after immigration is employment assistance and seminars.
While immigrants from countries outside of Nefesh B’Nefesh’s jurisdiction bemoan the lack of assistance in streamlining their aliyah process, immigrants from North America and the U.K. enjoy a so-called “soft landing” in Israel. The two new Nefesh B’Nefesh centers are likely to make the landing even softer for new immigrants who live in Tel Aviv and northern Israel.
With more than half of Israel’s new immigrants—many of them young professionals and students—choosing to live in cities outside of Jerusalem, Nefesh B’Nefesh hopes that the new offices in Tel Aviv and the north will increase accessibility, information, and a sense of community for immigrants in those areas.
“That’s really important for our people from a cultural perspective as well as a guidance perspective in order to help them thrive here in Israel,” said Berger, who identified the need for additional Nefesh B’Nefesh offices a year ago, when her team set up shop in a WeWork shared workspace in Tel Aviv’s Sarona Market. When immigrant after immigrant visited, Nefesh B’Nefesh realized the importance of having its own space in which the organization could offer more for the immigrant experience.
Nefesh B’Nefesh’s weekly Tel Aviv seminars on employment and career services under the auspices of the Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality and in partnership with Jill Reinach, the municipality’s director of projects for English-speaking immigrants, usually draw about 120 attendees. Among the post-aliyah services offered, helping immigrants find employment is and will continue to be one of the new centers’ main priorities, according to Benji Davis, Nefesh B’Nefesh’s post-aliyah coordinator and Israel program manager. Finding employment is one of the main challenges that immigrants to Israel face, as is the case with any other immigrant population coming to a new country, Davis explained.
Since the aliyah experience largely hinges on one’s ability to find a job, Nefesh B’Nefesh sees employment assistance as a method of facilitating the Zionist aspirations of immigrants. The organization’s seminars may include “how to start a start-up,” “Israel workplace culture,” “branding yourself with your CV and LinkedIn,” “interviewing for a job in Israel,” and “your elevator pitch.”
“We believe that olim have an impact on Israel,” said Davis, “and we want to give them space to jumpstart that impact.”
Eliana Rudee is a fellow with the Haym Salomon Center news and public policy group. She is a graduate of Scripps College, where she studied international relations and Jewish studies. Her bylines have been featured in USA Today, Forbes, and The Hill.