The Jerusalem Municipality and Nefesh B’Nefesh have just announced plans to build a full-service 2,200-square-meter Aliyah Center in the heart of the city.

A piece of land across from the Supreme Court building has officially been earmarked by the municipality as a headquarters for new immigrants. For its part, Nefesh B’Nefesh—the nonprofit that’s helped 60,000 North Americans make Israel their home in the last 18 years—is responsible for funding the new building.

Expected to open its doors by next summer, the new center will not only provide support to new immigrants, or olim, in the areas of employment, education and housing, but also offer space for Hebrew classes, exhibits, performances, and lectures on Israeli culture and history. Also planned are seminars on everything from banking in Israel to retirement services to selecting the right school for children, as well as meals for lone soldiers from around the world who serve in the Israel Defense Forces.

All told, it’s expected that the center will service more than 5,000 new arrivals each year.

The center also comes at a fortuitous time. The Nefesh B’Nefesh staff took in more than triple the number of aliyah applications this past month as they did during June of last year (1,307 vs. 399) with phones in their call center ringing off the hook (25,425 this June vs. 5,349 in June 2019).

Some of the action can be attributed to Israel’s strong response to the global coronavirus pandemic, where other countries are seeing extreme numbers of cases and even deaths.

What’s more, Mayor Moshe Lion has made attracting immigrants to Israel a priority for his administration. He says the new facility will build on that momentum by “helping Jerusalem successfully absorb and acclimate the large number of olim who are now looking to move to the city. This, in turn, will help attract even more olim to Jerusalem in the future and will have a positive long-lasting impact on Jerusalem’s economy.”

‘Need to establish a permanent home base’

Jerusalem is already the No. 1 destination for North American new immigrants.

“Some people come here for the culture, others for spiritual reasons, and still others for the city’s rich history,” says Nefesh B’Nefesh communications director Yael Katsman. “The city is a magnet for so many different kinds of people who find what they’re looking for here.”

And, says Lion, current events and the resulting steep climb in aliyah will mean an even greater flood of newcomers heading for the city. “During the past few months since the COVID-19 outbreak, we have seen a significant increase in the amount of interest in Jerusalem, which we welcome deeply.”

That dovetails well with Nefesh B’Nefesh’s own mission, says its co-founder and chairman Tony Gelbart. “As we witness the next exciting chapter of Jewish history unfold, we look forward to taking part in assisting Jews from all walks of life and all over the world to fulfill their dream and come home to Israel,” he says.

He adds that “we’re deeply appreciative to Jerusalem’s city council, which has seen the immense value of aliyah for Jerusalem and for all of Israel, and recognized the need to establish a permanent home base for Nefesh B’Nefesh.”

Indeed, the new center represents a longtime dream for the Nefesh B’Nefesh team, which is currently housed in rented office space near the main entrance to the city.

“After 18 years, it is extremely emotional for me and the entire staff to build a home in Jerusalem that will help us help new olim integrate, as well as expand our incredible relationship with the city,” says executive director and co-founder Rabbi Yehoshua Fass. “We couldn’t think of a more opportune time amid today’s unprecedented increase in aliyah interest, to receive this incredible news.”

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