Daily Israel Report

Jewish Agency Breaks with NBN Aliyah Group

The Jewish Agency for Israel and the hugely successful North American aliyah organization Nefesh B’Nefesh are heading for divorce.
By Hana Levi Julian
First Publish: 7/20/2007, 10:00 AM

The close cooperation between the successful Nefesh B’Nefesh North American aliyah organization and the venerable Jewish Agency for Israel is at an end.

The two agencies have decided not to renew a three-year working agreement under which each group contributes $1,000 per new immigrant from North America.

The private U.S.-based non-profit Nefesh B’Nefesh (NBN) organization has been responsible for the immigration of more than 10,000 North American Jews in the past five years, offering financial assistance to those who need help in order to make the move.

The mission, according to the NBN website, is "to revitalize aliyah [immigration] to Israel and to substantially increase the number of future olim [new immigrants] by removing the financial, professional and logistical obstacles that prevent many individuals from actualizing their dreams.”

Aliyah from North American is at its highest point since 1983, largely due to NBN’s efforts to recruit new immigrants who show the most promise of success in the Jewish homeland.

A total of eight charter flights and eight group flights (flights in which a group of seats are reserved for olim) from the U.S., Canada and Britain are expected to touch down on the tarmac at Ben Gurion Airport this summer, bringing in a record 3,500 new English-speaking immigrants to the country.

The high numbers led NBN officials to set a new goal at one of the numerous welcome ceremonies held at the airport in the summer of 2005, predicting the organization would eventually bring in up to 10,000 North American immigrants to Israel each year in the next decade.

Now the Jewish Agency is claiming that NBN has broken its word, saying the organization had promised to bring in 5,000 to 10,000 new immigrants per year.

Jewish Agency Charges: NBN Focuses on Religious Jews
The Jewish Agency has charged that NBN is focusing their efforts on the religious Diaspora community. But NBN spokesperson Yael Katsman says in response, "NBN strongly supports any Jew that wants to make aliyah. It really doesn't matter what his affiliation is. As long as a Jew wants to make aliyah, we will do everything within our power to help him."

Katsman noted that NBN is working closely with the Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform establishments to promote aliyah. "On our last flight," she said, "we had three pulput Rabbis who left their communities to make aliyah: one Orthodox, one Conservative, and one Reform."

According to the statistics released by the NBN, 68 percent of its aliyah “graduates” are Orthodox Jews, while 25 percent coming from the Conservative movement and some 5 percent from Reform congregations.

The organization added that some 65 percent of its single immigrants are not religious, although the majority of immigrant families are Orthodox.

It’s About the Money
NBN has since its inception relied on private donors for its funding, but its increasing success in attracting new immigrants by helping them fund their move to Israel has prompted an expansion of fundraising efforts.

Competition for millions of dollars in funding from Jewish Federation chapters across the U.S. has prompted the Jewish Agency to mount a campaign against donations by local groups to NBN.

The Jewish Agency recently began to threaten the local Jewish Federations with a less-than-subtle warning that they may face legal problems if they grant funding to NBN, which is a registered 501(c) 3 non-profit charitable organization under U.S. law.

Legal experts said however that the complex legal reasoning used by the agency in its letter to the federations is unlikely to hold up under the close scrutiny of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) which regulates non-profit funding allocations.