North American Aliyah Has Arrived

Not only has North American Aliyah [immigration to Israel] reached a 21-year high, but the new immigrants have been absorbed with remarkable success. So say Nefesh B'Nefesh officials.

, | updated: 17:08

According to a study commissioned by the Nefesh B’Nefesh (NBN) Aliyah assistance organization, over 70% of their Olim [new immigrants] have found jobs in their fields within a year of moving to Israel. "Impressive figures," the officials said at a Jerusalem press conference yesterday, "especially considering that the olim arrived in Israel as the country faced a very deep recession."

Nefesh B’Nefesh hopes to make that percentage even higher, embracing the phenomenon of outsourcing for the benefit of North American olim. “Many individuals have outsourced their old jobs here to Israel – staying up late and connecting to their old offices, doing the same work, from here,” NBN co-founder Rabbi Joshua Fass said. He added that the organization plans on encouraging the phenomenon. “We are trying to harness the time-difference. There are many businesses that want to have 24-hour productivity [for] legal work, radiology, and graphic design. We want to harness that potential and thus create jobs for olim.”

The study also shows that the olim themselves are not the only ones to benefit from the move to Israel. "The Jewish State itself is the big winner," the officials said.

According to the study, the average adult newcomer represents approximately $200,000 in instant value to Israel’s economy. This is based on education, professional experience and financial assets the olim bring with them. As many as 90% join the labor pool, and unemployment for the group is on par with the national average after a very brief time in the country. The average family will generate output worth almost $1 million during their first 10 years in the country. Over 50% of these newcomers bought homes in Israel by the end of 2004, many doing so within 3-9 months of their arrival.

“There have been many waves of Aliyah,” said NBN co-founder Tony Gelbart. “We feel it is time for the wave of North American Aliyah; it's our turn. There is a wellspring of idealistic Zionist Jews who will contribute to Israel from the moment they arrive at the airport.”

Rabbi Fass, a Florida pulpit rabbi who left his synagogue in Boca Ratonin favor of creating a mass Aliyah movement from North America, signaled a dramatic shift in the organization’s mode of operation. In the past, NBN focused on assisting prospective immigrants in their Aliyah process, while now, the organization will actively recruit American Jews to "go home to Israel."

“We now have the infrastructure to accommodate thousands of individuals and want to spread the word,” said Fass.

Rabbi Fass outlined several programs aimed at fostering the Aliyah revolution:

* Aliyah Ambassador Program – Nefesh B’Nefesh is sending olim back to the U.S. and Canada to address the Jewish communities in their former home towns. The veteran olim will speak at Orthodox, Conservative and Reform synagogues across North America.

* Instant Aliyah – Working hand-in-hand with Israel’s Interior Ministry, Nefesh B’Nefesh has made it easier for students on tourist visas - “who catch the bug and want to stay,” as Fass puts it - to do just that. Thanks to this new initiative, the daunting bureaucratic process now takes only a few days. “This month, over 200 students have made Aliyah and received their Israeli identification card, thanks to this new program,” Fass said.

* Student Ambassadors – Working with local Zionist groups, Nefesh b’Nefesh is subsidizing college sophomores and juniors on campuses across the North America who want to promote Aliyah. Eighteen of the Aliyah Ambassadors, from Berkeley, UCLA, Harvard, MIT, Penn, NYU, Columbia and several other schools, will be visiting Israel in the coming weeks to meet veteran Aliyah activists and exchange strategies. “They want to promote Aliyah and we are giving them the promotional tools to put the word out on campus,” Fass said. “They will be our arms, eyes and ears on campus.”

Also in the works are subsidized pilot trips for prospective olim, and seminars in major Jewish population centers across North America aimed at supplying practical information to those “sitting on the fence.” The idea is to spread the word that Aliyah is do-able.

Professor Pinchas Landau of the Israel Business Information Service explains that although the focus of Nefesh B’Nefesh has been the needs of North American immigrants, the State of Israel has been the prime benefactor of the organization’s effort. Landau’s company specializes in analyzing the contributions of various groups of olim to Israeli society. “The data are unprecedented,” he said at the press conference. “89% of the olim from North America have higher degrees, and they are bringing with them more resources and work experience, than any other demographic coming to Israel. These are the ‘creme de la creme’ of the most advanced society in the world.”