Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, Co-Founder & Executive Director of Nefesh B’Nefesh, spoke to Israel National News at the Jerusalem Conference 2022.
Rabbi Fass spoke about the new Nefesh B’Nefesh center in Jerusalem, which is meant to service Olim (new immigrants) with pre-Aliyah advisers, Klita (absorption) advisers, employment advisers, an education track and the like.
However, the new center is more than just this, he explained, and is really a community center for Olim.
“When Olim come, especially when they’re single and they come to Israel, they feel extremely alone and we have to create that sense of community,” said Rabbi Fass. “We’re going to start having meetings in the building and also Friday night dinners, so that people can feel a sense of community and also be able to meet one another.”
Asked what policies regarding Olim need to be changed in Israel, he replied, “Unfortunately, in many of the laws that are passed within the Knesset, sadly Olim are not being considered. For example, in the last year and a half, when the skies were closed to families of immigrants, they could not celebrate joyous occasions, they could not even be there for moments of life and death because Olim weren’t considered in that equation.”
“If we’re going to encourage Aliyah, we want to try to facilitate integration. Let’s look through the prism of how we encourage Aliyah and have them in the equation of the laws that are being passed in the Knesset.”
“If someone is coming and, in their mind, sacrificing a certain way of life to invest their future in Israel, and they want to hit the ground running, the government should to everything in its power to make sure that when they arrive, they have the ability to run and to contribute, instead of going through obstacle after obstacle,” added Rabbi Fass.
Nefesh B’Nefesh has seen a huge increase in requests for Aliyah during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Rabbi Fass. At the end of 2021, there were 4,500 Olim who came to Israel from North America, an increase of almost 30%.
“The fact that you’re able to work remotely, the fact that you’re able to maintain relationships through Zoom, the fact that you’re away from your communities and around you Shabbat tables and trying to entertain the concept of where you want to be in life, allows people to start thinking about Aliyah, and we’ve seen those numbers tremendously increase and the momentum is increasing. I think we’ll be near 5,000 in 2022.”
Nefesh B’Nefesh invests a lot of time and effort to retain Olim in Israel and now sees a retention rate of almost 90%, whereas 20 years ago, 40% of Olim and even more would leave Israel within three years, said Rabbi Fass.
“This is an incredible country. There are a lot of solutions to integrate Olim,” he stressed.
Asked about his most exciting Nefesh B’Nefesh flight, Rabbi Fass said, “We once had a charter flight with a Holocaust survivor, a 90-year-old woman who was making Aliyah, and she happened to be sitting next to a 10-year-old girl, and during that flight they became friends. And when the flight landed and the doors opened, they held each other’s hands and they walked down those stairs. Just that meeting between two different generations really showed the concept of the gift of the fulfillment of past dreams and prayers and the promise of the future.”