NEW MOMENTUM FOR NEFESH B’NEFESH ALIYAH

By: Steve K. Walz, Jewish Press Israel Correspondent

Anti-Semitism on college campuses, an uninspiring singles scene and the desire to join family members are spurring a new wave of aliyah from the U.S. In an interview last week with Rabbi Yehoshua Fass aboard the first of two chartered El Al flights from JFK International Airport this summer, the co-founder of Nefesh B’Nefesh told The Jewish Press, “Some fascinating trends have emerged, which couldn’t have been predicted 10 years ago when we first started our flights. Back then, the whole concept of making aliyah was more of a pioneering experience for those who made the move. Today, as the fabric of American society has changed, so has the type of person or family seeking a new life in Israel.”

The flight highlighted an unusually large number of singles (51) and young families with children (103). “The increase in the number of singles coming from college campuses to Israel can be traced to several factors,” said Rabbi Fass. “College campuses across America have become so anti-Israel that a large number of Jewish students have spent a significant amount of their time defending Israel. All of a sudden there is a need to manifest that energy defending Israel into actually wanting to come to Israel.

“In addition many unaffiliated and non-religious college-age students have participated in Taglit-Birthright Israel trips, which have made a lasting impression upon many of them. There is a longing to return to Israel, whether to join the Israel Defense Forces or getting a master’s degree at a local university. They want to contribute something to the State of Israel.”

And then there’s the Jewish singles scene. According to at least three of the single olim (one each from Reform, Conservative and Orthodox backgrounds), seeking a sabra husband or wife is an aliyah goal. “I’ve had enough of the dating scene in America. I want to meet an Israeli man because they are very upfront and honest with their intentions. They are not into games,” said 24-year-old Chicago native Tess Sevelow-Lee. For San Diego native Elliot Brown, 21, the time had come to return “home.” Brown said, “My grandfather fought in the Palmach [the pre-state elite Haganah unit] and then moved to the San Diego area in the 1950s.

(L-R) Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, Nefesh B’Nefesh co-founder Tony Gelbart, Israel’s Minister of Immigrant Absorption Sofa Landver, Mr. and Mrs. Hillel Davis, and Nefesh B’Nefesh co-founder Rabbi Yehoshua Fass celebrate as the Davises receive their formal teudot oleh (new immigrant certificates) at Ben Gurion Airport. (Photo credit: Sasson Tiram)

“As I spent 10 years in Hebrew Day School, I can speak and understand the language. I also studied psychology at San Diego State University, so I’m hoping that I can join a unit in the Israel Defense Forces where I can use my knowledge of psychology. More than anything else, it’s important for me to live a Jewish lifestyle and hopefully meet a nice Israeli girl. That wasn’t going to happen in San Diego.”

Ma’ayan DeGrandis, 25, took a radical approach in her aliyah trek, as she seeks a religious Israeli husband. The Detroit native, who grew up in a Catholic family, visited Israel as a tourist, fell in love with the country and decided to join an Orthodox kiruv program upon her return home. After studying in a local yeshiva and completing her Orthodox conversion process, DeGrandis started to refocus her energies toward making aliyah. “Israel intrigued me. Even though it was not the same culture or language that I grew up with, it felt like home,” she said. “Thus it just makes sense for me to be in Israel, as this is our homeland. My goal is to learn the language, find a job and meet a nice, religious Israeli man – so I can fulfill my dream as an Orthodox Jew.”

The quest to connect with other family members who’ve already made aliyah has played a significant role in the large number of North Americans (nearly 5,000 by year’s end) who are leaving for Israel this year. Nefesh B’Nefesh’s Rabbi Fass said, “Many families already have multiple connections in Israel. We get applications from people who’ve told us, ‘You helped my brother My three sons are already in the IDF My grandchildren live in Beit Shemesh or Jerusalem.’ ”

Reprinted from the Jewish Press.