Your Brain is Green
Of all the brain types, yours has the most balance. You are able to see all sides to most problems and are a good problem solver. You need time to work out your thoughts, but you don't get stuck in bad thinking patterns. You tend to spend a lot of time thinking about the future, philosophy, and relationships (both personal and intellectual).

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Nefesh B'Nefesh and the Jewish Agency

Several years ago, a young rabbi whose parents live in Israel had a bright idea: since, it seemed, the main obstacles to American aliyah (immigration to Israel) were lack of money and the Israeli bureaucracy, he'd get private donors to create a fund, and find ways to help new olim (immigrants) get through the government offices without irreparable trauma.

It may seem odd to assume that US Jews don't come to Israel in greater numbers because of a lack of money, but in a lot of cases, that's true. A former radio show host who was sent on shlichut (worked as an emissary for the aliyah branch of the Jewish Agency) wrote, upon his return to Israel, an article in the Jerusalem Post, apologizing for his preconceptions of American Jewish life. He had always known that American electrical appliances didn't work on Israeli current, but he'd never realized the degree to which Americans live on credit, and once they repay the mortgage, and the car financing, student loans, and all the other debts, the average young Zionist family is left with very little cash in hand with which to begin a new life in Israel. But it's also true that very few American Jews want to live in Israel at a standard much below that which they enjoyed in the States--and that takes money. There is also simple ignorance of the lifestyle here--only about 15% of American Jews ever visit Israel (although those who do, usually visit more than once), and a lot of prospective immigrants have erroneous ideas of what they need here and rather exaggerated ideas of what they'll accomplish here as well.

So, Nefesh B'Nefesh (a free translation is "Jewish Souls United") was founded. Initially, Rabbi Fass wasn't loath to take money from evangelical Christian groups who believe that Jesus' Second Coming will only happen when all the Jews in the world are in Israel (not to mention being converted to Christianity) and are happy to help. After considerable criticism, he sought, and found more Jewish donors. During the initial promotional period, rumors swirled around about the grant amounts--the only condition placed on the grant recipient is that the money must be paid back if the recipient returns to America before three years pass--and most of the rumors were wildly exaggerated. NBN also promised to find work for its immigrants, and to shepherd them through the bureaucracy.

Aliyah from North America has never been huge, but since the intifada began in 2000, it slumped badly. With great fanfare, NBN brought its first planeload of olim in the summer of 2002. It prefers to declare that it brought 150 people rather than 70-80 families (it certainly sounds better), and it did get the Interior Ministry to put a clerk on the plane so all the necessary paperwork for the necessary documents for the olim could be started immediately. From that time on, NBN has been reluctant in the extreme to give any information on how its members have fared in Israel. Potential NBN olim are encouraged to communicate with those already here via an internet list, but non-NBN Israelis--veteran North American olim with vastly more experience--aren't allowed to participate, for fear they'll be too "negative". Certain interests are actively promoted: the various groups involved in yishuvim over the Green Line, for instance, have access to the list, and so do certain importers and merchants.

In the summer of 2003, NBN brought two planeloads of olim--as closely as can be guessed, about 2/3 of them are children, who are, of course, potentially productive Israelis but for the time being, are recipients of lots of State aid--and the preponderance are "Modern Orthodox" (which has been the trend in American aliyah for quite a while, BTW). This year, it has been announced, three planeloads will arrive. The net effect has, actually, to return the annual number of olim to the pre-intifada levels, so claims of encouraging mass aliyah are somewhat exaggerated.

Given that all olim get a variety of subsidies, perks, and discounts during their first year (and in decreasing amounts, during their second and third years, too), and the grants (recipients are told not to disclose what they get. It seems to be between $5-15k per family) and the new "absorption basket" (sal klita) gives them cash, it might be thought that the new arrivals are having an easy time acclimating themselves to Israel. The truth is, no one knows. Israel is in a deep depression right now. A great many of the olim from North America in the past few years are either medical or legal professionals, or in hi-tech. Some want to start their own businesses, or become entrepreneurs. All well and good, but the Russian aliyah brought scads of medically trained professionals and paraprofessionals to Israel; lawyers, no matter how experienced in the US, have to undergo an apprenticeship because the legal system here is radically different from America, and it takes quite a while to begin making money; the hi-tech situation is...well, you all know what state that's in, and it's not easy to start your own business when you know nothing about the business environment or legal/tax situation here (not to mention the market).

NBN's high profile aliyah, with the "fact" that its olim are coming with bulging wallets, has created some juicy pickings. Rents on apartments in Jerusalem and the center of the country are through the roof. The Israeli government has been trying to phase out the Absorption Centers for some time--the maximum one can stay in one is now only 2 months, so even someone planning to buy a home is forced to find a rented flat for at least the short term. And Israelis who own an extra flat have learned that Americans are so used to high rents they'll pay almost anything. The export shops in New York and other American cities are doing a roaring business, as they convince ignorant olim that Israel is an appliance wasteland (quite the reverse, for the past decade)and they'd better buy everything they need for the next 30 years, right down to hair-dryers and toasters, before they leave the US. When the Israeli government announced it was removing the giant tax break on car purchases by immigrants, there was something approaching mass panic by those who hadn't yet sent their shipments--a frequent question is whether it pays to ship their American car (it doesn't).

But that's not the right question. The right question is, can I afford to HAVE a car in Israel? When the perks and discounts vanish, when I'm living on an Israeli, not an American, salary (which is between a third to a half less, in dollar terms), will I be able to make ends meet? If approximately 70% of Israelis have overdrafts at the bank, doesn't that say something about the cost of living in Israel? It's not just a choice between buying, say, Taster's Choice imported instant coffee or the locally produced Elite (which some would say is more like a coffee-flavored beverage than the real thing), but whether I can drink coffee at all? It looks great on paper that I get a 90% discount on property taxes and don't pay income tax the first year I'm in Israel, but for six months of that first year I'll be studying Hebrew in an ulpan and most probably not even find a job until that year is up...

Getting here is the easy part. Staying here is a lot harder. There are no statistics on how many American olim return to America after 1/3/5/10 years. Very few admit to it. I've seen numbers of anywhere between 25% and 70%, depending on (mostly) completely unproveable speculation. But it's a lot. An internet message board for the Jerusalem area carries announcements of "moving sales" which, when they consist of entire house contents, are obviously "leaving sales". If asked, almost everyone who is intending to go back to America, is only going back for "a brief period". There are, of course, real family situations that require returning to the US. There are also some who find they just don't like the country. But by far the biggest number who return to America do so because they couldn't manage economically--whether relatively (couldn't make enough money to have the lifestyle they want) or absolutely (are in danger of starving). It would be immensely difficult (and expensive) to try to do some real research, to find out exactly how many do leave Israel permanently, and why they did. But, because of the way it's set up, Nefesh B'Nefesh is an almost perfect laboratory. It's completely inexplicable to me why they seem to feel everything about themselves is a State secret. I fail to see why more transparency wouldn't actually help them. Olim want to know what they're up against.

Over the years, one of the biggest culprits has been the Israeli government and governmental agency--the Jewish Agency or Sochnut--itself. Israelis are themselves very ambivalent about aliyah from "rich" countries. There is some jealousy and resentment of the fact that the Israeli taxpayer foots (at least some of) the bill to bring people here who can afford to have a higher standard of living than the Israelis themselves. (This is, IMHO, a rather dated view.) On the other hand, aliyah which is entirely voluntary, and ideological, rather than born of necessity by persecution in the former homeland, is far more "encouraging" and vindicates the Zionist ideal much more. So the Jewish Agency, which in itself is a considerable bureaucracy which has a parasitic relationship with olim (no olim, no jobs for all those clerks!) has chosen to avoid reality whenever possible. "Accentuate the positive" at all costs! The main cost, of course, being the oleh's ability to adjust, physically, emotionally, and economically to his new situation. He becomes a statistic in a high stakes game. I was once told by someone who worked for the American immigrants' organization, the AACI, not to tell olim what life was really like here: "The important thing is to get them here; then they'll HAVE to cope".

And now, the Jewish Agency, which has so mismanaged North American aliyah over the 5 decades of Israel's existence, is trying to link up with Nefesh B'Nefesh. Dare I say, attempt to hijack it, as they've done with other immigrant organizations (the AACI gets a large part of its budget from the Sochnut)? This appeared in Haaretz's weekend edition (Anglo File):

"The Jewish Agency gives Nefesh B'Nefesh a lot of credit for increasing aliyah [from North America] between 2002 and 2003," said Jewish Agency spokesman Michael Jankelowitz. "The proof of the pudding is in the eating. They proved that the way they work increases aliyah from North America, so the next step is a strategic partnership with them."
Jankelowitz explained that the Jewish Agency will allocate funds and services toward the administrative costs of Nefesh B'Nefesh "so that they can do more of what they have been doing, and help more and more immigrants."

If I were Nefesh B'Nefesh I'd feel a lot like Little Red Riding Hood confronted by the wolf right now. And if I were about to be a grant recipient from NBN, I'd take the money and run. But most of all, I'd keep in mind that there's never any free lunch.


andy said...

I don't discount much, if any, of what you're saying. But regardless of whether NBN is the best vehicle possible for encouraging it, North American aliyah is still a worthwhile goal.

North Americans who make aliyah are likely ... not definitely, but likely ... to be ideologically driven, and idealist. That brings with it some potential problems; naive expectations, black & white view of politics, and others. But it's also a source of useful energy and dynamism that may help to be a change agent for parts of Israeli life that could stand some improvement.

As a long term question, I'd be more concerned about the question of Russian aliyah right now. This morning's article in Haaretz (about the degree to which recent teen olim from the FSU do or don't feel Israeli) is worrying in terms of Israel as a Jewish country:

This seems a greater challenge than NBN's strengths & failings.

Antigonos said...

A couple of points:
I care passionately about American aliyah. But I care no less passionately about American neshirah (dropping out) or yerida (going back to the US). It's not enough to load planes full of Americans only to have a substantial number--maybe a majority--return to America BEFORE they have had a chance to have any impact on Israel. It takes a while to become an Israeli. Not everything Israeli is automatically "bad" while everything "American" is good. Every oleh, from everywhere, has to become something of a chameleon: while remaining a lizard at heart, the chameleon adopts the coloring of its surroundings.

Most of the Russian teenagers here are not here by choice. In fact, very few teenagers from any country are here by choice. They're here because their parents brought them. Their absorption is probably the most difficult of any age group.

I believe that if NBN becomes an adjunct of the Jewish Agency, it will lose a great deal of its effectiveness and will not be able to deliver on its promises. If we really care about American aliyah that "sticks", we've got to find out the REAL reasons American olim give up and go back, and because of the way NBN is set up, it's in a unique position to provide this information--if, of course, it's willing to divulge information on both its successes and its failures.

Anonymous said...

I would ask for some support (with traceable references) for these "evangelical Christians" who allegedly believe that the Second Coming will not be until after "all the Jews are converted to Christianity", as this is the opposite of what I read in all the "end time" literature I find. These say that the mass conversion will not be until AFTER the Parousia, when "they shall look upon him whom they have pierced". (Indeed, there was a maniac harassing the online community who claimed, among other things, that Hitler's endlosung was aimed at "preventing" the Second Coming by exterminating the Jews.)

The last time I asked one the "Jews for Judaism" gang to "name three", I was greeted by earsplitting silence.

And yes, I have seen very misleading (speaking charitably) "information" about Christianity from "real Jewish" sources. Such as a prominent story in the Jewish Press attributing the racist heresies of the self-styled "Christian Identity" to simply "the evangelicals". This writer went on to note that "fortunately" there were still people who followed the teachings of "real" Christians like "Pastor Russell"... not mentioning that the self-ordained Pastor was actually the founder of the Watchtower ("Jehovah's Witnesses" to outsiders), and that many would even question their claim to be "Christians" at all.)

"First-degree mongrel"

Antigonos said...

"The turning to Christ of the Jewish people. As St. Paul predicts, the mass falling away from Christianity of many nations will coincide with the conversion of Jews to Christ: "For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that hardening in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: `The Deliverer will come out of Zion, And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob' … Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways paths beyond tracking out!" (Romans 11:25-33). (

See also:

"The Church teaches that before the Second Coming of Christ at the end of time, the Jewish people will come to recognize Jesus Christ as their Messiah. It appears that a concerted effort is now underway to oppose their evangelization. The false teachers in the Church today are legion, and Our Lady of the Roses has warned us that many, even in the hierarchy, are seeking to build a church of man that has no resemblance to the true Church of Christ. Our Lady reminds us that “the greatest of gifts to mankind” is to have been called into the Catholic Church. This great gift we should desire to share with all our unconverted brothers and sisters throughout the world, for “freely have you received, freely give” (Mt. 10:8): (

"This alliance between Evangelical Christians and Conservative Jews is very odd. Although they share similar moral views and social goals, their theologies couldn't be more divergent. The Jews imagine that the evangelical support for Israel implies approval and support of Judaism itself, but they either ignore or are inexcusably unaware of the fact that for conservative evangelicals like Robertson, the Jews only have meaning in the role they will play in Jesus' Second Coming. For Jesus' return it was first necessary to have a state of Israel so that, at the appointed time, there can be a mass conversion of Jews in Israel.

Rabbi Dan said...

Nefesh b Nefesh will tell you anything if you fit their profile. If you young have money and high tech skills they will help you if your old and crippled and not wealthy they told us we were not a good investment for them. I do most think Moshe checked credit earrings when leavening Egypt. They have lots of tricks to get rid of you loseing your paperwork, questioning your ancestry, They are Gonfis and liars.

Antigonos said...

A couple of points, to be fair. This post was written in 2004; it is now 2013. The situation has changed, a bit. However, it is worth noting that even in the Bad Old Days when the highly-politicized, government-run Sochnut managed aliyah, those who would be a net liability to Israel were discouraged -- like my father, aged 75+, non-Jewish [he was eligible to make aliyah under the Law of Return because he'd been married to my Jewish mother], in spite of his still being quite hale and hearty. They gave us such a bureaucratic runaround that he passed away before he came to live with us, and in spite of his Social Security and retirement income which would have been invested in Israel. Ah well.

I DO think NBN does court a certain sector of the American Jewish public: young, with advanced degrees, and religious -- in preference to others. It was set up, after all, by an Orthodox rabbi. It is basically the lack of transparency that I dislike. In recent years [from 2011 onwards] there has been evidence that, like a lot of NGOs the world over, the lion's share of the money donated winds up in the hands of the administration of the organization [as salaries, etc. I hasten to add; no evidence of malfeasance] rather in the hands of the olim it is supposed to be assisting. The employed staff of NBN has way outstripped the number of olim who are coming, now that the initial rush has subsided. In this, it is replicating the Sochnut, and the Israeli government in general. C'est la vie.