More than 1,500 potential olim attended New York’s annual aliyah “mega event” on Sunday.
The day-long Nefesh B’Nefesh fair, at John Jay College on Manhattan’s West Side, addressed the opportunities and challenges that accompany a permanent move to the State of Israel. More than four-dozen sessions, and a like number of vendors, tackled such issues as where to live, employment opportunities, language challenges, integrating into Israeli society, health care, shipping, insurance and more.
The day’s theme was “Imagine Greater Possibilities.”
In the 15 years that Nefesh B’Nefesh has been facilitating the return to Israel of Jews from North America and the United Kingdom, making aliyah has never been easier, said NBN co-founder and executive director Rabbi Yehoshua Fass.
He said that technology “that we couldn’t possibly imagine in 2002” has helped to overcome an important challenge that olim face — maintaining connections with relatives and friends back in America.
“My wife’s entire family is in America, so we have that challenge of constantly finding ways to develop a quality relationship [between] our children and their grandparents and my wife’s siblings,” Rabbi Fass said. “It’s a concerted effort on both sides. There’s Facetime, there’s WhatsApp, there’s videos that we share with one another. Distance relationships can be more intense; it all depends on the efforts that are put into place.”
“We talk every day, at a set time — it’s kodesh k’doshim and it’s beautiful,” he said. “It’s hard that we can’t physically embrace, but we feel that connection.
On the other hand, he suggested, “would we have such an intense counseling session if a child moved to the West Coast for a job offer? No we wouldn’t. We’d see each other a few times a year; it’s not really that different.”
Rabbi Fass’ session involved his “talking aliyah” with Rabbi Dov Lipman, who made aliyah in 2004 and later became the first English-speaker elected to the Knesset in 30 years (now, there are two more, Rabbi Lipman said).
Asked to recount an “ah-ha” moment he experienced after moving to Israel, Rabbi Lipman described a taxi ride with a driver “who not only didn’t have a kippah on his head, he had a bunch of earrings and tattoos.” The cabbie asked him how he was.
“I said ani ah-yehf — I said I’m tired,” Rabbi Lipman recalled, “and he says to me, never say ani ah-yehf.’ I said why not? He said because it says that word twice in the Torah — one time it was Eisav coming in to Yaakov and the other time was when the Jewish people said they were tired and Amalek attacked. It’s only negative.”
“Don’t say ani ah-yehf, say I have to go to sleep, it’s been a long day,” the cabbie continued.
“This was just a few months after aliyah when I realized — what a country!” Rabbi Lipman said, “where this guy is giving me a shiur on what language to use based on the Torah.”
Rabbi Fass said that he personally accompanied each of Nefesh B’Nefesh’s 55 olim-carrying charter flights and that every one of them had “emotional moments that rip your heart out.” More charters are scheduled this summer, in addition to numerous olim-ferrying commercial flights throughout the year.
“Every flight is so gorgeous [with a] mixture of people,” he said. “Sadly, we lack that achdut, and when we find something that gives us a common experience, it’s precious and we have to treasure those moments.”
Rabbi Fass was asked, what makes a successful aliyah? That’s simple, he said — it “is when a person picks up and moves to Israel.”
“Look at the incredible opportunity we have today,” he concluded. “In the history of the Jewish people, it’s never been easier to make ailyah. Just come home. Embrace the miracle.”
Sunday’s fair, the ninth annual “Israel Mega Event,” drew the largest crowd ever, indicating a record-high interest in Israeli immigration from the United States, an NBN spokesman said. Israeli Minister of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption Sofa Landver attended the event to see firsthand olim preparing for their aliyah, he said.
Sunday’s event was organized in cooperation with Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption, the Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael, and JNF-USA.
Some of those attending were just beginning their consideration of making aliyah while for others it helped wrap up their aliyah planning.
Additional aliyah fairs are planned this year for Toronto, Montreal and Los Angeles.
Updated March 1, 2017