By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
It is bound to happen; the question is when. Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, co-founder of Nefesh B’Nefesh, will win the much-coveted Israel Prize. And no one has any doubt as to why he will win it.
Rabbi Fass and co-founder Tony Gelbart have found innovative ways to increase aliyah. They have made it easier, smoother, and significantly more popular. And, of late, they have attracted families with young children.
As the latest Nefesh B’Nefesh flight of new olim will attest, this organization creates facts on the ground in Israel.
On the July 22 flight, dubbed the “Children’s Flight,” more than 220 olim were on board, 106 of them under the age of 17.
Rabbi Fass and Nefesh B’Nefesh have succeeded in removing the impediments, easing any “pain in the neck” associated with aliyah to Israel. From processing all the paperwork in revolutionary new ways, to providing certain types of grants, airplane fare, transportation and housing and job assistance–Nefesh B’Nefesh (www.nbn.org.il) does it all to make aliyah an easier decision.
The upshot? It works.
Sharon Millendorf, an employee of Nefesh B’Nefesh for six years and originally from Riverdale, New York, says that there are two reasons why he should win the prize. “The first is the obvious reason. He has affected the lives of Jews around the world. He has changed the way the world views aliyah. In the past if you were interested in aliyah, you kind of had to talk about it quietly. Now that’s no longer the case. That’s the obvious reason.” She continues, “The less obvious reason is the things he does on a quiet level. The amount of people who connect with him, who eâ€‘mail him, his humility. The respect that they all have for him is incredible. He is a true ben adam.”
This summer alone Nefesh B’Nefesh assisted in the aliyah of over 3,000 Jews. In the past ten years NBN has been responsible for assisting over 35,000 people in making aliyah.
At the arrival ceremony, thousands of people were present, Knesset Members, business leaders, and family members. Both founders were on the flight. Rabbi Fass could easily have been confused with one of the new olim, as he was schlepping a baby down the aisle of the airplane. He appeared as the consummate new oleh, with bags, baby, and car seat in tow.
In anticipation of the flight’s arrival, Nefesh B’Nefesh prepared reinforcements to help the parents watch over their children and keep them occupied during the long flight and at the arrival ceremony. Amongst the activities that awaited the children were aliyah coloring books, games, and custom-made Tâ€‘shirts.
NBN is innovative. Not a week or month goes by where some improvement isn’t thought of, discussed, or implemented. There are webinars, and new programs to populate the Galil, the North, or even the Negev are constantly being developed. This flight had former POW Gilad Schalit accompany the new olim, and all of them were touched and inspired. Nefesh B’Nefesh is a team player that works with the Jewish Agency, Keren Kayemet, El Al, and the Knesset. Together, they make a well-oiled machine.
New olim came from across the spectrum and from many of our local schools too. There were former students of HALB, TAG, Sh’or Yoshuv, and Bruria too.
Upon arrival, the new olim were greeted by soldiers, fellow citizens, CNN television crews, and a remarkable reception including inspiring words from former oleh and current MK Dov Lipman and Natan Sharansky as well. The new olim were treated to watching a marriage proposal from an oleh who just arrived last year and became a soldier. v