Over its 20-year history, the Nefesh B’Nefesh organization has established itself as uniquely effective in assisting North American Jews in making aliyah and helping them build strong roots once they’re there. The group’s 63rd charter flight, on August 16 from JFK, which brought their 75,000 oleh to Israel, further cemented their well-earned reputation.
Nefesh B’Nefesh built a brand-new facility in the Cinema City complex in Jerusalem, which opened in November 2021 and has quickly become a busy center of immigration and integration.
In a press tour of the facility, led by the organization’s co-founder and executive director Rabbi Yehoshua Fass on August 18, this reporter learned how much forethought and functionality went into the design of this new space.
In the tour Rabbi Fass noted that in the first 10 years of Nefesh B’Nefesh’s history, they worked to remove obstacles to aliyah. In the second 10 years, they continued that work and expanded to leverage olim’s talents, to best meet national needs. Their new building represents their vision of the new mission of Nefesh B’Nefesh—to educate on modern Zionism, to celebrate the contributions of olim, and to advocate for projects and initiatives in Israel to help attract more olim. They see their new building as a canvas in which to express themselves in educating, celebrating, and advocating for aliyah.
The building is, in many ways, one that is both thoroughly modern but also rooted in Israeli history. One need only walk into the suite of offices to see banks of the latest large-screen computers, glass enclosed offices and meeting spaces, and contemporary style messaging and photography on the walls. At the same time, there are accents of history at various points in the facility, such as two large genuine antiquities from the Bais Rishon and Bais Sheni eras that sit by the main stairwell.
One of the primary features of the building, outside the work spaces, are four multifunctional areas that are designed to enable Nefesh B’Nefesh to host a variety of activities that reflect their mission.
A rooftop plaza, overlooking the Gan Soccer park that adjoins Cinema City, is optimal for weddings and small receptions, such as the one held recently for a chayal boded (lone soldier). The plaza space includes a bar in the back.
A main hall one floor below can be sectioned off into four quads, each soundproofed, and includes an adjacent kitchen. This space was cleverly built with a large adjacent storage area that holds a multitude of tables and chairs. Rabbi Fass reports that the organization uses this space “constantly.”
A mercas mavakrim (visitors’ center) room, on the same floor, offers amenities like a technology-rich podium that make it perfect for lectures or educational event, with built-in capabilities for art exhibits as well. A closed door in the room, sealed with a sophisticated electronic lock, leads to an annex used by the Ministry of the Interior. The annex houses biometric machines that Ministry officials can use to process olim. Adjoining the room on the other end is a glass-enclosed meeting room with a door to the outside, allowing for quick entry and exit of government and agency officials for high-level meetings.
An outside patio, in two sections, allows groups to enter the facility by stairs on Shabbat (bypassing the main entrance) and can also host meals and other activities. This area was used over the past few months by the Ministry of the Interior for processing olim who came from Ukraine.
Greeting the press group at the outside patio, Nefesh B’Nefesh co-founder Tony Gelbart stated that the new facility hosts 1,500 visitors at different events each week. This center is designed to help the organization build on its successes; he noted that over 90% of the olim who come to Israel through the organization stay in Israel after three years.
Marc Rosenberg, VP of diaspora partnerships, added that a core idea of Nefesh B’Nefesh is that while Jews in other areas of the world may relocate to Israel out of necessity, North American Jews make “aliyah by choice.” Nefesh B’Nefesh exists to highlight and enhance that choice, and recognizes that the 75,000 olim they’ve brought to Israel are connected to countless others, so their successful experiences can encourage more olim to come.
For more information on Nefesh B’Nefesh, please visit www.nbn.org.il.
By Harry Glazer