By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com
Rabbi Yehoshua Fass is an individual that has created facts on the ground in Eretz Yisrael. He is the Co-Founder of Nefesh B’Nefesh, an organization that has revolutionized the Aliyah process for over 70,000 Western Olim, assisting them in moving to Israel by acting to remove financial, logistical, and professional obstacles.
RYH: Rabbi Fass, firstly, thanks for sitting down with us for this interview. Secondly, what are your thoughts about the following advertising idea? Billboards – say, “Aliyah – just do it.” Nike might sue you, but if you speak to them beforehand and work out an arrangement – both of you would get some serious advertising out of it in the lawsuit articles.
RYF: We have kicked around this very idea and it’s not just a matter of budget. Although these types of advertisements garner attention and sparks conversation, the emphasis really needs to be placed in the educational and communal arenas. We need to do our utmost to ensure that our students and community members are viscerally connected to our Jewish Homeland in order to deeply understand our historic connection as well as our promised destiny.
I teach in a Bais Yaakov high school. It seems, of late, that many of them end up becoming Occupational Therapists, Speech therapists, physical therapists – are there room for these fields in Israel?
RYF: There is indeed plenty of room. In fact, Israel is in desperate need of these professions. However, one needs to be mindful of licensing requirements and Hebrew proficiency.
Do you do any kind of polling throughout US shuls or other organizations to determine the types of people- in terms of their professions – that would consider Aliyah?
RYF: We collect data on professions of those who attend our NBN events or fill out our Aliyah application. We see a very wide range of professions, but the most popular professions are educators, physicians, lawyers, sales, social workers and students.
When and what was the last survey you have done? What did you personally find most shocking?
Our last survey was pre-Covid, and we are currently drafting a new one to be distributed in the coming months.
Do you use any outside companies to do surveys?
We generally run our own surveys and will use consultants if needed for the design and analysis. For more comprehensive surveys, we do indeed utilize outside companies.
You recently arranged a MedEx Conference in New York focusing on making shidduchim in jobs to encourage aliyah for doctors and medical professionals. This seems to be a fantastic Aliyah idea. How did you think of it?
There has been a growing interest in Aliyah from both physicians and medical professionals for some time now and we wanted to find additional ways to help expedite their licensing and professional acclimation process. After holding a smaller version of our MedEx track for a few years within our annual Mega Aliyah Event, we decided to run it independently in order to enable the local medical professionals to maximize their time by networking amongst themselves as well as with visiting professionals. Thus, we brought significant representation from Israel’s Health Ministry and representatives of local medical facilities who were able to recruit on the spot for employment positions. The outcome of the event was most impressive: 350 attendees including 150 physicians, 20 physician assistants, and other medical professionals and, btw, over a dozen have already received their licenses.
NBN is always coming up with fantastic ideas and such – a really dynamic organization. Do you have a forum for idea-generating within NBN?
In addition to frequent internal organization-wide forums throughout the year, we are blessed with an incredibly devoted and creative professional team who are constantly thinking out-of-the-box and generating new ideas and initiatives.
What is the infrastructure you have set up to make this kind of thing happen?
I meet with senior management at NBN on a weekly basis to monitor progress and help steer the organization. We also use strategic advisors to guide us regarding government issues and have a Public Advisory Board comprised of Israeli business leaders and public servants who counsel us.
How did you advertise for the medical professionals in the US to come?
We have a strong database within our organization which collects information based on professions and education. Using this, as well as local and professional social media platforms, we were able to reach our target audience. In addition, we are in continuous contact with many, if not all, of these medical professionals on a regular basis, as we are assisting them with their Aliyah process and inquiries. As a result, we were able to easily invite them.
How did you advertise for the employers to come to the expo?
The NBN Employment Center has built up an amazing reputation and expansive database of contacts over the past 20 years. Especially in the field of medicine, where we have many contacts in various hospitals, clinics, and HMO’s, it is easy for us to share the information about our events, as they are constantly approaching us to help fill positions.
What is next on the agenda in terms of the type of professionals you may consider an expo for?
We have already had a few meetings to explore an event for hi-tech professionals – which can span from technical abilities to general liberal arts graduates who are interested in entering the field. We are currently running several courses that are assisting new Olim to gain valuable skills and enter the hi-tech world, and we are seeing tremendous success rates amongst course graduates who find employment shortly after completing the courses.
How did COVID in particular affect NBN – What were the challenges and how did you overcome them?
We saw a surge in Aliyah applications during COVID, which resulted in a record year for Aliyah in 2021. We, like the rest of the world, began working from home while our workload and demand for Aliyah took a spike, which was a great challenge. However, and quite fortunately, we had the technological resources to work remotely, and we were able to pivot our methods, adapt, and do the maximum we could in order to service our Olim as best as possible.
I imagine like AIPAC used to be – it is necessary to be apolitical. Is this true? If you can answer – which parties have been helpful to you and which have not been so attentive to NBN? If you can’t answer = that is understood..
NBN is indeed non-partisan and we work with all parties and government officials for the benefit of our Olim. We are proud to help all North American Jews who are eligible for Aliyah under the law for return make Israel their home. In general, representatives from all major government parties have attended our charter Aliyah flight arrivals and/or have visited our offices at one time or another. We are constantly working to make sure that Aliyah and the integration of Olim is a priority in their decision-making processes and agendas.
You are doing remarkable work – what percentage of your funding comes from the government, and what percentage comes from private donations?
Most of our funding comes from a combination of the Israeli government, private donors as well as foundations. About 20% of our funding is from the Israeli government.
If you had, say, almost unlimited funding, say a 100 million dollar foundation grant from a philanthropist – what would you do to help further your mission?
We love to dream big. With a dream-budget of this sort, we could help alleviate some of the larger financial obstacles to Aliyah, which often surround college loan repayments and the high cost of housing in Israel. In addition, it would open many new opportunities for more aggressive and widespread marketing of Aliyah to all segments of the population as well as enable us to increase our scope of operation and programming both overseas and inside Israel.
Do you have any brachos or encouragement from chareidi organizations, gedolim, or admorim?
Having been in existence for twenty years now and servicing Jews from across the religious gamut, our everyday work necessitates a close relationship with leaders and Rabbanim from many different communities. We have deep collaboration with Chareidi/ Yeshivish/ Frum organizations and are guided, in this respect, from gedolim and admorim. As a matter of fact, we recently opened a Chareidi desk here at NBN in order to service the Yeshivish community and their specific concerns.
Do you get inspiration in what you do from the original people that had encouraged Aliyah say in the late 1800’s and in the early 1900’s?
It is astonishing to even imagine the hardships and sacrifice of those who made Aliyah in those years. Their devotion and connection to Eretz Yisroel is breathtakingly inspirational. The Israel of today is far more advanced and developed than the one that welcomed the students of the Gr”A, per se. Nonetheless, there is still a need for the same spiritual and emotional support and a centrality of Eretz Yisrael for Diaspora Jews. Thus, those that share the spark and the draw to Israel are an ongoing source of inspiration.
Getting back to the medical professionals are you involved on the government level to help smooth things over to help overcome certain professional constraints? For example, PAs in Israel, to my understanding can only be certified in three medical fields: emergency medicine, anesthesiology and pathology. Is that still true and are you working on expanding that?
NBN is intensely present on this issue. We are in constant communication with the local government offices and lobbying lawmakers to make needed policy change. At present, we are working diligently on a law to fully recognize PA’s in Israel, which has recently seen significant advancements. This has been a top priority for us and continues to be at the forefront of our work for Olim.
Did you ever consider funding a hi tech version of one of the Aliyah-encouraging seforim of one of the great Rabbis who wrote during this time period?
It’s a great idea – and even more so who the best people would be to write or contribute to this type of sefer that would attract the appropriate attention.
What do you think of running some sort of music contest or putting out an album that encourages Aliyah?
I think that an ‘Artists for Aliyah’ type album would be a nice way to bring the sounds and energy of Israel into people’s homes.
Well, thanks so much. This has been very enlightening!
The interviewer can be reached at [email protected]
Moshiach is not waiting for us to be עולה to Eretz Yisroel.
Hashem is waiting for us to behave more Jewishly wherever we may find ourselves by Hashgocha Elyona. And for us to encourage other Jews to follow this path.
Who will bring the Yidden to Eretz Yisroel, our homeland?
That is Moshiach’s job, as the Rambam writes: “Melech Hamoshiach will build the Beis Hamikdosh, and [afterwards] gather the Yidden [to Eretz Yisroel].” (הלכות מלכים פי”א ה”א, ה”ד)
what’s all the fass about
It usually is possible to go live in Eretz Yisroel without subjecting yourself to the medinah beyond the requirements of a visa. Residence in Yisroel has no dependence on whether the medinah handed you a plastic teudat zehut and formally recognized your “Aliyah”. Anyone who has a citizenship of a state without compulsory military service who assumes citizenship of the medinah and thereby puts their own descendants into compulsory military service of the medinah is like a moser. Soldiers literally are like property of the army. If they accidentally shoot their foot, they’ve damaged army property. There are nochrim in the chain of command. So, under duress our descendants might take orders from a nochri or kofer due to your decision to take some Sochnut or Nefesh B’Nefesh benefits or whatever. Some army units pressured soldiers to vax out, like depriving them of sleep until they agreed to participate in the genetic experiment. Also, if you’re not a citizen of the medinah, you can settle Area A more easily, like create Pal corporations jointly owned to purchase property there. Seriously, the kedushah of Yisroel shouldn’t be assumed with the costs of servitude to kofrim and nochrim if those costs can be avoided. Just look into visas. Learn part time in a kollel or something. No need to sell your soul.
If Jewish philanthropists supported Pal emigration from Yisroel the same way they’ve supported Jewish immigration to Yisroel, Yisroel might have less problems. There needs to be an organization like Nefesh that helps Arabs relocate to Chilé or wherever in the world.
The Rambam uses the language מקבץ נדחי ישראל I don’t know about you but I would prefer to make sure NOT to be in that category of Jews!