As I write this I am live on a conference call organized by Nefesh B'Nefesh. The occasion is an aliya flight: 210 American Jews leaving the United States to make a new life in Israel. Six of the olim (new immigrants to Israel) are on the call. The oldest oleh is 93 years old while the youngest is just 5 weeks old. The olim come from 22 American states and include 96 singles. The olim also come from all across the religious spectrum.
According to a Nefesh B'Nefesh spokesman they hope to have helped a total of 14,000 American Jews make aliya by the end of this year. 20,000 more (including myself) are in the pipeline to make aliya within the next three years. 94% of the NBN olim are employed, which is better than the Israeli national employment average. Over 90% of those who have made aliya with NBN have stayed in Israel and made lives there. Some of the olim on the call expressed thanks to Nefesh b'Nefesh for their assistance in making aliya possible.
When asked about what their motivations for making aliya were one woman spoke of wanting to live in a Jewish state.
At this point former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Danny Ayalon joined the call. Ambassador Ayalon informed us that Prime Minister Olmert will be meeting the new olim upon their arrival in Israel. Ambassador Ayalon praised NBN for their work which helps insure the future and security of the State of Israel.
According to Ambassador Ayalon the biggest constraint right now on aliya is budget. The waiting list for American olim waiting to immigrate numbers 20,000. Ambassador Ayalon expects to be able to increase aliya, possibly doubling or tripling the numbers, with a goal of 100,000 American olim making aliya by 2016. Ambassador Ayalon reported that he has talked to leaders in Israeli government about the budget issue including the Prime Minister. He also expressed hope that the Jewish Agency can be brought back on board.
I asked if the issue of budget cuts to oleh benefits raised in the Jerusalem Post last month had been resolved. Ambassador Ayalon assured us that the cuts will not take place. Right now the budget allows for bringing 3,200 olim per year to Israel while there is capacity for up to 10,000 American olim per year to be absorbed. He said that he is working to raise the money to increase the numbers next year.
Ambassador Ayalon, when asked what the biggest challenge facing new olim is, raised the issue of employment. He said it isn't just a matter of finding a job but a matter of finding the right jobs, ones suitable for the olim's skills and experience. He expressed thanks to NBN for their assistance in helping olim place themselves within one year.
Postscript: I found the call quite informative and I will post follow up information and photos from Nefesh b'Nefesh when they become available. I am, of course, looking forward to the day when I will be one of the olim rather than one of the bloggers.