New Immigrants Say Nefesh B'Nefesh Abandoned Them When They Needed Practical Help

Speaking to Haaretz on condition of anonymity for fear of losing benefits, immigrants talk of feeling 'shortchanged' by organization's failure to live up to its promises.

The contract which new immigrants sign with Nefesh B'Nefesh warmly recommends that they come to Israel on the organization's special flights for the spiritual experience, of course.

But after the lights in the airport terminal are turned off, many of the immigrants, particularly those single olim and 'lone' families who do not have the benefit of a network of relatives or professional contacts in their new country, find it difficult to integrate into Israeli society. The language is a barrier, jobs are not always easy to come by and the cultural environment can be daunting.

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In fact, some of the would-be immigrants fail to make the adjustment and return to their country of origin. Others turn to NBN for help which is not always forthcoming.

The organization's emergency post-aliyah fund did not manage to help a family that desperately sought assistance from the executive director, Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, in 2011. "It is becoming a bigger struggle each month," wrote an unemployed father, who had moved to Israel several months earlier with his family.

Fass, in an email reply, urged the father to contact the organization's employment counselor and raised the possibility of giving the family a financial grant. "If in the future there is a need for, G-d forbid, an emergency grant, I will be here to help," Fass assured him. "Please do not hesitate contacting me in the future."

Three months later, the father was still unemployed. He again wrote to Fass, requesting financial assistance. "I wanted to email you ahead of time as I don't believe I can support my family for any further than two months on the funds we have," the father wrote. "If it comes down to it and I do not have work in this time period, how can Nefesh B'Nefesh help me?"

Fass responded five days later with an email that was more akin to a lecture on the hardships of immigration. "Aliyah can be very challenging, with an employment search one of its most difficult aspects," Fass wrote. "The challenge of starting your career and dealing with the economic hardships during this period can be stressful. I appreciate your concerns..."

Fass added: "I am aware that you are under financial pressure. This is an aspect of aliyah that olim overcome with the completion of a successful job search."

The father responded that same day, with more than a hint of desperation in his words. "You mentioned I should contact you if my financial position did not improve, as yet it has not. I am concerned that come the beginning of May I am going to struggle to find the money for my rent! I have already negotiated an agreed overdraft of NIS 3,000 with the bank and was overdrawn by NIS 5,000 this month. It is becoming a bigger struggle each month," he wrote.

Before half an hour had elapsed, Fass tersely replied: "At this time, the foundation is not in a position to extend or enhance any grant contracts or vehicle subsidies. We are building again our emergency post-aliyah fund and hopefully we will be in a better position down the line to help olim who are experiencing difficulties."

In interviews with many other immigrants, Haaretz encountered families and singles who found this "help" wanting. They talked of feeling "shortchanged" by an organization that, in its promotional materials, offers to provide new immigrants "with employment resources, assistance with governmental absorption, community-based guidance and support, and need-based financial aid in order to make each individual's aliyah as successful as possible."

Many immigrants who encountered problems with NBN following their arrival in Israel were hesitant to speak to Haaretz, for fear of jeopardizing their relationship with the organization. They cited confidentiality clauses in their legal agreements with NBN which, if breached, could potentially allow the organization to cancel their agreements with them and demand full refunds of thousands of dollars of grant money. Immigrants who agreed to speak to Haaretz did so on condition of anonymity.

One woman who lives in Israel's southern region was among many we spoke to who credited NBN for marketing immigration and for bringing her to Israel. But like others, she offered a caveat about the organization's absorption efforts in the country.

"Nefesh B'Nefesh falls down after the new olim arrive," she says. "At least that was true for me. There were two or three follow-up calls with a social worker, but other than a little moral support, it wasn't useful. They say they will call you once a month to follow up, but that did not happen in my case.

"They also held an Aliyah Fair a few days after the arrival of the charter flights," the woman continues. "All kinds of help is supposedly available there. But it is really an overwhelming 'balagan' [mess] of people trying to sell you on their bank, cell-phone service, etc. It caused me more problems than it solved.

"The main job of Nefesh B'Nefesh is to help North Americans get to Israel, and they do it very well," she adds. "I think they just should not promise follow-up if they don't have the resources to do it. They have lots of information on the website, but much of it is outdated or not specific enough. They either need to do a better job of helping with absorption or not get involved in that phase at all."

Another woman, who availed herself of the organization's Go North Program which gives financial stipends to immigrants who take up residence in the country's north, says she relied heavily on NBN to provide vocational support and training in a region beset by a high level of unemployment. "I can't count the amount of times I tried getting help through the organization's offices, and either was unable to get through to an actual person or just completely ignored," the woman says.

For months, she adds, she sought work but to no avail. Her savings were depleted as she scanned job postings from NBN which she found "inadequate."

She was quickly using up her $5,000 grant from the organization, and the agreement she had signed, committing her to remain in the north for three years, prevented her from looking for work in other regions.

"Nefesh B'Nefesh sends out job opportunities via email and asks you to sign up on job sites," she says. "However, after trying out a few that were suggested, my faith in what they were forwarding to us waned." On several occasions, she adds, prospective employers she contacted offered to hire her but made it clear they would not be able to pay her "for several months."

"I was disappointed in their professionalism or their chutzpah in what they thought they could get away with," the immigrant says of these prospective employers.

"When I informed Nefesh B'Nefesh about my problems with the jobs they suggested," she continues, "they smiled and nodded, and then a month later were advertising them on the group email again. I was shocked."

The immigrant, who later found a job on her own albeit one that involves two hours' traveling a day alerted her friends, hoping to spare them a similar ordeal. "I complained to some friends I had made about the job experiences, and they told others, and so on," she says. "Other people who had problems also talked, so people were warned."

"It's just another form of their ineptitude," a former immigration official now working with many NBN immigrants who he says "have fallen through the cracks" tells Haaretz. "Whereas the Jewish Agency once employed highly trained emissaries who knew the business of immigration and absorption, Nefesh B'Nefesh has marginalized these professionals and instead put into place a cadre of 'coordinators' who, essentially, are ill-equipped to assist the diverse needs of immigrants."

NBN stated in response: "The organization was founded in New York State and its activity in the United States is subject to the laws of that state. Accordingly, the organization's contracts with the new immigrants, who are also foreign residents at that time [i.e., not yet living in Israel] are based on the laws of New York State. The agreements, which for the most part deal with the terms of the grant the immigrants receive from Nefesh B'Nefesh, are fair and reasonable. They are intended to ascertain that the financial grants from Nefesh B'Nefesh will be used for purposes of immigration and also to preserve the immigrants' privacy."

"As the primary goal of Nefesh B'Nefesh is to encourage immigration to Israel, we make efforts to ease that process for the immigrants, both in the pre-immigration stage and during their absorption and acclimatization in Israel. The immigrants are our top priority and as such we insist on a high consciousness of service. For example, Nefesh B'Nefesh organizes a large number of activities, events and seminars for the new immigrants. The organization also provides consultancy and job-placement services for them."

"Nefesh B'Nefesh is available to immigrants every day until midnight, and in addition employs a number of social workers who can be reached at any time. Each immigrant has the personal phone numbers of the team and of management. Nefesh B'Nefesh conducts surveys to examine the immigrants' satisfaction and is always trying to improve its services. If any immigrant has been harmed in any way by an employee of Nefesh B'Nefesh, he is of course invited to contact us and we will take immediate action to diagnose the flaw and, if needed, also to draw the needed lessons."

A group of arriving immigrants from North America at Ben-Gurion International Airport earlier this week.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum



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