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Olim from North America – of whom the more recent arrivals made Aliyah through Nefesh BNefesh – make up less than three percent of Israels population, but the impact they have on the Jewish state is way out of proportion to their numbers

Deborah Fineblum Schabb
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Today you will find many of the approximately 200,000 Israelis from the United States and Canada at the top of virtually every line of work in Israel – from high fashion to hi-tech – and increasingly climbing the rungs of the governmental ladder.

Sense of commitment

MK Dov Lipman (left) and Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, Executive Director of Nefesh B’Nefesh, present an ID card to a new olahCredit: Sasson Tiram

Take MK Dov Lipman, for instance, a rabbi who hails from Silver Spring, MD, who was sworn in as a Knesset member in February 2013, the first American-born member of Israels Knesset in 30 years. Inspired to jump into Beit Shemesh politics during that citys much reported religious clashes over the last few years, Lipman realized that there was lots of work to do in this society and was increasingly determined to do something about it. That something has already resulted in his instituting the Knessets first-ever open office hours to invite input and accessibility, and a legislative philosophy he describes as to pass laws that represent core Jewish values that we can create unity around. Lipman also sits on a Knesset task force designed to help the Ultra-Orthodox enter the workforce, another to generate dialogue between the Ultra-Orthodox and secular communities and still another to inspire Aliyah.

When it comes to the entry of North Americans into Israeli politics, Avi Kay, writing for the Jerusalem Center of Public Affairs, describes the phenomenon this way: American-born Israelis have brought a unique set of attitudes and strategies to the sphere of extra-parliamentary behavior in Israel, adding that their sense of obligation and commitment toward activism and standing up for ones rights may serve as a benchmark of civic behavior as Israel moves toward a more representative democracy with a greater emphasis on citizen rights.

Other North American natives rising up through the ranks in a variety of fields include Stanley Fischer, who was Governor of the Bank of Israel from 2005 till 2013; Rabbanit Malke Bina, the founder of the womens learning center Matan and one of the first educators in Israel to teach female students Talmud and Halacha; and Yossi Abramowitz, a solar power pioneer who moved with his family from the Boston area to Israel in 2006.

A new dynamic

The numbers of North American natives who have climbed to prominence in a myriad of fields has given rise to hundreds of nominations for the annual Nefesh BNefesh Bonei Zion Prize. Last years inaugural ceremony in the Knesset honored seven Anglo olim who have made outstanding contributions to the Jewish state. In recent years, their voices in the upper echelons of government service are resonating far and wide, even as they impact Israels financial, political and cultural worlds, says Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Nefesh BNefesh, which sponsors the awards. We hope that highlighting the achievements of Anglo olim who are helping to make a difference to our homeland will both raise Israelis awareness of the contributions of native North Americans and serve as a catalyst to inspire others to make Aliyah.

There are clear indications that North American olim are helping create a new dynamic in the marketplace, notes Yael Scalia Hershberg, who made Aliyah from Baltimore 30 years ago with husband and fellow painter Israel Hershberg. You are starting to hear salespeople or customer service people say things like Have a nice day which is a completely Western thing, she notes.

In addition, American-born individuals are able to better relate in the workplace with those who share their background, says Jay Ruderman, who made Aliyah from Boston with his family nearly a decade ago. Ruderman is President of the Ruderman Family Foundation, which funds initiatives designed to bridge the understanding gap between Israelis and their North American cousins. The foundation also partners with both the State of Israel and organizations in the U.S. to support a host of Jewish disabilities programs in both countries.

We need to understand that when conducting business in the United States, an Israeli immigrant from the U.S. will be able to do a better job in communicating with their fellow former Americans than native born sabras, he says. Its not just an issue of Israeli-Americans having better English, they also understand the social cues that native born Israelis so often miss. And, he adds, Prime Minister Netanyahu obviously understands this because the immediate past and current Israeli ambassadors to the United States are former Americans.

More meaningful lives

None of these or the countless other successes surprise The Jewish Agency for Israels Chairman Natan Sharansky, who ticks off the qualities hes observed in North American-born olim: Those who come home from North America have much to contribute in the public sphere since they bring a very high level of social activism and a belief that the law belongs to them and not some authority, so they are able to stand up for their rights. In addition, theyre skilled in finances, and have emerged as leading front-line investors for business development in the last few years. But, he is quick to add, for the Americans who come here, its not so much the success they are looking for but giving a deeper meaning to their own lives. These are people from the richest country in the world coming here, so its not about how to get more money but how to have a more meaningful life.

North Americans, despite their relatively small numbers, also bring a voice of optimism to Israels national dialogue, adds MK Rabbi Lipman. Yes, we are having an impact on Israeli technology, social services, business, sports and politics now as well, but its not just our professional contributions that set North Americans apart, he maintains. The biggest impact is our fresh Zionism. Whereas native Israelis have seen a lot of war, a lot of loss, and may have lost that initial Zionist vision, our passion for the dream of Zionism reminds them of this countrys pioneering spirit. After all, so many of the earlier immigrants were running away from something and we American olim are running toward something. My four children were all born in the U.S. and are now very Israeli, thriving in both languages. With all the challenges, every day they bring that sense of hope.      

Dr. Yoel and Marcia AnouchiCredit: Jared Bernstein

An American doctor in the Galilee

One of the professions North American natives are making an impact on is medicine, a field where the cross pollination of ideas and techniques tends to benefit everyone involved, starting with Israeli patients. With the help of Nefesh BNefesh and its Go North Program (that helps newcomers settle in cities up north that have historically not attracted large numbers of English speakers), Dr. Yoel Anouchi of Beachwood, Ohio was able to make Aliyah to Nahariya a year ago with his wife Marcia. An orthopedic surgeon at the top of his game when he left the States, Anouchi now heads a department in the Nahariya hospital while his educator wife has been teaching English and is developing a program to teach Hebrew to new American olim.

We have visited many times and planned to move to Israel our entire lives and felt it was finally a real possibility, says Dr. Anouchi. We are also interested in furthering our careers in Israel as well as contributing to the development of the country within our fields. Still, a prime mover for their Aliyah has nothing to do with the Anouchis professions; rather, it was the presence of two granddaughters here (three of their four children made Aliyah before they did). In the last year, as theyve stepped into the role of newly minted Israelis, theyve noticed both the adjustments theyve needed to make to life in Israel – including the need to become a bit more assertive – as well as the influence that North Americans have exerted on Israel and Israelis.

Were seeing a slow shift attributed at least in part to the Anglo community, to being polite and a little more customer service oriented, says Marcia. What were beginning to notice is that Israelis will push back when you ask for something and then the next minute will be completely sweet and helpful. Having a command of what they call functional Hebrew, the Anouchis are able to assert their rights and make their needs known.

Rachelle Amar

A new career and a new fianc

Belonging to the new generation of North American-born olim who are already making their mark is 32-year-old Rachelle Amar. Last year, Amar traded in her old life in New Jersey for a home in Beer Sheva and, in the process, launched a new business. Her company, The Kismet Bee, has produced a mobile app called iMustHavit, a product and service navigation system which connects users with products and services that arent easily found otherwise. Amar is also benefitting from a husband from the move – she and fianc Dor Partosh of Ramat Gan are planning a summer wedding. This is a huge new beginning for me, says Amar. Its a new beginning personally, as an entrepreneur and also as a new Israeli. Amar moved to Israel through Nefesh BNefeshs Go South Program and added that its dedicated staff not only welcomed me to Beer Sheva when I moved there, but immediately took an active interest in getting to know me and helping to facilitate my personal and business needs, which made a tremendous difference with my local acclimation.

Ive only been here a year, she continues. But I can already see that North Americans bring an unwavering sense of optimism here. My dad immigrated from Spain in his 20s, so I saw my parents attain the American dream – now weve taken what was the American dream and turned it into the Israeli dream. But, Amar is quick to add, the dream is not all about wealth. What Israel offers us is a dream that goes beyond our wallets, a break from the materialism of America, a sense of living the Jewish destiny.

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New olim from North America arrive in Israel on a Nefesh B'Nefesh flightCredit: Peter Hamalgyi