Since Israels First Aliyah in 1882, young Jewish people have flocked to Israel to make their mark – establishing kibbutzim, making the desert bloom, and transforming the countrys medical care. Todays young new immigrants are no different. From competing in the Israel National Football Leagues first-ever campaign to qualify for the European Championship to founding an organization that mobilizes English-speaking immigrants to vote in Israels elections, olim are using their skillsets and passions to build Israel in ways that are most meaningful to them.
Here are the stories of North American olim – all aged 30 or younger – who are making a difference in Israel.
Brianna Perez, 23, Assistant Producer of the Jerusalem Jazz Festival
While a student at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Brianna Perez began producing music festivals both locally and in Latin America. Through her work, she connected with Israeli artists who were interested in collaborating on similar festivals in Israel. Brianna, who had spent a year studying at the Rimon School of Music in Ramat Hasharon, knew that she wanted to return to Israel, and started to help set the groundwork for the Jerusalem Jazz Festival immediately after making Aliyah.
As the assistant producer of the 2016 Jerusalem Jazz Festival, Brianna plans to help bring international jazz musicians from all over the world to perform in Israels capital city, and to create music education workshops for at-risk Israeli youth. Brianna hopes that the festival will help connect Israels diverse people through the common language of music. Jerusalem is an international destination with tons of cultural events, she says. Getting to bring a jazz festival to Jerusalem is a dream come true.
Adam Davis, 27, Israels National Football League
Before studying at a yeshiva in Israel, Adam Davis had never played football. But once he discovered a local flag football team, he found himself playing a few times a week. As a student at Bar Ilan University, Adam joined the Ramat Hasharon Hammers, an Israel Football League tackle team, which is made up of 90% native Israeli and 10% new immigrants. There, Adam developed his skills and became one of the teams managers.
Three years later, Adam was invited to try out for Israels National Football League, which would compete – for the first time ever – in Madrid to qualify for the European Championship. Adam was thrilled to learn that he made the cut, and even more thrilled when his team won the game. Its not just incredible to have the opportunity to compete in an international football game. Its also amazing to wear a uniform with the Magen David, to sing Hatikvah on the field in Spain, and to represent Israel internationally while playing the sport I love, says Adam.
Rachel Schonwald, 30, Co-Founder of Kol Oleh
While preparing to vote in the Tel Aviv municipal elections, Rachel Schonwald found that she was having a difficult time accessing the different parties platforms. Most of the parties didnt translate their materials into English, which meant that many olim didnt even know that an election would be taking place. Rachel, who had worked in the U.S. political arena, knew that in order to make a difference in her new country, she needed to make sure she could effectively participate.
Together with a group of new immigrants, including her husband Ben, Rachel helped found Kol Oleh, an organization that created a municipal election voter guide, translated all election material into English, and organized a debate. On the day of the election, Rachel and her co-founders watched the Kol Oleh websites traffic skyrocket, as olim dove into the material in order to make informed decisions. In Israel, starting something new is a real possibility, asserts Rachel. Theres a built-in community here, which helps you understand what people really want and then access that.
Sam Chester, 30, China/Middle East Expert
During his first stint in China through a U.S. State Department language learning program, Sam Chester told the group that his journey to China was fueled by a passion for Israel. As a college student, Sam was curious about the many ways that Israel and the Middle East could play a role in Chinas expanding global influence. Sam went on to explore his interest by working for Chinese companies in Beijing and the Gulf States, and then by earning a graduate degree in China and Middle East Studies and International Economics from Johns Hopkins University.
After making Aliyah and serving in the Israeli Army, Sam was hired by Clarity Capital, a global investment firm, to be a project manager and China analyst. Sam speaks about China and Middle East relations around the world, including at a U.S. government-sponsored event in Washington and at universities in Haifa, New York and Shanghai. He believes that Israel can serve as a bridge between the U.S. and China, this centurys superpowers, nurturing collaboration rather than conflict.
Like the pioneers who met the challenge of setting up agricultural communities in Israel, my generation has an opportunity to address contemporary challenges, including positioning Israel on the global stage, he believes. As someone who is passionate about China and the Middle East, I decided to come to Israel with my skillset and find platforms to make a difference.
Zoe Jurkowski, 23, Co-Founder of Twenty4Six
While studying interactive communication at IDC Herzliya, Zoe Jurkowski realized that in Israel, work experience was more valuable than grades. As a new immigrant with no prior professional connections, Zoe complemented her studies with social media marketing positions at various startups. She soon realized that she had a knack for the work, and when her family friend, Danny Kaplan, asked her to take on similar projects for a California-based startup, Zoe agreed.
The two soon decided to launch Twenty4Six, an agency that creates strategic partnerships between U.S. brands and Israeli startups. With U.S. brands trying to be more and more innovative, Twenty4Six finds Israeli startups that are developing tools and technologies that meet each companys needs. Several of the brands for which Twenty4Six is currently scouting Israeli startups include GoPro, Mastercard, Red Bull, Sony and Toyota. Every day, Im exposed to amazing innovation coming out of Israel. Were putting Israel on the map for top U.S. brands and giving Israeli startups a higher chance of succeeding, says Zoe.
Chaim Seligman, 26, Israel Model UN
When Chaim Seligman was 16, he was walking in his Florida neighborhood when a few guys attacked him. While recuperating in bed, Chaim decided that whatever he chose to do, he was set on living a meaningful life. This decision led him to serve as a sharpshooter in the Israeli Army, volunteer as a medic with Magen David Adom, and to represent Israels team at Model UN conferences around the world.
In conferences from Bratislava to Barcelona, Chaim wore a three-piece suit and his kippah, often fielding questions about what it was like to be Jewish and live in Israel long after he returned home. During Operations Protective Edge and Cast Lead, Chaim received emails from friends in France, Spain, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, who asked him his perspective on the conflict and then posted articles he sent them on their Facebook feeds. Its been incredible to defend Israel on a person-to-person level and to show people that Israel is not as it appears in the media, he asserts.
Josh Wesfield, 26, Volunteer Medic
As a volunteer medic for United Hatzalah, Josh Wesfield takes part in 50-60 emergency calls each month. When he receives a late-night call, he jumps out of bed and races to the scene so that he can support the patient before an ambulance arrives. Josh first began volunteering with Magen David Adom as an 18-year-old yeshiva student and resumed his work with the organization following his army service.
Josh has delivered nine Israeli babies and on multiple occasions has been among the first medics to arrive at the scene of terror attacks. This year, Josh will begin medical school at the Cyprus campus of St. Georges University of London, a British program that is partnered with Tel Hashomer Hospital in Ramat Gan, where he will complete his final two years of schooling. Once Josh and his wife return from Cyprus, he is looking forward to raising a family and practicing medicine in Israel. When it comes to dealing with medical issues in Israel, politics and religion dont matter. In the Israeli medical field, everyone is treated equally, says Josh.
About Nefesh BNefesh
Founded in 2002, Nefesh BNefesh works in partnership with the Israeli government, The Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael and JNF-USA, and is dedicated to revitalizing Aliyah from North America and the UK by removing or minimizing the financial, professional, logistical and social obstacles of Aliyah. To date, Nefesh BNefesh has assisted over 45,000 newcomers to Israel.
For more information about Nefesh BNefesh, visit www.nbn.org.il.