Group Helps Jews Return to Homeland; Hopes to Stem Population Decline

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), August 3, 2004 | Go to article overview

Group Helps Jews Return to Homeland; Hopes to Stem Population Decline


Byline: Stephanie Dornschneider, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

A new life begins today for Washington resident Tova Serkin, one of about 420 U.S. and Canadian Jews who will board a flight in New York this afternoon to emigrate to Israel.

The mass emigration effort has been organized and partly financed by Nefesh B'Nefesh, a private organization dedicated to reversing a long decline in emigration to Israel and helping the Jewish state head off a demographic crisis.

The organization plans to move more than 1,500 Jews to Israel this year, substantially boosting a North American immigration rate that has averaged 1,300 people a year since the 1980s. The group's goal is to bring 100,000 Jews to Israel within the next five to 10 years.

Miss Serkin, who has visited Israel regularly since she was in high school, understands the politics of what she is doing and said she is "committed to helping Israel to flourish into a democratic state."

But, she said, she was motivated to move more by cultural and lifestyle reasons.

"As a Jew, it is a unique experience to live in a place where Judaism is already a culture," she said. "The whole rhythm of my life in Israel reflects my culture and my tradition."

Another factor was generous financial assistance from Nefesh B'Nefesh, which provides grants of up to $25,000 for each new immigrant.

"I don't think I could be doing this without Nefesh B'Nefesh," said Miss Serkin, a 24-year-old Harvard University graduate who is still repaying college loans and found the economic aid "incredibly helpful."

This money comes from private donors who have provided Nefesh B'Nefesh with gifts of up to $1 million. This year, its budget has increased by more than $1 million - to $4.2 million.

Nefesh B'Nefesh also helps the immigrants settle in Israel. Each of the three summer flights - today's is the second - is accompanied by officials from the Israeli health, absorption and education ministries who will help the travelers fill out documents and will answer basic questions such as how to obtain a driver's license. …

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