MONTREAL — More than 150 potential immigrants to Israel crowded a main hallway of a local hotel on March 3 as Nefesh B’Nefesh (NBN), hosted an aliyah fair for Montrealers.
“We are definitely going,” said 23-year-old Nathan Amar, who was accompanied by his fiancée Natalie Feldman. “We made the decision a few months ago.”
Montreal was one of several North American cities in which NBN – founded in 2002 by Florida philanthropist Tony Gelbart and Rabbi Yehoshua Fass to revitalize North American and British aliyah – holds annual fairs.
Other cities include Toronto, Baltimore, Chicago, Miami, New York, and Los Angeles.
NBN works hand-in-hand with Israel’s Jewish Agency, responsible for determining aliyah eligibility, and its Ministry of Immigration and Absorption. By the end of 2011, it had welcomed more than 30,000 olim to the Jewish state.
According to Josh Sussman, NBN’s overseas program co-ordinator for its pre-aliyah department, Montreal has shown a steady rate of aliyah growth since 2004, when NBN took over the dossier in Montreal from the Canadian Zionist Federation.
But contrary to what some might think, the seemingly perpetual political uncertainty that prevails in Quebec – the fair took place two days prior to a provincial election call – has not seemed to be an important factor in making the aliyah decision, he said.
“At least among the people I spoke to on this and previous trips, the political situation is not a primary catalyst for people’s interest in aliyah,” Sussman said.
Since 2004, reported Yael Katsman, NBN’s director of marketing and communication, 634 Montrealers have made aliyah. In 2004, the number was 34, and in 2013 it was 82 – 2 ½ times bigger.
Sussman said that about one-third of people visiting the NBN fairs actually end up making the big move, with more than half self-identifying as observant. Jerusalem tops the list of desired destinations for Montreal olim, followed by Ramat Beit Shemesh, Tel Aviv, Ashdod, and Safed, in the north.
The north was the focus of the table being manned by Michele Kaplan-Green, director of NBN Go North program encouraging aliyah to Israel’s northern regions, such as Haifa and the Galilee.
“These fairs are really important. They have a very positive impact,” she said.
“[Visitors] see 150 other people here, and everyone is networking. The ability to network means everything. Olim need to hear from other olim. It’s important,” she said.
There was ample opportunity to do just that. On both sides of a lengthy corridor, more than 20 vendors had arrived – many from Israel – to market what they had. There were pamphlets and brochures on such things as loans, housing and mortgages, military duty, education, employment, business development, health care, aliyah destinations, and more.
As well, workshops took place inside three hotel conference rooms where experts delivered talks on topics including building your career path, retirement in Israel, real estate, as well as planning a financially smart aliyah and aliyah eligibility.
According to Katsman, olim from Montreal have had a wide variety of occupations including physicians, rabbis, hairdressers and travel agents.