Not Your Grandmother’s Aliyah

NBN Aliyahby Michael Hoffman

Nefesh B’Nefesh (NBN) has made the move from North America to Israel easier than ever. For those ready to make Aliyah, NBN provides all the information and logistical support needed. Many of those who made Aliyah before NBN was founded are jealous that they didn’t have those advantages.

But the landscape that has traditionally propelled Jews to make Aliyah in the first place has changed dramatically since the first Nefesh B’Nefesh charter flight in 2002. The Jewish Agency for Israel has shifted its focus from Aliyah to identity and peoplehood, and mainstream movements in the American Jewish world rarely if ever talk of or encourage Aliyah. Even influential Israeli thinkers such as Gidi Grinstein now argue that the Zionist insistence on negating the Diaspora was a mistake and that Diaspora communities are critical for Jewish survival.

It is in this environment that NBN is struggling to increase the number of Jews moving to Israel from North America.

New Realities, New Demographics

While Aliyah is not being officially encouraged within mainstream Jewish organizations, tens of thousands of young Jews have experienced, and often fallen in love with Israel through programs like Birthright and Masa. For NBN, this pool of prospects represents an opportunity. NBN is tapping into a generation of Jews who would love the idea of living in Israel, but aren’t sure what “Aliyah” means, or where to start.

While traditionally the majority of those making Aliyah from North America were primarily religious, the rightward move of the Orthodox communities in the US has decreased their emphasis on Aliyah and consequently the number of religious Jews moving to Israel. As the number of religious Jews moving is declining, the number of secular 20-somethings moving to Israel is growing.

Today’s secular 20-somethings have qualities that the previous generation didn’t have. They are:

  • more likely to have experienced Israel because of Birthright or Masa etc
  • less concerned with traditional notions of remaining in a job for a specific amount of time
  • more likely to see Israel as a hub of modernity and high tech with a fun lifestyle
  • less likely to have good job prospects in the United States
  • more comfortable with staying in touch with friends and relatives over the Internet, making geographic distance less of an issue

New Tactics

To leverage these changes in the environment for Aliyah, Nefesh B’Nefesh is changing their strategy and working to reach people earlier in the Aliyah decision-making process.

Working with Chicago-based See3 Communications, NBN is currently running two new online campaigns designed to create conversations about Aliyah, in particular on social media. These contests are the Best Job Contest and the Wedding Gift Challenge. NBN is luring Aliyah prospects to immigrate by offering special incentives targeting two core audiences: young people looking to launch their careers in Israel’s dynamic economy, and newlyweds who might want to start their families together in the Holy Land.

Best Job Contest winners will receive jobs in Israel at companies including Sodastream, IBM, Iscar, and The Times of Israel, while couples in the Wedding Gift Challenge vie for “presents,” like new appliances, an IKEA shopping spree, or a $10,000 grand prize.

As they go, contestants are encouraged to rack up votes on their contest profiles by reaching out to their friends on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and more. NBN is hoping to generate a viral Aliyah buzz by encouraging contestants to post about Aliyah and Israel on their social networks – generating content including photos, personal narratives, and videos about why making Aliyah still makes sense for North American Jews today.

In other words, rather than try to advertise their way into the homes of Aliyah prospects, NBN is leveraging contestants’ social networks to reach one step further into the wider community and create a conversation about what it means to make Aliyah. They are replacing the official community conversations about Aliyah with a more up-to-date social and distributed version.

Whether the numbers of those making Aliyah ultimately increase remains to be seen, but the contests are off to a healthy start, with dozens of entrants and tens of thousands of voters – and it’s just the beginning of a wider push to reach new constituencies who might be interested in making Aliyah. Both contests can be found at thisismyisrael.org

Michael Hoffman is CEO of See3 Communications.