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Published: Saturday, 6/30/2007

Agency helps American Jews 'make Aliyah'

Moving a family of five to a foreign country 6,000 miles away is a daunting task - which is where the nonprofit agency Nefesh B'Nefesh (Jewish Souls United) comes in.

The group, based in Washington, was founded six years ago to help ease the way for Jewish individuals and families to "make Aliyah," the term Jews use for moving to Israel. It literally means "going up" and refers to a spiritual elevation as Jews return to their homeland, according to Nefesh B'Nefesh.

The group works with the Israeli government to cut through red tape and strengthen "absorption services" for newcomers, helping them find jobs and housing.

Rabbi Leff said Israel is making an effort to change its image of primarily being a place of refuge for Jews suffering from persecution, and is working to attract prosperous, educated Jews from America who can make substantial contributions to the Israeli economy.

He said the agreement forbids him from disclosing the amount of assistance from Nefesh B'Nefesh, but that the Israeli government's "absorption basket" includes about $10,000 in cash over nine months, along with tax breaks, discounted mortgages, and free health insurance.

Nefesh B'Nefesh has helped about 15,000 North American Jews make the move to Israel in the last six years, including 2,000 this year.

Israeli immigration overall is at an 18-year low, and although the number from the United States increased 5 percent to 2,157 in 2006, the total number of immigrants in 2006 was down 9 percent to 19,264, the lowest since 1988, according to Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics.

Jews make up 76 percent of the Israeli population of 7 million, while Arabs constitute about 20 percent.

The United States has 5.3 million Jews, the largest number outside Israel.

Rabbi Leff said he and his wife will have dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship and plan to vote in Ohio elections as absentee voters.

More information on Nefesh B'Nefesh is available online at www.nbn.org.il.

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