Amid furor, Nefesh B’Nefesh focuses on young aliya at NY conference

Hundreds attend ‘Think Israel’ for sessions on life in Israel, as organization fires back at Haaretz

In an ambitious bid to woo prospective olim to Israel, Nefesh B’Nefesh and the Jewish Agency last week staged a “Think Israel” conference in New York City. The event, which was geared toward Jewish students and young professionals, “focused on careers and featured various workshops addressing jobs in Israel, higher education… social justice, Israel engagement and more,” according to a statement released by the organization.

Think Israel took place at the UJA-Federation of New York in Manhattan, and drew hundreds of attendees, who came to participate in various sessions on topics related to aliya — not to mention for the chance to win a free flight to Israel. Hot-button topics included “breaking into the Israeli job market, higher education and social action,” as well as “army service in Israel, and exploring The Jewish Agency’s Masa programs,” the statement said.

The conference coincided with the publication in Haaretz of a lengthy report criticizing the organization for supposed squandering of public funds and for having an ostensibly negligible impact on aliya. In the report, Haaretz delved into the finances of Nefesh B’Nefesh, slamming it for — among other things — the salary costs of its top executives, and the fact that the organization had been handed the status of a de facto monopoly. The report stated that the decision to grant Nefesh B’Nefesh this status was made by then-prime minister Ariel Sharon “between the first and second stroke he suffered.”

Nefesh B’Nefesh was quick to shoot back. In a response posted to its website, it charged that the article was a “deliberate and malicious attack” that used “scurrilous data and misrepresented the organization’s positive accomplishments,” and surmised that there was political motivation related to “the upcoming Israeli elections” behind its publication.

“We are in the process of considering our next legal steps and will take all necessary actions in order to defend the organization’s good name,” the statement said.

The conference also featured a tweetup on “Challenges in Online Israel Advocacy,” where organizers told The Times of Israel they were relieved that the Haaretz article hadn’t spoiled the party. On the tweetup panel were several Jewish social media mavens including journalist and author Lisa Alcalay Klug; Seth Mandel, the assistant editor of Commentary Magazine; and Laura Ben-David, Nefesh B’Nefesh social media coordinator, who also moderated.

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