The annual Nefesh B’Nefesh Mega Aliyah Event was canceled on Thursday due to concerns over the rapidly spreading coronavirus. Scheduled for March 15 in Teaneck, New Jersey, the fair was expected to bring some 1,250 participants from 15 states and experts in pre- and post-immigration issues, including some 60 Israelis who were to fly in for the expo.
“Ongoing health concerns surrounding the coronavirus have unfortunately led the organization to make the difficult decision to cancel this year’s expo,” Nefesh B’Nefesh said in a statement. “Only after much deliberation with health officials, and in light of recent published medical incidents, Nefesh B’Nefesh came to the decision that it would be prudent not to hold the event as scheduled, especially given the diverse representation at this convention.”
The first New Jersey case of coronavirus was announced earlier on Thursday after a 32-year-old man was diagnosed at the emergency department at Hackensack University Medical Center. He joins a cluster of recent cases in the New York area, including 10 in Westchester County, with 1,000 people quarantined, according to the Courier Post. The paper reported there are some 130 diagnosed nationwide.
The New York-area Jewish community was likewise hit. On March 4, Yeshiva University cancelled classes after a student and his family were confirmed to carry COVID-19. The student’s father was in intensive care due to the disease, according to local news reports, becoming the first to be hospitalized in the state. Hundreds of members of his synagogue, Young Israel of New Rochelle, were ordered into quarantine after his diagnosis, according to the local CBS affiliate. On March 3, three New York Jewish day schools were closed due to coronavirus fears.
Josh Rosenbloom, who immigrated with his family in July 2019, attended last year’s Mega event in New Jersey, flying in from St. Louis. As an OB-GYN, Rosenbloom met with representatives of Israel’s Health Ministry and the Israeli Medical Association and began his Israeli medical licensing process there. Rosenbloom, who today works at Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital, told The Times of Israel on Thursday that the event had saved him “months and months of wasted time here in Israel.”
Likewise, said Rosenbloom, at the expo’s vendors’ area, he found an insurance agent and his family’s ulpan (intensive Hebrew-language program), as well as useful tips such as the need for a lawyer to review an apartment rental agreement, and how to proceed with mortgages.
Nefesh B’Nefesh was founded in 2002 to reinvigorate immigration from North America and work toward keeping immigrants in the country. In cooperation with the Israeli government and The Jewish Agency for Israel, according to NBN, the organization “has ensured that over 90% of its Olim [immigrants] have remained in Israel.”
In light of the event’s cancellation, as a health-friendly alternative to the potentially germ-filled expo, the organization will instead offer virtual panels and sessions online. The topics to be presented are targeted to retirees, young professionals, families and individuals interested in immigrating to the Jewish state.
In the press release, co-founders of Nefesh B’Nefesh, Tony Gelbart and Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, stated: “Over the last 18 years, we have had the privilege to earn the trust of over 60,000 Olim as they placed their futures in our hands. We will continue to take all the precautionary measures in order to act in the most professional and responsible way and wish a speedy recovery to all those in need at this time.”