As the world battled the Covid-19 pandemic, Alec Jaffe, 24, felt it was time for a change. And so on March 19, the Holmdel resident was one of 24 people to make aliyah, move to Israel, under the auspices of the organization Nefesh B’Nefesh.
“I never felt like I belonged in the United States,” said Jaffe in an email exchange with NJJN, writing from a friend’s home in Holon, a coastal town south of Tel Aviv. “I don’t feel like I think in the same manner as most Americans. I’m much more open to what the whole world, other countries, and other cultures have to offer. I dreamed of moving abroad
since I was 18.”
Jaffe — whose parents, Robert and Grace, and brother Ean, remain in New Jersey — attended Hebrew school and celebrated his bar mitzvah at Congregation B’nai Israel in Rumson.
He said that he values the Zionistic elements he was exposed to more than the Conservative religious ideology he was taught.
He credits his “favorite” Hebrew school teacher, Mrs. Golan (whose first name he does not recall), with instilling in him “strong Zionist principles.” She taught about the modern State of Israel and Jaffe wrote that of all the students he “participated the most in her class.”
“She taught us that every Jew has the right to become an Israeli citizen through the Law of Return,” he continued. “As far as the Hebrew language is concerned, they only taught us enough to get through our Torah portions for bar mitzvah…. I’ve been teaching myself, successfully, over the past few months.”
Jaffe also reached out to Nefesh B’Nefesh, which, in cooperation with the Israeli government and The Jewish Agency for Israel, has a mission of revitalizing aliyah from North America by removing or minimizing the financial, professional, logistical, and social obstacles of the complicated — and emotional — process.
“It is truly remarkable to see that aliyah is continuing amidst increasingly complex global circumstances,” said Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, co-founder and executive director of Nefesh B’Nefesh, in a release. “These new olim, more than ever, represent the strong future of the State of Israel as they are determined to fulfill their dreams of helping to build the Jewish nation. We are ready to assist them throughout their entire aliyah process for them to settle into their new homes as smoothly and comfortably as possible during these challenging times.”
In the upcoming week the organization plans to settle 20 more olim. Nefesh B’Nefesh has settled over 60,000 North American immigrants to Israel since 2002, of which over 90 percent have remained in the country.
Jaffe is not looking back. “Honestly, I’m not the kind of person to be sentimental that much,” he said. “I wasn’t sad about leaving my family until the day of the flight. I felt homesick one day after the flight, but not now.”
Upon his arrival into Israel last month, Jaffe was quarantined for 14 days due to Covid-19 regulations. Now that his time in seclusion is, at least temporarily, complete, he plans to share an apartment with friends in the Tel Aviv area.
Originally, Jaffe hoped to earn a doctorate and pursue a career in research, but he changed course, dropping out after three years of Drexel University in Philadelphia, where he studied cognitive science. Instead of a career in academia, he decided to try his luck with emerging blockchain technology, which aims to both streamline and add new levels of security to business communications.
“Once I decided not to pursue further education, I lost all motivation and dropped out,” he said. Israel’s emergence in the technology sector was an added motivation for Jaffe, who had already started “a couple of small FinTech [financial technology] blockchain businesses” of his own. “I have always tinkered with technology and want to be part of the Tel Aviv entrepreneurial scene,” he said.
Not only does he hope that living in Israel will benefit him from a professional standpoint, but he wouldn’t mind if it gives his personal life a boost, either.
“Another reason I came to Israel was to find a nice Jewish girl to marry,” said Jaffe, and with his quarantine over he was planning a first date with an Israeli girl that he met online through an English-Hebrew-language exchange program. “Her English is much better than my Hebrew.”
Even though he is too old to enlist in the Israel Defense Forces — for men, foreigners between 18-23 are eligible for conscription, for women 18-20 — he said he “would gladly put his life on the line to defend the only Jewish state in existence.”