Promoting aliyah in Orthodox Jewish communities highlight visit
for Religious Zionist Party minister

Optimism for new joint ventures between America and Israel continue to dominate conversations barely a week after Religious Zionist Party MK Ofir Sofer, Israel’s Minister of Aliyah and Integration, made his first-ever visit to the States. Sofer, 47, whose appointment has a tremendous impact for the religious community resulted from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition. The reserved minister met with the leadership of the New York and Toronto Jewish Federations, notably joined the Orthodox Union in a touching Times Square Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony, participated in events and meetings organized by Nefesh B’Nefesh and the Jewish Agency, and visited several Orthodox Jewish communities including a number in the Tri-State region.

Queens oleh Benjamin Sipzner’s transition to Sofer’s Political Advisor was natural for the IDF Nachal Brigade lone soldier. Sipzner spent years coordinating Anglo outreach and assisting in organizing events in English for the Religious Zionist Party, rising to the role of English Campaign Manager in the last election. He was also the Director for International Operations at Ad Kan. Much appreciation is extended to Sipzner, and Elky Bergstein, Advisor to the Minister, for their input in making this visit a splendid learning opportunity aimed at targeting new opportunities to promote North American aliyah, chiefly amongst young adults.

After touching ground on Sunday evening, April 16, at JFK, Sofer made his first stop in Queens, where he was mispallel for a successful mission at the Ohel of the Lubavitcher Rebbes, Rav Menachem Mendel Schneersohn and his father-in-law Rav Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, where he was joined by Rabbi Zalman Duchman, Director of Development for Colel Chabad. In Crown Heights, Sofer saw the Rebbe’s quarters firsthand during a visit to 770, worldwide Chabad-Lubavitch headquarters, where he was joined by Rabbi David Nachshon, Director of Mitzvah Tanks in Eretz Yisrael.

Born on a moshav in the Galilee to a teacher and school principal who was politically active, Sofer remains proud of his Tunisian-Jewish descent, and notes that his grandfather was a Libyan immigrant. Sofer remains close to home, residing at Moshav Tefahot in the Galilee, together with his wife Adina and their seven children. As a youth, Sofer attended a regional school, moving on to a mechinah school for junior high school. Sofer then attended Midrashiyat Noam High School and Shavei Chevron Yeshiva afterwards. Prior to his political career, Sofer had never left his motherland, serving in both the Haruv and 202nd regiments of the IDF, where he was cited for bravery and action, retiring in as a major in 2007. Sofer later became a project manager at the Ministry for the Development of the Periphery, the Negev, and the Galilee. Sofer joined the Knesset in 2019 as a member of Religious Zionism Party. Today, he holds the third-party slot after MK Bezalel Smotrich, party chairperson, and Otzma Yehudit’s MK Itamar Ben Gvir, the Minister from the party.

On the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, Sofer held an in-depth talk with Eric Goldstein, CEO of UJA-Federation of New York, the largest such group worldwide. The minister called for unity, connection, and dialogue amongst all sects of Diaspora Jews citing pivotal support from the UJA, as the main philanthropic organization servicing New York Jewry, as a leading example, “I appreciate the important contribution of American Jews to the State of Israel.”

Aliyah as a prerequisite for national IDF service and seeking higher education were the important topics Sofer shared with a contingent of youth at NCSY, a division of the Orthodox Union, during his visit to Manhattan. Expression of viewpoints regarding the State of Israel and promoting immigration were the highlights of Sofer’s remarks to students at Baruch College, as anti-Semitism has unfortunately spiked on college campuses, neighborhood streets, and in the public sphere.

At the Jewish Agency for Israel office, Sofer received an overview of its North American activities from Neta Katz, Director. A visit to Yeshiva University included a tour of its Washington Heights campuses, an exchange with Rabbi Meir Goldwicht, Rosh HaYeshiva, Mazer School of Talmudic Studies/Stone Beit Medrash, and a meeting the Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman, President of the university. Sofer called the educational powerhouse “a historic institution” noting that “many of their graduates are rabbis and leaders of world Jewry.” The minister mentioned, “Thousands of students study at the Yeshiva and it is considered one of the premier universities in the United States.” Sofer revealed, “A substantial number of YU graduates have made aliyah, and I see their integration in Israel as one of my important goals.”

On the eve of Yom HaShoah, Sofer participated in an observance at the Manhattan Jewish Experience in NYC. The praised the organization’s efforts to connect young people to the State of Israel and their Jewish identity.

“About eight decades after the Holocaust, we see an increase in antisemitism, on campuses, in the streets and in the public arena,” expressed Sofer on Holocaust Remembrance Day at a memorial held in New Jersey at the Ben Porat Yosef school. “We see terrorist attacks and hate crimes against Jews, in Israel and around the world. We must speak, educate, and act against antisemitism everywhere, in all its forms,” declared the minister reminding all the liberation on January 27, 1945, from Auschwitz, “This is our duty, both to the survivors and to our children.”

Throughout the trip, Sofer was accompanied by members of the Nefesh B’Nefesh aliyah organization. The minister is excited about the future of aliyah to the Jewish homeland and integration from North America as he looks forward to enhancing the relationship between Israel and American Jewry on future trips. Efforts have steadily been ramping up into the absorption of more immigrants from Western countries, mainly the America and France, a policy that has not existed in decades while it was under the control of Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu Party, and the Blue and White Party where olim were deprived of rights. Sofer will target the able-bodied and low budget 18–29-year-olds; encourage the growth of English-speaking neighborhoods, common to Buchman in Modi’in, and will going so far to consider erecting residences like those found in the States. The minister has hopes to bring in 2,000 doctors annually and allow olim with unique professions or academic backgrounds to serve in the IDF or hold internships in their fields of knowledge.

The Ministry remains committed to helping new immigrants find employment and accommodation, and provide advice on education, planning and social issues, as well as setting up the any available benefit. Sofer’s ministry is tasked with encouraging aliyah while using Israel Houses around the globe to strengthen the bond between Israelis residing overseas and their homeland. They provide Israelis with various benefits that include financial assistance, Hebrew language skills, guidance, loans, and training for business entrepreneurs, training for professional licensing, cultural enrichment, social programming, social-welfare programs for youth, housing assistance, tuition and tutoring subsidies, and new-immigrant promotion overseas and post-aliyah guidance.

By Shabsie Saphirstein