September 26, 2011 / 27 Elul 5771
Chicago, Illinois — Sophie Fellman Rafalovitz has been appointed the Jewish Agency’s new Midwest Director of Aliyah, taking over for Shirah Ozery, who has returned to Israel after serving in the position for the past four years.
An immigrant to Israel herself, Sophie made Aliyah with her family as a child from Guatemala City. She grew up in the Masorti movement and served in the IDF as a drill sergeant through the Nahal program. Sophie earned her BA in Occupational Therapy from Hebrew University. She was one of the founding workers of NOAM-MAROM Olami, helping to establish Masorti youth and students groups in Latin America and in Europe. From 2001-2005 she served as the United Synagogue Youth Shlicha on the west coast. Since then, she has worked in Israel’s Ministry of Education as an occupational therapist for children with special needs, guiding educational teams and families. At the same time, she served as the National Youth Commission chair and on the executive boards of the Masorti movement and Marom Olami.
Sophie began her shlichut (emissary position) on behalf of the Jewish Agency in Chicago this past August and is accompanied by her husband and three children. In her position, Sophie will be serving the Chicago community as well as 16 other states in facilitating Aliyah. The amount of Olim from the region has gone up quite a bit in the past few years. In 2007, there were only 254 Olim that went through the Jewish Agency’s Midwest office. The following year, in 2008, almost 300 people made Aliyah from the region. In 2009, the numbers increased to around 350 people. In 2010, over 400 people made Aliyah through the Chicago office.
As part of the expanded responsibilities of her position, Sophie will also be working with Garin Tzabar. Garin, a Hebrew word for “core” or “seed”, is a term used in Israel for a group of soldiers who choose to experience their army service together as a social unit of mutual support and camaraderie. The members of Garin Tzabar, a group formed for Diaspora Jews and children of Israelis who choose to move to Israel and serve in the IDF, are adopted by the Israel Scouts and placed in a hosting kibbutz that quickly becomes their home away from home throughout the duration of their army service. Twelve 18-23 year olds left the Midwest region in August 2011 in the framework of Garin Tzabar.
“As a Olah, a parent and an educator, I try to pass on the love for Israel and Zionism that I feel. The opportunity I now have to assist future Olim and bring Israel to many parts of the community means a great deal to me and signifies the completion of a cycle,” said Sophie. “I feel lucky to have been posted in Chicago. A community that is so proud of its Olim is not to be taken for granted! The commitment and excitement of the people I have met so far can lead to endless possibilities of engaging with Israel- and considering the option of living there is only one of them."