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Former Kansas Citians in Israel earn grants for innovation

Sam ‘Shlomo’ Fisherowitz receiving his grant certificate from Nefesh B’Nefesh. Photo by Ben Kelmer

Two former members of the Kansas City Jewish community now living in Israel — Jason Barnett and Sam “Shlomo” Fisherowitz — are the winners of Nefesh B’Nefesh’s first Initiative for Zionist Innovation (IZI) grants, presented in cooperation with Keren Kayemeth Le’Israel and Avram and Sharon Blumenthal and Family. The grants will support olim (immigrants who made aliyah to Israel) committed to impacting social change or pursuing business innovation in the spirit of Zionism.

Founded in 2002, Nefesh B’Nefesh (NBN), in cooperation with Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah and Integration, The Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemeth Le’Israel and JNF-USA, is dedicated to revitalizing aliyah from North America and the U.K. by removing or minimizing the financial, professional, logistical and social obstacles of aliyah. The support and comprehensive social services provided by NBN to its over 50,000 newcomers has ensured that 90 percent of its olim have remained in Israel.

Through these grants, NBN seeks to empower the next generation of leaders and innovators looking to change the face of Zionism and Israel. The candidates, all of whom made aliyah before Nov. 30, 2017, submitted a business plan, resume and mission statement as part of the application process. According to NBN, each winner will be “paying it forward” by providing opportunities and mentoring sessions to other NBN olim, as an additional part to the IZI grant. 

“We are thrilled to award these grants to the inaugural recipients of the Initiative for Zionist Innovation, which will enable these successful olim to expand their ventures and further impact the State of Israel,” said Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, co-founder and executive director of NBN. “We received a large number of applications with a broad range of creative ideas. It has been truly inspiring for us to see so many olim with far-reaching dreams and the ability to affect change in all areas of Israeli society

Sam Fisherowitz

Anglos of South Jerusalem

Former Overland Park resident Sam Fisherowitz is one of nine recipients of NBN’s Social Innovation grants. He received a $1,000 grant for his work with Anglos of South Jerusalem, a group he initiated. 

Now known as Shlomo, Fisherowitz lived in Overland Park 24 years. During this time, he owned two small businesses and served as executive director of two local synagogues, Congregation Beth Shalom and Kehilath Israel Synagogue.

In 2002 Fisherowitz and his wife, Jana, moved to Denver. While there he was executive director of the BMH-BJ Congregation and director of development at Yeshiva Toras Chaim. 

After 11 years in Colorado, in 2013 the Fisherowitzes decided to move to Israel, where their daughters and their families lived.

“At each yearly visit, I ran into a man in shul that always asked the same question: ‘when you’re not living at home (Eretz Yisrael), where do you live?’ After a while, I got the message,” Fisherowitz explained.

“As I was approaching retirement years and the pull of aliyah was getting stronger after each visit, we decided that the time had arrived. The fact that our children preceded us added to the decision,” he said. 

In the fall of 2017, several years after moving to Israel, Fisherowitz and another new immigrant started a group called Anglos of South Jerusalem. Anglo or Anglo-saxon is the Israeli term for anyone from an English-speaking country such as the United States, Canada, Australia or England.

“Anglos of South Jerusalem is a group formed to provide social, educational and advocacy to residents of the neighborhoods of Armon Hanatziv, Arnona and Talpiot over the age of 50,” Fisherowitz explained. “Having found resources for members of other language groups (French, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese, etc.), I started the effort to offer these services for the Anglo olim. 

“Many Anglos find aliyah very fulfilling, but lacking in the sense of community they are accustomed to. Our group opens new opportunities for all,” he continued.

According to NBN, the group has been very well accepted and has more than 50 people directly involved, with an additional following of over 400 people on Facebook. (facebook.com/AOSJerusalem)

Fisherowitz applied for the NBN grant the same day he learned about it.

“The award grant will be used to increase the community awareness and support our programs.”

Since the start of this group, they have hiked to the springs in the Jerusalem Forest for tashlich, presented famous Israeli movies, shared tools for consumer and governmental advocacy, had a musical evening and traveled around Israel.

“It’s a great organization, and it does good programming especially for seniors in the neighborhood,” said Barry Kaplan, a former Kansas Citian who has taken part in some Anglos of South Jerusalem programs.

Jason Barnett takes his Opus Brewing on the road to teach people how to make their own beer.

Jason Barnett

Opus Brewing

If you asked former Shawnee resident and Shawnee Mission Northwest graduate Jason Barnett what is your hobby, you might be surprised to hear him reply it’s brewing beer. He has turned that hobby into a business, Opus Brewing, and was one of 11 recipients of NBN’s Business Innovation grants. 

After Barnett earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Judaic Studies from the University of Cincinnati, he made aliyah in 2010. He first served three years in the paratroopers, while calling a kibbutz home. After being released, he worked both for the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews in Jerusalem and as a senior Lone Soldier adviser for Nefesh B’Nefesh, providing advice for soldiers whose families were not in Israel.

Last summer, he began brewing beer at home while being a professional brewer at the Dancing Camel, a popular bar in Tel Aviv. He also developed Opus Brewing, a course in homebrewing that will eventually expand into a full-scale brewery. The goal of the brewery will be to make extraordinary craft beer available to the public at an affordable price by employing packaging techniques that have not yet been introduced to the Israeli market. The company hopes to eventually make Israel a major player in the burgeoning international craft-beer scene.  

Opus Brewing is a business venture that grew out of Barnett’s passion and practicality. When he first moved to Tel Aviv, he wanted nothing more than to spend an evening sitting at his neighborhood bar with friends, enjoying a cold beer. However, this proved to be an expensive venture. He knew that there must be a way around the middlemen that set the prices of the world’s most widely consumed alcoholic drink, so he started researching, and was brewing his first batch of homebrew in his small Tel Aviv apartment. He was able to brew beer at an average cost of $1 per bottle, and this revelation that he could make high-quality beer at a low price was what began Opus Brewing. (See more at facebook.com/OpusBrewing.)

Once a week, Barnett works from Nefesh B’Nefesh’s communal workspace in Tel Aviv, “to sit down and sort out my back-office tasks.” During one of his weekly visits, a NBN employee suggested he consider applying for the grant. It happened to be the day before the application deadline. 

He wrote on his application: “At the end of the day, the goal of Opus Brewing is simple. Opus wants to bring Israel’s craft beer revolution into the next generation and elevate Israel’s brewing reputation in the international brewing community (much in the same way that the Israeli wine industry has gained international appreciation in recent years). Beer is the beverage of the people and is present at major and minor gatherings, from lifecycle events to a quiet night in. I am striving to make Opus Brewing a mainstay in the Israeli narrative and I have, fittingly, started this project with only my pikadon (army savings from serving in the IDF).”

For now, Barnett takes his Opus Brewing, and its equipment, on the road to homes and businesses. He conducts workshops, gives presentation and teaches courses — all focused on home-brewing and team-building — catered to everything from large corporate groups to curious individuals.

“So far, the word has been spreading from person to person and through social media,” he says. 

Barnett adds that transporting equipment can be tricky when you have a mobile home-brewing business, live in a densely populated urban area, and do not own a car.

“My motorcycle can only schlep so much equipment at one time.” 

When he first started his business, he used a Tel Aviv based car-share service to transport his equipment and already fermented batch of beer to the client’s residence or place of business. There he would set up everything and make a fresh batch of beer with the workshop participants.

“The participants also go home with a bottle of beer that they bottle themselves as well as a few of my already prepared homebrews. When the workshop is done, I just load everything up in the car-share and drive it back to my apartment.”

Barnett declined to divulge the size of his grant, noting they ranged from $1,000 to $5,000.

“The grant money is going toward upgrading my brewing equipment to make my brewing more time efficient. This will allow me to focus on a marketing push that we will be heading into come February.”

In February, Barnett will be ramping up through specific advertising and through an enhanced search engine optimization push. The idea in the first stage of the business is to garner a large grass-roots following on social media and in-person at the workshops, so, he is spending the year priming the fan base for Opus’ commercial launch.