Packing your bags, leaving what you know, and going to a new land, even if it is the land of your forefathers, must surely have been easier for Avraham. After all, he had Hashem leading the way. Lucky for new olim, there are now a host of people dedicated to giving you a softer landing once you arrive in Israel
By Chandrea Serebro
After starry-eyed olim land in Israel and the high of aliyah subsides, the joy and newness of having taken the plunge starts to recede somewhat and reality sets in. Now, you have to face the difficulties and challenges of actually living – looking for jobs, finding an apartment, learning the language, and coping with feelings of loneliness, which have slowly but surely set in. That is where KeepOlim comes in, says LiAmi Lawrence, who co-founded KeepOlim after his own personal experience with aliyah drew him to fill a glaring hole in support for new olim after the high of landing in Israel. LiAmi, a successful PR professional and a former media director of the Israeli consulate from Los Angeles, found himself, only nine months after making Aliyah, without a job, without any money left, and without any support. So LiAmi created a Facebook group to gain support, to vent his anger and frustration, and to speak to people in similar situations. LiAmi said that he was “fed up”, that he had been brought to Israel full of promise, and dropped “like a hot potato”.
LiAmi wasn’t alone with these thoughts – in just days the Facebook group grew to over 5000 members from around the world, all finding themselves in the same leaky boat. The page is filled with horror stories and painful experiences about aliyah woes – joblessness, language barriers, and exploitation. But LiAmi wanted to empower people, to turn the forum into something positive, to help make a change, so, together with some friends, he created KeepOlim in Israel, a NPO dedicated to helping people with the very things he himself needed on his own journey.
“We created KeepOlim as a non-profit to help all olim from all over the world, during the post-aliyah period, a community of like people to help them.” KeepOlim offers free legal consulting, run by co-founder lawyer Tzvika Graiver, to help olim read and check their contracts for apartments or work. KeepOlim also matches olim for the holidays so no one will be alone. They also provide events so olim can meet other olim, and self-help programmes “to give them a kick in their tuchus to help them find their way”.
One new project that is soon to start and will go a long way to helping is the ‘Adopt an Oleh’ programme, where olim are paired with an Israeli of similar background to them to be a friend and mentor. And a programme for subsidised, individual mental health is also in the cards – because, explains LiAmi, counselling in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and French is not readily available through Chupat Cholim. “You don’t want to talk to your therapist in broken English. You need to feel free to speak freely, to be understood.”
“In the 30 months I have been here, over 90 olim friends and acquaintances have left the country. The return rate, especially from the Western countries, is much higher than the Jewish Agency statistics reveal. Olim sell their belongings, pack two suitcases, and leave. They do not call the Agency at the airport and say ‘Yo, I’m out of here’. It is a huge problem.”
Relying on private donations to offer its services and to expand, KeepOlim has created a very diverse community of over 30 000 olim from around the world to empower and inspire, and boasts many ex-South Africans as part of the organisation too. “I am real. I am an oleh who made aliyah from Beverly Hills and had no food in my apartment. My friends and neighbours opened their hearts to feed me. I understand the problems of olim as I am one of them and suffer many of the things that they do. Many olim would stay if they were provided with a shoulder and services that they need to survive in Israel.” I am inspired every day when we are able to help someone and help keep them in Israel.”
For more information, visit: KeepOlim.org
Brother/sister business-partner duo Rafi Shulman and Lara Itzhaki look to inspire others through their positivity. “Living in Israel isn’t perfect, but it’s great in so many ways. It’s invigorating, inspiring, fun, and adventurous. This is what I focus on when I speak to people about Israel. I am an ex-pat South African. I made aliyah as a kid in 1977 from SA. I grew up in Israel and then immigrated to the United States as a young teen. Lara made aliyah with her family in 2010, and I followed in 2015. Lara’s guidance made my aliyah experience successful.” Helping his family find a home, furnishing it before their arrival, hooking up utilities, getting an exterminator, finding a cleaner, and helping secure a car were just some of the things that Lara helped with.
When Rafi and his family reached their one-year mark after aliyah, he wondered how new olim could manage without familial support. Having lived in Israel as a child, he understood the language and the nuances of the culture. Even with his strong Israeli background, he realised that the support given by his sister and her family was instrumental in the success of his family’s aliyah experience. They used this realisation to establish Olim Advisors, offering all of the things Lara did for her brother, and more, for people making aliyah. Staying focused on your goal and maintaining the positivity that Lara and Rafi share for Israel is probably what will get you through the hardships of aliyah, which are numerous in the beginning and even beyond. “Some of the main challenges South Africans face is the change in culture and behaviour. The Israeli personality is much more blunt and direct (this is both good and bad). Many South Africans also leave affluent lifestyles that often can’t be reproduced in Israel. Fortunately, the South African community in Israel is very tight-knit and South Africans go out of their way to help fellow South Africans. I also find that South Africans have a very positive attitude and make the best of their situation.”
Olim Advisors look to help people plan their aliyah and help meet many of their needs (both before and after they make aliyah), such as finding a home, guiding them through the shipping process, buying appliances at discount prices for olim, buying a car, opening a bank account, and much more. “In the past, one of the biggest challenges for olim was planning their lives once they arrive in Israel. Olim now have someone to turn to in Israel to help them with many of their big decisions. We have spent months researching and comparing the different companies and have identified and partnered with a number of companies that understand the mind-set of olim, provide excellent customer service in English, and offer good prices. We save our clients time, aggravation, and money. We help people who are overwhelmed with the aliyah process and give them support and peace of mind.” The response has been positive – “we often hear people wish they had had this type of service when they made aliyah in the past.”
They really want to help people make it work in Israel – a goal born out of the desire to spread their own personal love for the country and knowledge of how hard aliyah can be on people. “I love Israel and I wholeheartedly believe that it’s an amazing country to live in. I love talking to people about the virtues of living in Israel and helping them plan their aliyah. Olim who have a positive attitude and don’t get down when they encounter bumps in the road inspire me to help those who are less positive, who are struggling that much more to make it work. Jews from around the world who look after each other and care for each other make each other successful – and that’s what we try to accomplish.” For more information, visit: www.olimadvisors.com
Aliyah is a personal journey for each person, and while there are many factors that should be considered before taking this life changing step, this is the fact: “Gone are the days where new immigrants landed softly in Israel via a welcoming aliyah absorption centre, where one lived, made new friends, and learned the language. Today, most individuals who make aliyah are pretty much expected to navigate through the bureaucracy and absorption process alone,” says Rozanne Kotton Laufert, who made aliyah three years ago. Rozanne, who was intimate with the country and the system from her previous positions in SA where she was an Emissary for The Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) under the title of Public Relations and Communications Manager, and the South African representative to the Naale Elite Academy Programme, still looks at her own personal aliyah story and wonders at times whether she herself has been “brave or stupid” throughout her aliyah absorption.
“I made a decision to become integrated into the Israeli life as quickly as I could. The result of this has been two-fold. In one way I placed a huge amount of pressure on myself to find work in Hebrew too soon. This for me was a huge mistake. Although my oral Hebrew is fluent, working with administrative duties in a foreign language is a very different story. Ultimately, it led me to feeling inadequate, which, in turn, resulted in breaking my confidence. On the other hand, I have gained tremendous experience and my Hebrew has improved.” But the difficulties she faced showed her a bleak side to living the dream of Israel which many new olim face. Today, aliyah is much colder and there is more pressure on new olim to become absorbed independently. “This process is known to be overwhelming and frustrating when tackled by individuals foreign to the Israeli system, and the language barrier compounds it. As strange as it may seem, most government departments, banks, and service suppliers in Israel do not offer documents, information support, and guidance in the English language.”
“When one is a stranger in a country, unfamiliar with the area, the bus routes, the medical system, the banking system, and employment options to foreigners, the language support is needed to enable one to independently understand new processes and documents. When suddenly you are anonymous in a new country and in many cases alone, having to make life-changing decisions, a generic model of aliyah is simply not enough. People need people. People need social and emotional support. People need encouragement. It is for this reason that many people find themselves feeling ‘let down’ by the system.” Looking at statistics, explains Rozanne, there is a rise in the amount of people who are suffering with depression. It is clear that without the ‘human element’ present at times of major stress, people begin to feel unsupported, they become irrational and resentful, their spirit is broken. Having experienced the “cold” aliyah process, and having worked in the medical and counselling profession previously, Rozanne’s mission became to encourage, support, and motivate other new immigrants to succeed in this very personal and emotional time of making Israel their new home; a mission which she believes can be successful when olim do it together and support each other.
She started Aliyah Angels, offering social networking events, Shabbat and Chagim get-togethers, hosting Lone Soldiers, and offering aliyah guidance and coaching specifically designed to meet the needs of individuals. “I have chosen to dedicate my life in Israel to assisting new olim from the time they arrive in Israel, with the goal of easing their absorption and integration. My hope is to enable others to acquire the social and emotional tools they need that will provide an easy absorption with the result of new immigrants staying in Israel and making this their home – the home for our future generation.”
Rozanne’s experience has shown that there are gaps in the existing system which need to be filled. These are in the areas of assisting Lone Soldiers during their service and, more so, once they are released and no longer have an infrastructure. Graduating Naale students need a home in between the time they make aliyah and joining the IDF, olim aged 35-55 years old need social circles. Aliyah Angels offers a home where a “motherly touch”, a hot shower, and a home cooked meal are always available. They offer a place to go for Shabbat and Chagim meals, social networking events to meet other people, employment guidance, and assistance with administrative and bureaucratic processes which are largely in Hebrew. “With all the challenges that making aliyah has presented there is not a single day that I regret my decision of living in Israel. This is our home, this is where we belong. I wake up each day grateful for being a part of our beautiful homeland.” Contact Rozanne at firstname.lastname@example.org
What makes aliyah so hard? We asked aliyah Angels’ Rozanne Kotton Laufert.
- Israel is known for its bureaucracy. While the system works, the process is exhausting.
- The language. If you do not have a strong command of Hebrew, day-to-day life in Israel is difficult. Completing documents, managing your personal household accounts, making doctor’s appointments, and so on are very challenging.
- Loneliness. Many immigrants feel very alone after making aliyah. This is the reason Aliyah Angels arrange social networking events.
- From hero-to-zero in your career. Finding a new career path in Israel is a great challenge. Most companies look for Israel work experience, which of course takes time to build up. In many cases, immigrants find themselves leaving behind their previous careers in the quest to re-establish themselves in the Israeli workplace. There is also an issue of minimum wage, which is a difficult adjustment for many people who have so much to offer but the earning potential falls short of this.
- The best way to make aliyah, specifically for young students, singles, and families, is to make aliyah via one of the many structured programmes offered by The Jewish Agency for Israel.