(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Some of the questions deal with issues that directly concern the Jewish Agency, not the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption. We have asked the Jewish Agency to respond to these questions and are indicated as such.
David Bedein, Jerusalem: Why does the Ministry of Absorption not welcome ALL the Falashmora to Israel, since, as a community, they want to become Jewish? And why does the Ministry of Absorption pursue non-Jews in the former USSR who have no interest whatsoever in being Jewish, while their only Jewish connection is a dead Jewish grandfather? How do you explain such a contradiction in policy?
Ze'ev Boim: The Ministry of Immigrant Absorption deals with the absorption of new immigrants, and, practically speaking, only enters the picture following an immigrant's arrival in the country. The Ministry does not determine policy regarding immigrant absorption, nor does the Ministry decide who is a Jew or other questions. Policies are determined by the State of Israel which allows all Jews to immigrate according to the Law of Return. With regards to the immigration of Falash Murah, they are allowed to immigrate according to the "Law of Entry" and undergo conversion procedures. It is important to stress that immigrants from Ethiopia are entitled to a benefits package that is larger than that given to immigrants from other countries.
Samuel Hyman, Washington DC: I am in the process of making aliya this summer. I m 27 and have a masters degree. Many have warned me of the impending Israeli beaurocracy. I have also been told that a large percentage of olim from the US end up returning home. What are some of the major obstacles that I should expect and what is being done by the Israeli gov't to make aliya easier?
Boim: First of all, I am happy that you have decided to make aliyah, and would like to address your comment that most immigrants from North America return there. The facts actually indicate that this is not the case. Generally speaking, immigration is a difficult process, but when you arrive in Israel a personal absorption counselor from the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption will be on hand to help and advise you. With regards to your academic background, as long as your degree is from an institution of higher education recognized in Israel you shouldn't experience any bureaucratic difficulties with it.
Sammy Harari, Brooklyn, NY: Many people who move to Israel from the US for ideological reasons find it necessary to settle in the West Bank. Do you feel that this should be discouraged in hopes of a settlement with the Palestinians, or should it be encouraged in order to acquire more Jewish land?
Boim: We do not have any policy of intervening in an immigrant's decision about where he chooses to live. Every person is free to choose for himself.
Max Kuperman, Columbus, Ohio: Why doesn't the Israeli government offer tax incentives to Israeli employers to hire new immigrants to Israel? This would help new immigrants and help them stay in Israel and not move back to their old country.
Boim: I am happy to let you know that the ministry assists new immigrants to integrate into the job market by offering financial incentives to employers that hire them, in the public sector and in government service.
Ryan Heitner, Modi'in, Israel: I made aliya in 1994 left in 1996 and came back in 2006 from the UK. I was treated as a toshav chozer (returning residents) - I had to wait 10 months to get health insurance. This works as a negative facto in encouraging people to return to Israel. I was told it was to discourage Israelis who had gone to the US without insurance and come back here if they are sick - I came from the UK where everyone has health insurance. Why is this policy in place and why is it so broad?
Boim: I completely agree with you, and I have recently returned from a tour among Israeli communities in the United States. Many people brought up the problem of health insurance for returning residents. As a result of my visit, my ministry is currently working with the Ministry of Finance and the National Insurance Institute in order to find a solution for the period during which returning residents do not have health insurance following their return to Israel. We are trying to make it easier for returning residents so that they are not obligated to make full payments during the waiting period. I hope that I will have some positive news very soon.
Jake Feit, Cambridge MA: As a secular Zionist, how do you react to the fact that the overwhelming majority of Israelis who emigrate from Israel are secular whereas the overwhelming majority of people from western countries (USA, Canada, South Africa) who make aliya are religious? Does this phenomenon say something about the staying power of secular Zionism in today's age?
Boim: We live in a pluralistic Jewish world. Just as not all immigrants are religious, similarly not all emigrants are secular. It is risky to make generalizations.
Amir Stamper, Miami, Florida: I am an Israeli American and my fianc is from Honduras. We've talked many times about moving to Israel but I refuse to put her in the hands of Orthodox Rabbis just to be labeled Jewish. My family in Israel is non-observant and I have no plans to pretend to live in a lie. When will we be able to use a reform conversion or some other form of instruction in order to allow her to join our people and for both of us to come live in Israel without being labeled non-Jewish?
Boim: I referred your question to Rabbi Klein, Deputy Director of the Conversion Authority. He responded that if your fianc converts via the Reform or Conservative Movement in the United States and is a member of the community for at least one year she can make aliya and be registered as a Jew with the Ministry of the Interior.
Rael Olwyn, Johannesburg: I am seriously considering aliya in the next 3 years and as I am 18. I understand I would need to perform army service. How long will I have to serve for?
Boim: Army service is mandatory .The length of your service is determined by the date you make aliya, your age and marital status. See the website of the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption for complete details. www.moia.gov.il.
Mea Nocht, Alaska: Does the nation of Israel realize that there are people like me who have a great interest in living in Israel? I am half Jewish (went through most of a conservative conversion, but had to move back to Alaska) and have gone to Israel every winter. I will bring my own business there and actually a lot of money as well. BUT the problem is, I live in a very remote place where there is no congregation and the shaliach says I cannot qualify because I have not been a member of a congregation for one year. I have spent years supporting Israel. I observe Shabbat and practice Judaism and no other religion. I believe there are people who are far less supportive (or not at all) of Israel who qualify, who take advantage, who cause real harm with their attitudes, but who can catch a flight any time and be there - whereas I have to be a visitor. Can't there be an interview process that has an evaluation protocol for situations such as mine?
Boim: I referred your question to the Jewish Agency, which is involved with the aliyah process. Here is their response: "We recommend that you complete your conversion in order to be eligible to immigrate under the Law of Return."
Max Weil, Jerusalem: Are you aware that Mas Hachnassa (IRS) has still not finalized the promised liberal rules for olim from Western countries regarding their tax liability in Israel on passive income from assets held outside Israel, which were earned and accumulated prior to their aliya? This situation has caused numerous olim to leave Israel, and has caused many potential new olim to hesitate coming here. Can you do anything about this unfair dilemma?
Boim: I am glad to be able to update you that we are currently working to formulate legislation designed to significantly ease the tax situation for new immigrants and returning residents, especially on passive income. I hope that the proposed legislation will be presented to the Knesset very soon and will be passed, which will be good news for all Israelis residing abroad.
Annabelle Horowitz, Elizabeth: Are you interested only in new immigrants, or does the country need toshavim chozrim (returning residents) as well? We are looking forward to returning but feel we are being discriminated against by having to wait a year for health benefits, since we cannot pay NIS 8,500 each, after which we would also have to wait 6 months. Is this right for the State of Israel to do?
Boim: There is no question that the State of Israel is interested in the return of Israelis living abroad. The issue of bringing Israelis home is at the top of the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption's agenda.We are aware of the difficulties posed by National Insurance Institute payments for Israelis who wish to return from residence overseas, and the necessity to pay coverage for the period of absence. See answer to Ryan Heitner above for more.
Aharon Martin, Chicago: Why does the Law of Return go against the Halachic definition of what a Jew is, and allow the offspring even just one Jewish grandparent immigrate? It seems this policy has allowed for the legal immigration of hundreds of thousands of gentiles into Israel. Does this not stifle Israel's efforts to maintain a Jewish majority in the state?
Boim: These almost 300,000 new immigrants to whom you refer may not be Jewish according to Halacha but are an integral part of the Jewish People. They have made aliya in order to become a part of the Jewish Nation and the State of Israel. When David Ben Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, composed the Law of Return, he felt that it would be most appropriate to open the gates of the fledgling Jewish State to all those victims of the Holocaust who had survived and in memory of the six million Jews who were murdered by the Nazis; many of these individuals were classified as Jews based on the Nuremberg Laws because their only crime was that they had a Jewish grandparent. Ben Gurion felt that if this criterion was good enough for people to be murdered as Jews it was good enough for those who survived the Holocaust to immigrate to Israel as Jews. This would be the true revenge against Hitler's attempt to annihilate the Jewish People. These new immigrants were fulfilling the Zionist dream of building a sovereign Jewish Nation State after over 2,000 years of exile.
Yosef Glassman, Boston: Are there incentives for physicians to come settle and practice in northern Israel?
Boim: If your question is about absorbing a medical research scientist or a microbiologist with at least a masters degree, the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption offers a new, special program for absorbing new immigrants and returning residents in the North. If your question concerns absorbing an immigrant physician, there is a specific procedure and there are additional benefits for those who settle in the North in accordance with government policies to strengthen the region following the war last summer.
Sevak Hakobyan, Yerevan, Armenia: My wife (who has the right to immigrate to Israel) and me decided to make aliya but we were then told by the Jewish community leader here that it is almost impossible and that only my wife can make aliya. As my wife is pregnant I cannot let her go alone and she is very anxious to give birth to our child in her homeland. Is there anything we can do?
Boim: Since your question is not within the realm of my responsibility, I referred it to the Jewish Agency. Here is their response: "We suggest that you meet with the emissary of the Sochnut (Jewish Agency) and fill out the required aliyah request form for your wife and yourself. Without this step your aliyah request cannot be processed."
L. Leff, Toledo, Ohio: What are you doing to increase aliyah to Jerusalem, given the declining Jewish population of the city, the high cost of real estate, and the large proportion of absentee owners? The rent credit for the communal aliya program is only about $350/family for 9 months, which is a help, but a larger/longer rent subsidy or special mortgages would be better. Could absentee owners get tax breaks if they rent out their otherwise-vacant apartments for at least 11 months per year?
Boim: The Ministry of Immigrant Absorption does not have a policy of encouraging aliya, but concerns itself with assisting immigrants once they have arrived. I referred your question to the Jewish Agency. Here is their response: "Your suggestions will be discussed. Currently there are no tax breaks for absentee owners renting out their vacant apartments."
Michael S. Pincus, Ra'anana, Israel: I made aliyah almost 3 years ago. I am a 58-year-old professional. I brought my 22-year-old daughter and young son and my wife. At the airport the Jewish Agency rep asked us accusingly "why did you ever come here to this place." It astounded us. Yikes! Having come here I have barely had any real help. To make a living I have had to go back across the ocean many times to rebuild my businesses and try to find a way to maintain my standard of living. My daughter is finishing her PhD here and is being told to leave if she wants to work in her field. She will be Israel's first geoarchaeologist and no one will hire her. Give me a real hand. Give us some hope. We came here with tons of it and have lost faith that Israel can sustain us without me having to spend the next 10 years traveling the world to make a living and stay here. And, in America we were very successful people.
Boim: Dear Michael, I am glad you raised this issue. I will be happy to discuss it with you, and will direct my Ministry to try to assist your daughter (Editor's note: Boim's media advisor Shiri Krispin has been trying to contact Michael but he has yet to respond. Michael, if you read this please send email to [email protected])
Scott Polsky, Villanova, Pennsylvania: I am a recent college graduate. Can you tell me what the job market is like for an oleh. Also how would an oleh go about acquiring a job? I am interested in making aliya but I am concerned about finding a job and the language barrier.
Boim: Don't despair about finding work. There is a wide range of assistance available to you from the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, beginning with Hebrew ulpan and fully subsidized vocational ulpan. If necessary, academics and professionals receive assistance in looking for work via Employment Centers for olim operated by the Ministry. Similarly, there is a "Voucher Program" that assists immigrants in acquiring a new profession.