It was 1948. My grandparents had survived the Holocaust and were on a boat bound
for Israel. Immediately upon arrival, they were under fire and sought
shelter in Tel Aviv, leaving their meager possessions aboard. Hours later, they
were surprised to find their suitcases perfectly lined up waiting to be
collected, without a single item missing.
Within two generations, long
gone are the days when you can leave your worldly possessions unattended; Israel
has since lost its innocence, becoming a jungle culture of “eat or be eaten,”
where those who lose the battle are marked as “frierim” (suckers).
aliya (immigration to Israel) into such a climate truly weeds out the friarim
from the survivors. But both parties are required to endure intense
immigration hardships (or what locals affectionately refer to as “initiations”)
that, if survived, will prove one’s worthiness to be transformed into a true
There is a popular sentiment shared by many sabras (native
Israelis) that olim (immigrants) must pay their dues, and that it is necessary
to jump through these hoops since the majority of olim do not fully serve in the
army; instead receiving handouts from the government, graduating from university
at tender ages and enjoying a comfortable life abroad, while sabras sacrifice
their adolescence to guard this same homeland.
While these are strong
arguments for disgruntled sabras, even with these “perks,” the trials and
tribulations of olim making aliya can be so overwhelming that it is no wonder
why so many are unsuccessful.
I have been testing the waters in Israel
for the past six years. Last October, I decided, officially, to move my life
from Canada to Israel.
Everyone says that the first year is the most
difficult. I would agree. In my first year alone, I have weathered so
many battles I wonder how I am still standing, why I still want to live here,
and whether there is any help that can make things better.
larger hardships, I was not recognized as an Israeli student in my Master’s
degree program at Tel Aviv University, which exponentially increased the cost of
tuition. Despite having a legitimate case and taking it straight to the
president’s office, I was shot down by his higher authority and made to pay
international students’ fees.
I was willing to accept my losses, but more
grief was to come. The trio comprised of the Student Authority, the Jewish
Agency and the Absorption Ministry decided to cancel, in mid-year, 50 percent of
the tuition assistance (roughly NIS 13,000) promised to olim that I and so many
others were banking on and were promised prior to making aliya. For months I
have been part of a student protest that that has only just begun to yield
Then, my landlord turned out not to be my real landlord
and swindled approx. NIS 25,000 from me and my roommates. I am now knee-deep in
a lawsuit against my “landlord,” which may or may not be part of a larger
network of orchestrated apartment scams. As it turns out, I am one of hundreds
of cases, yet one of few to take it straight to the courthouse.
mention that my day is not complete without battling miscellaneous charges that
mysteriously pop up on my bills for no apparent reason? And only when I catch
the charges and shed blood and tears over the phone, or better yet, in person,
are they ever corrected.
There’s more: since August, I’ve been in the
midst of converting my foreign driver’s license, which has been a complete black
comedy skit, and the only solace I have is hearing sabras say that they too
cringe at anything related to the Misrad Harishui (License Bureau).
all of these funds taken away, charges and expenses added on and the time lost
and cost of fighting them, I am on the brink of bankruptcy. I find myself, at
the age of 25, having to rely on my parents, who just retired, for financial
help. This was not exactly the aliya I was dreaming of.
I PONDER this
question daily: are these truly the hurdles a newcomer to this country should
have to face to gain acceptance into Israeli society? I am not so naive as to
think that immigration should be painless, a perfect transition to a utopian
world, but at the same time, I do not feel it should be this hard
Many of these issues have serious ramifications that require
persistence, creative thinking, chutzpah (shameless audacity) and a pair (or
two) of iron-clad balls.
I have had many discussions with olim in similar
positions and their reasons for not standing up for their rights and seeking
solutions range from despair to embarrassment to fear to lack of funding/
awareness to knowing that “you can turn back,” which is the contingency plan for
many (but not all) olim that awaits on the back burner until the gas, funds and
nerves run out. Is this the face that Israel wants to show the world? This piece
is not meant to bash Israel, only to take an honest look around and ask: why not
rethink how we might address the olim who courageously leave their home
countries for Israel? Why should we not offer them a welcoming and softer
landing? In my case, where were the olim organizations when I needed them most?
Why are olim rights not being protected by the state? Why are these issues even
occurring in the first place? Cultural change is the answer.
Just as the
culture changed within two generations from my grandparents, so can two
generations make positive changes, starting now. Olim and sabras need to take a
stand against the abuse by opportunists looking at every angle to make newcomers
friarim. At the end of the day, no one is a winner.
Olim may leave,
carrying bitterness, and discourage others from moving to Israel, ironically
reducing the market of friarim.
A friend once told me: “in order to leave
Israel with a small fortune, you must come with a large one.”
whether to live the rest of my existence in a relatively stress-free environment
in Canada or endure stress-filled frustration here in Israel. As for my future,
I plan to stay here at least until my larger battles have been fought and won.
After that, I plan to reevaluate my position here in the land of milk and honey.
I know one thing for sure: if I do leave, I will miss the balagan (chaos) and
will most likely come running back for more.
This author is a recent
graduate from TAU’s MPH program specializing in Emergency and Disaster
Management, and is currently leading the ‘Olim Tuition Assistance Cut’ student