(photo credit: Gal Beckerman [file])
Galina Rublinski remembers her first attempts as a new immigrant to find work in her profession as a German teacher. Back in 1996 - one month after making aliya - Rublinski arrived at the Education Ministry office to see how she could apply her experience from her native Kazakhstan to her new life in Israel.
"I knew I didn't really need to know Hebrew to be a German teacher, but I was also clear that there was not a big demand for teachers of that subject in Israel and was prepared to work as a teacher in a different area," recalls Rublinski, 58, who had spent 10 years as a principal of a private school in Almaty.
"I wanted to ask the Education Ministry what the process was, what I needed to do in order to teach here," she continues. "But straight away they told me that there were no courses and no opportunities for a 47-year-old immigrant who didn't speak Hebrew."
Rublinski told them that she would learn Hebrew, and having an aptitude for languages, felt confident it would not take her very long.
"They still said there was nothing they could do," says a now fluent Rublinski. She went on to work first as a translator at a law firm and then as a receptionist/secretary at a dentist's office.
Rublinski is one of thousands of older female immigrants, mainly from the former Soviet Union, who despite their qualifications and experience struggle to find work in their professions.
Fewer than 20 percent of immigrant women find work in their field of expertise, and the older they are the more difficult it is, according to a study published Tuesday by the Women of Israel nonprofit organization.
"We are talking about women who have a high level of education, many with a graduate degree, but when they arrive in Israel they are forced to work as cleaners or caregivers," says Frieda Klatz, director of Women of Israel, which held a conference at Kibbutz Shefayim, near Netanya, Tuesday to search for solutions to the problem.
The NGO, in cooperation with several other immigrant welfare groups and the New Israel Fund, will present its findings to the Knesset committees on Immigrant Absorption and Diaspora Affairs; the Status of Women; and Labor, Welfare and Health in a month.
"More than 65% of the aliya from the FSU is women," continues Klatz. "And roughly 38% are over the age of 40. It is much harder for a woman over the age of 40 to find work within her profession."
While the organization did not examine the difficulties faced by immigrant men, statistics released this week by the Immigrant Absorption Ministry showed that unemployment was significantly higher among newcomers (11%) than among veteran Israelis (6%).
"While [employment] is a general problem for all immigrants, these women are hurt from all angles - age, gender and because they are olim," says Shatil's Lena Bergman.
"We believe that there should be special government programs to help these women find work in their field and to contribute their expertise to society," agrees Klatz. "Most of the people we are talking about are from the FSU, but they came here because they wanted to be in Israel and see themselves as women of Israel."
"All that exists right now is the Wisconsin [welfare-to-work] program and that does not help people find employment in their profession," says conference participant Galina Vekerman, whose personal story highlights this continuing struggle.
Trained as a mathematical engineer in Russia, the now 61-year-old arrived in Israel during the large influx of immigration from the FSU, in 1991.
"I was 46 years old when I arrived," begins Vekerman, who still struggles to speak Hebrew. "I first approached the Electric Company looking for work because in Russia I worked for the electric company, but they said they did not employ people over the age of 35."
With no opportunities in her field, Vekerman accepted a job at her local supermarket in Rishon Lezion.
"It was hard work - stacking shelves and moving boxes - but I had no choice," she says, adding that the strenuous labor left her in poor health and now, even though she has not reached official retirement age, she has given up working for good.
"One of the main problems that needs to be overcome is teaching the language," says Evgeni Zadiran, the New Israel Fund's Russian media adviser. "Firstly, it is very difficult for people to learn Hebrew when they come after the age of 40. What they are given in ulpan is just not enough. Secondly, the mentality of veteran Israelis means that the new immigrants are not always accepted into society."
While Zadiran says there are many other factors that contribute to this problem, the activist's focus now is to highlight this problem in public forums and to encourage the government to create a national policy that will help women find suitable jobs after making aliya.