Olim groups call for better support of new immigrants in light of Jerusalem tragedy

In the period between 2000 and 2013, some 1,658 olim committed suicide.

Olim fron Brazil (photo credit: ZED FILMS)
Olim fron Brazil
(photo credit: ZED FILMS)
New immigrant groups issued pleas this week to provide better mental health services to olim in light of the recent tragedy in Jerusalem in which an ultra-Orthodox immigrant from France allegedly murdered her four daughters and committed suicide.
KeepOlim, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping new immigrants who experience difficulties adjusting to life in Israel, issued a statement calling on the government and the Jewish Agency to provide better assistance.
The group’s statement said it was “devastated by the tragedy in Jerusalem,” but stressed, “It’s not the first of its kind. Moving to a new country is very difficult... The stress and pressure of aliya can be too much for some to handle and getting support is difficult or impossible.”
According to a 2016 Knesset report presented in the Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Committee in January, one-third of suicides in Israel over the past decade were committed by olim.
In the period between 2000 and 2013, some 1,658 olim committed suicide. Of those, one-quarter arrived from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s, and from 3% to 8% came from Ethiopia in the 1980s.
The organization explained that new olim face major language barriers when trying to receive mental health counseling and face month-long waits before they can even see a professional.
“One olah was told at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv that the wait would be seven months for an English-speaking counselor,” the group said. Another waited four months until “he was given an Israeli counselor with limited English,” with other immigrants reporting similar long intervals and problems.
Liami Lawrence, cofounder of KeepOlim, told The Jerusalem Post on November 8, the first official Aliya Day that, after the excitement of immigration wears off, olim experience many difficulties in adjusting to life in Israel.
According to Lawrence, who keeps a running list of all his friends who have left Israel (currently 75 people), the main reasons why olim leave are because they: can’t find jobs; are lonely; miss their families; and cannot surmount the language barrier.
“A lot of olim struggle to feel at home in Israel,” he said. “Israelis are the friendliest people, but it starts with a sense of belonging, and a lot of olim lack that sense of belonging once they get here.”
His organization aims to provide support for struggling immigrants, including establishing a program that matches new olim with Israeli families for the holidays, offering free legal aid to any immigrant who has been in Israel for a year or less, get-togethers for lonely olim and courses in a variety of areas, including assistance in finding employment.
KeepOlim currently has over 29,000 members who are immigrants from a wide variety of places around the world.
“They came to Israel to live their dream. However, the stark reality of living here, finding employment, housing and finances, as well as the language is sometimes overwhelming.
In many cases the end result is leaving the country broken and devastated. In worse cases, like this one unfortunately, it can end in suicide,” the group’s statement said.
As such, the organization called for increased assistance to olim, “before another tragedy occurs.”
Qualita, the umbrella organization of French olim in Israel, also issued a statement that said the tragic event was a reminder that “a new oleh remains an oleh” who often needs assistance, even after living for several years in Israel.
The organization said it “bowed its head and is in deep pain over the tragedy that took place,” and added it would do “all it can to help and support the family and olim during this difficult time.”