‘New tents for new olim’

Immigrants to Israel strive for voice in Tel Aviv protest city; say "this is a fight about survival and trying to make it on a daily basis."

By KAROLYN COORSH
August 11, 2011 03:29
4 minute read.
Protesters sit outside tents in Tel Aviv

Protesters sit outside tents in Tel Aviv 521 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Nir Elias)

 
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It’s not only born-and-bred Israelis who are taking up the cause on Rothschild.

Orly Shafir, 28, says she is also feeling the cost-of-living pinch and frustration that spurred the unprecedented tent city protests ongoing in the streets of Tel Aviv and across Israel.

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Joining thousands of other protesters on Rothschild Boulevard in central Tel Aviv, Shafir and her friend Kate Rosenberg, 26, set up a tent dubbed “Ohalim Chadashim L’Olim Chadashim,” meaning “new tents for new olim,” near 119 Rothschild on July 31.

Shafir, who works two jobs and studies non-profit management at Hebrew University with Rosenberg, wants new immigrants in Israel to know that they don’t have to accept a high cost of living just because they chose to make aliya.

Like many entering the workforce in their 20s, Shafir had an assumption that it would be easier to climb up the pay scale when she moved to Israel from Arizona five years ago.

Despite working for the past four years, and volunteering for one, that modest dream has not been realized, she says.

“Prices (in Western countries) are the same as Israel – salaries are not,” she said in a phone interview with The Jerusalem Post.

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Calling herself a “middle class” resident of Israel, Shafir says she often asks Israeli friends and family how they are able to make a proper living.

“Here, I don’t know how people do it,” she says, adding, “it’s an anomaly to me.” Shafir said like many olim, she had honorable intentions when she moved here.

“I believe that we should do our part to make Israel and our world a better place,” she says, but adds that she and her peers are making a “large sacrifice to be able to live here.”

Shafir says she tries to tell the olim that come by on Rothschild that they too can have a voice, rather than feel that this is their lot when they move to Israel.

For those who have a limited grasp of the Hebrew language, she says, it can be even harder to make a sustainable living.

For Rosenberg, the protests represent the reason she made aliya from her hometown of Melbourne, Australia in the first place – to “create a better society” in Israel.

Despite working as a coordinator at the Museum of the Jewish People, running Tov- Lada’at, a non-profit organization devoted to helping African refugees in Israel succeed at university, not to mention planning her upcoming wedding, Rosenberg set up the tent with Shafir and has attended all three big Saturday demonstrations, marching through the streets of Tel Aviv.

After visiting the tents on Rothschild, Rosenberg said she felt compelled to be a part of the movement, rather than just a spectator.

“My guilt got the better of me,” she says with a chuckle.

On a more serious note, Rosenberg said issues beyond housing being addressed by the protesters, such as education and transportation reform, are needs she feels deeply about.

In terms of earning a living, even with a dual income between her and her fiance, Rosenberg says she is still not able to save month-to-month.

And she says she didn’t come to Israel hoping to live in the lap of luxury. Far from it, she says, as she would be able to earn much more had she stayed in Australia.

“Savings are a right, I think, and it’s not a possibility at all in Israel.” The protest isn’t about “little rich kids in Tel Aviv” like some would suggest, Shafir says. At least not to her and her peers.

“I don’t think this is a fight about luxury, I think this is a fight about survival and trying to make it on a daily basis.”

Regardless of what the next few months hold in terms of the protest’s momentum and government action, Rosenberg said what has already taken place is what’s most important.

She takes pride in the fact that Israelis, born here or not, are working together for the common good and acknowledging that Israel is “a wonderful place, but things have to change.”

Says Rosenberg: “I’ll leave my tent there until someone tells me to take it down.”

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