Making aliya is not easy. Making aliya alone is even harder.
Many young olim come to Israel with the dream of building a life and future for themselves in the country, but end up leaving after just several years. Why is this? Although each person’s story and journey is different, in many cases building a permanent life in Israel is much harder than it seems.
Six years ago I moved to Israel alone, leaving all of my family and friends behind in America. Just two years after moving here, I made aliya. Reflecting on the past six years, I know that my journey was not a simple one, but I also know that there were certain steps that I took, which have made the process of creating a life and future here relatively smooth despite all of the challenges that do indeed exist.
Below are four steps I took which have made all the difference in my staying in Israel: Start learning Hebrew before you make aliya
: When I decided to live in Israel, I made the calculated decision to do my masters at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. I was very interested in continuing my studies in Jewish history, but more importantly, I knew it would give me the opportunity to live in Israel for two years and learn Hebrew intensively.
Upon my arrival, I knew almost no Hebrew. I started out in Kitah Bet in the ulpan and struggled greatly from the beginning all the way to the end. Despite the difficulty in learning Hebrew, after a year and a half, I received my exemption and successfully completed the ulpan program.
I realize that not all people can do an ulpan for several years in Israel before making aliya, but there are a variety of opportunities to study the language both in Israel as well in some cases from Israelis living outside of the country.
The key is to begin learning Hebrew before making aliya so that you are not completely overwhelmed when you begin building your life here. Having a strong knowledge of Hebrew before I made aliya helped me feel more integrated into Israeli society and opened up many opportunities for me.Establish a family base
As I mentioned, I left all of my family behind when I made aliya. On top of that, I have no family in Israel – not even a distant cousin’s cousin. I knew early on that if I were to build a permanent life for myself in Israel, I needed a family base. I needed people I could lean on, people who could give me support and help me when needed.
Several months into my studies at the Hebrew University, I heard about a program run by the Jewish Agency called Babayit Bayachad. The idea of the program was to pair new immigrants with Israeli families that wanted to help. I hadn’t yet made aliya, but when I told the coordinator that I was completely alone in Israel, she told me that I could still do the program.
I was paired up with an amazing family – the Sheffers– who I still to this day call my “adoptive family.” After meeting the Sheffers, I now had a place to go for Shabbat and for the holidays. Yossi and Carol, my “adoptive parents,” helped me nearly every weekend when I brought loads of Hebrew homework and didn’t even know where to start.
If I had not met the Sheffer family, I am not sure I would have made aliya. They were the support system I so desperately needed. They became my family here, and I am still very close to them some six years later.Don’t limit yourself in the job arena:
Many new olim struggle to find jobs in Israel that are suitable to their qualifications.
If you are coming to Israel with a strong background in a particular field, my advice is to not settle for just any job.
Today in Israel there are programs like Gvahim which help olim find jobs in their field that match their qualifications. There are many native Israelis in a variety of sectors who want to help olim in their job search and understand the benefits that olim can bring to any given company.
Additionally, there are headhunters who work specifically with olim who are non- Hebrew speakers. I found my current job working in inside sales for a hi-tech company through one such headhunter.
As young olim, we are coming to Israel with a great deal of talent and ambition.
Building a solid career path here in Israel can be done if we take advantage of the resources that are available to us.Understand that Israeli culture is not that of your native country
It is no secret that most Israelis are, well, blunt. They say what they think whenever they think it whether you want to hear it or not. For many immigrants, this element of Israeli culture is quite difficult to deal with.
In American culture, especially in Tennessee, where I come from, politeness is oftentimes paramount.
Coming to Israel, at first I was a bit put off by the bluntness or chutzpah of many Israelis. I realized early on, though, that Israelis are not Americans, and that I shouldn’t expect them to be like Americans.
On a certain level, it has to do with expectations. If you expect Israelis to not cut the line in the supermarket or the bank, you will be quite frustrated when they actually do. But if you understand that this is how many Israelis are, the frustration doesn’t go away, but is greatly reduced.
That being said, Israelis are very passionate about almost all aspects of life including their families and friends. When Israelis invite you over for dinner, they mean it; they aren’t just saying it to be polite.
Some of my strongest friendships and relationships here are with native Israelis.
When making aliya, I made it a point to participate in programs and activities where I could meet native Israelis, and I am so thankful that I did.
Making aliya is such a wonderful gift. For thousands of years, Jews in the Diaspora wanted to return to the Jewish homeland, but weren’t able to. We now live in a time where living in Israel as Jews is possible. It is by no means easy, but by taking certain steps such as the ones I have outlined above, the dream of building a life and future in Israel can become a reality.The writer moved to Israel six years ago.