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When I made aliya in December 2002, I thought a guy with years of Silicon Valley experience, an MS in computer science and an MBA could be of use to this country's burgeoning hi-tech industry. Next month, I'm heading back to the US.
The biggest existential risks to the nation don't come from the Muslim world. They come from Israelis' own minds. Look at how little our leaders think about aliya: Three heads of absorption in two years, as nobody seems to want the job and the Knesset underfunds or kills programs for successful absorption.
There's a saying that most olim quickly learn in ulpan: "Israel loves aliya, but Israelis hate olim." That's a problem in an immigrant nation. The way it shows in my case is simple: I can't find a job using my skills.
I have serious sympathies for the immigrants from the former Soviet Union, Ethiopia and other places, who must take menial jobs, receiving lower than subsistence wages, because even that's better than where they came from and they have nowhere else to go. Compared to them, I have it easy. However, that's only in comparison.
A BIG PROBLEM is the lack of understanding of the change in Western aliya. The memories are all of the last big period of Western immigration. In the 1970s and '80s, many kids straight out of high school and college came here. The nation was set up to handle them. Many layers of Hebrew ulpan existed, the youths served in the army, lived on kibbutzim and, as a cohort, helped each other immigrate into the society. Today, there are primarily two categories of Western olim. First, religious Jews who move into segregated societies and often don't appear in mainstream jobs and areas. Second, mid-career olim the same age as the last bulk of Westerners.
The problems we in that second category have are multiple. First there's the absorption process. We're lucky if there's even one other English speaker in ulpan, making it hard to study and practice. To make matters worse, the government just killed almost all uplanim as just not being important to the country's interests.
There's the problem of job hunting. One of the first phrases most olim learn is "Vitamin P," or protekzia. This means groups of Israelis working to protect each other in the job arena, with the government bureaucracy and in so many other areas of life. "Protect" against whom? In the case of Western olim, it's usually against us.
I have had more than one veteran immigrant tell me that it'd be hard to get a technology marketing job here because anyone who can speak English can do the job, so companies will choose someone who knows Hebrew. There are problems with that rationalization. Native English speaking might help, but here's a lot more to technology and marketing than that. Heblish has always worked, with educated Israelis able to work with me to create appropriate collateral.
As importantly, how is our Hebrew to improve without spending time in the workforce? Marketing skills are in short supply here, and it's much easier to work on Hebrew than gain those.
Veteran olim also don't wish to admit times change. During the big aliya of the '70s and '80s, they were primarily kids right out of high school and college. They came in groups, went through ulpan and the army in groups and helped each other start from the beginning, low-level jobs and then to rise, forming their own protexia.
Modern Western olim are more likely to be mid-career, middle aged and parents. We are too old to serve in the army, usually the only English speakers in our ulpanim and have strong sets of skills that could immediately help the country.
THEN THERE'S the sabra syndrome. There's an old hi-tech problem called the "not built here" syndrome, where developers don't want to look at or integrate software they haven't created on their own. Extend that to a national level. When I can have a company fly me back to the San Francisco Bay area for a job interview, while I can't get a call back from a company only a kilometer away, it's hard to blame anything other than a problem in acknowledging olim might have something to offer. I've looked for more than five years for jobs that matched my skills, and I can't get any serious interviews. Meanwhile, as I've mentioned, I have interest from 8,000 miles away.
Even without such a job, I've tried to make it work. The same groups who rationalize that I should go back in my career because I've moved to a new country are the first to throw away my CV when I do apply to such jobs. Why? Because I'm overqualified. They assume I can't figure that out. Either they think I'll want too much money, or they'd just rather find someone who's underqualified. No educated Western oleh comes here thinking we'll make the same money as we did back there. We've made a Zionist choice. However, modern Israelis think that's foolish, and that's another negative in their eyes
THERE'S ALWAYS the consulting option. But this is where a major cultural problem comes most in focus. One of the biggest insults here is to call someone a frier, i.e. someone who treats a business partner, client or supplier honestly, looking for the win-win rather than trying to steal from him. Israelis are much worse than Americans at paying bills on time. Too many demand ridiculously low wages or fees.
Over the summer yet another client treated me in typical Israeli fashion that would be considered grossly unprofessional in an advanced nation. I had to spend almost NIS 1,000 for a lawyer to get the "professional" to pay what he should have paid without question.
Another client, with whom I had good working relations, couldn't get me paid. Even though we signed a net 30-day payment agreement, her accounts payable department consistently decided I should only be paid net 90 days and, as of this writing, I haven't been paid my final invoice in close to six months.
That shouldn't have to happen. As Jerusalem Post articles have mentioned, Israel suffers from a brain drain. Educated Israelis are being frightened away from hi-tech. If you can't even keep people here, shouldn't you be that much happier when people freely chose to come?
Israeli start-ups claim they are trying to change from quickly creating a technology and selling it to a foreign company to trying to create a going concern. That takes experience and expertise. A company that advertises for someone who knows the global market, understands technology and can create real marketing messages and yet still treats that employee the same way as in an older economy shows a bad combination of ego and naivetÃ©.
To those recent olim who have made it: Mazal tov. I'm am truly happy for you.
To those Israelis afraid of the wider world, relax. Now that the Jewish Agency, which worked with all Jews, has handed over North American aliya to Nefesh B'Nefesh, focused on Orthodox Jews, you should see many fewer secular Jews with experience coming over.
I'm a Zionist. I came here because I thought I could help Israel move forward. However, the nation said it doesn't want me. Luckily for me, and unlike many other immigrants, I have a choice. I can go back. I don't want to, but Israelis have removed all other choices. So back I head.
The writer has worked in hi-tech since 1980 and has been a Zionist even longer.
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