An article about the negative experiences of olim (immigrants) appeared recently in the Magazine (March 2) under the heading “Making aliya is not always a bed of roses.” The olim interviewed mention how difficult it is to adapt to, and integrate into, Israeli society.
They talk about loneliness, “being screwed” by unscrupulous service providers, and coping with bureaucracy. Some felt rejection, saying that they were not embraced as olim, and in some cases even their Jewishness was distrusted.
Work was a critical issue, even under circumstances where olim thought they possessed both expertise and experience, a situation clearly exacerbated by the inability to master the language. One interviewee thought that a move to another country would not have invited the level of insults received after making aliya.
Having been a migrant twice – once as a “new Australian” after leaving South Africa, my country of birth, and once as an oleh hadash, after arriving in Israel some two-and-a-half years ago – I empathize with the real pain and disappointment embedded within the sentiments expressed. I do, however, have some suggestions that may assist future olim before they make aliya, and possibly even those struggling to make their aliya successful.
My wife and I have made a successful aliya. We are, however, self-funded retirees, and our challenges are not those confronted by singles and young families, nor those of olim in their mid-fifties or early sixties who require gainful employment to balance their monthly budget. We have faced other challenges, however, and many of the difficulties identified could have made our aliya a disaster – loneliness, feelings of alienation, dealing with bureaucracy, being screwed as unsuspecting migrants, and, above all, attempting to develop rudimentary skills in a new language at an age when remembering what you did yesterday is a serious challenge.
Our success is based on two foundations, one I refer to as the “three Vs for a successful migration” and the second, three questions that enable your aliya to be planned: Why am I doing this? When will I do it? How am I going to do it? It is no different from creating a business plan, only that aliya – not a commercial enterprise – is the activity that executes the plan. Aliya is the last, not the first, step, whereas for many olim the converse is true.
THE “THREE Vs” is an abbreviation for “Vot voz, voz” (Yiddish for “what was, was”) You must recalibrate your mind-set before beginning the difficult process of settling into a new country. It is a process where rebirth is visualized. You leave the shelter of the womb, never to return.
If you are unable to develop this mindset, your country of origin will continually be considered a refuge, the place you look to every time the going gets rough.
Even if you initially experience a dream aliya, at some time things will get rough.
You are going to be hurt and disappointed, frustrated and angry. You are going to question your reasons for being here, and when it happens, you must look for solutions in the new environment, not in the one you left behind, because vot voz, voz! As for believing the goldene medina (Yiddish for “golden land”) is “elsewhere,” there are no guarantees, because wherever you land, you will need to overcome the obstacles encountered by a first-generation migrant. My wife and I were never considered “Australian,” we were always South Africans, amnesiacs with strange accents, foreign guests able to talk about the now but not about any common past.
Ours was as closed to our new acquaintances as theirs was to us.
AS IMPORTANT as the three Vs are to a successful aliya, the make-or-break factors are how comprehensive your planning has been – the “why,” the “when” and the “how.”
If your rationale and planning are based on previous visits to Israel as a tourist, you will soon discover this leaves ephemeral images that quickly fade. Recollections are replaced by reality, bureaucracy, the health system, the bank, where to live, and those Hebrew skills.
Two invisible counselors can assist you in combating panic, despair, anger and frustration. The first is the one reinforcing “vot voz, voz,” forcing you to find solutions outside the womb. The second is the one that constantly reminds you why you are here. There are many “whys” – family, refuge, religious identity, the Zionist dream, to name but a few. A clearly identified reason for making aliya is one of the critical foundations enabling success, and in the absence of the “why,” you are the proverbial ship without anchor and rudder.
Another cornerstone is deciding when, because making aliya at the wrong time is a prescription for failure.
The “when” works in tandem with the “how”; both are vital components for a successful aliya. In response to the “how” question, you will think about where to live, the lifestyle you want, schools, jobs, career qualifications, how much you will earn, adequate living expenses. But the critical question is: What level of Hebrew is needed to give you a fighting chance of settling in? This is not a complete list of questions by any means, but enough to get started.
I still marvel at the number of olim I have met who never even considered the “when” and the “how,” and who, mentally, are still residing in their country of origin.
Sadly, they are unhappy people struggling to find a reason to sustain the “why,” which in the first instance brought here.
A case in point, Alef, a distraught mid-fifties professional incapable of developing basic Hebrew-language skills and therefore unable to work in his field, is facing some real financial issues as a result. His words: “I was at the top of the tree over there, but now I am nothing here.” His “why” was very definite – parents wanting to join children and grandchildren who had previously made aliya.
The “when” in his case was completely wrong, and the “how” was never even considered! Of course, luck or faith may deliver a dream aliya, but introducing a little selfhelp into the mix is a great insurance policy.
The writer and his wife, Denise, starting planning for their aliya in 2012, arrived in 2015, and now live happily in Jerusalem, within walking distance of their eldest daughter, son-in-law and three grandsons.