Interview with the Jewish Agency's aliya expert Neil Gillman


Last week, we heard about the ups and downs of Israeli bureaucracy from our resident aliya bloggers. This week, we''ve invited Neil Gillman, the Jewish Agency''s  Manager of Olim Relationships of English Speaking Countries, to speak to us about Israeli bureaucracy. Neil has years of experience working as both an Aliyah Advisor as well as as an Aliyah Shaliach in Washinton DC. He currently oversees the aliyah and absorption process for the Jewish Agency for olim from English speaking countries.

Neil Gillman, Jewish Agency Neil Gillman, Jewish Agency


1. We''ve all dealt with bureaucracies in our home-countries--and they''re all unpleasant and they''re all challenging--but Israeli bureaucracy is especially notorious for its difficulty. Why is this? 
Firstly I think that Israeli bureaucracy has improved tremendously over the years. Many olim come prepared for the worst, but when they are properly prepared by their Jewish Agency for Israel Shaliach, arrive with paperwork in order and most importantly with realistic expectations, the bureaucratic process goes smoothly. The difficult cases you hear about are usually a small percentage.
The first encounter that most olim have with bureaucracy is when they meet a Ministry of Absorption staff member as they exit their plane who guides them to passport control and then up to the Ministry of Absorption office where they''ll complete their initial paperwork. This office works 24 hours a day, 6 days a week; it is the one government office that stays open even when everyone else is on strike. By the time that they leave the Ministry office to pick up their luggage and to get their free transportation, in most cases they''ve not only got their Teudat Oleh but also their first cash payment of Sal Klita, a sim card with 200 free minutes for their cell phone and have registered for medical insurance! I don''t believe anything comparable happens anywhere else in the world.
2. What makes Israeli bureaucracy so difficult for new olim?
The intensity of the process is particularly difficult. It''s true that we''ve all dealt with bureaucracy to an extent in our home countries but very few of us have had to get an ID, opened a bank account, signed up for ulpan, registered for medical insurance, arrange a cell phone, an international calling plan, cable TV, internet and more in the space of a couple of weeks. It''s a stressful experience but you can quickly put it behind you and move on. My own experience as a newly arrived Shaliach in Washington was pretty similar by the way – don''t get me started on the DMV!
3. What is the biggest challenge new Olim face when it comes to adjusting to Israeli bureaucracy?
If someone tries to tackle the bureaucracy alone, it can be really tough. It''s recommended that olim arrange their aliya through a Jewish Agency Shaliach overseas, or if in Israel, to go through either our Change of Status program or Nefesh B''Nefesh''s Guided Aliyah program so that aliya professionals act as the interface with the government and can make sure things run as smoothly as possible.
4. Tips?
It''s important to come with a positive attitude and to be accepting of the fact that things may be done differently here. I always recommend making sure that offices are open and in the same place before taking a morning off work to go to deal with something – nothing is more frustrating then turning up to find an office is shut (or has moved, as happened to me once). Always go with the expectation that it''s going to take a while (a book is recommended!) and you make often be pleasantly surprised.
 5. What does the Jewish Agency do to help new olim navigate these challenges?
(Neil Gillman welcoming new olim at a Red Carpet Aliyah event at the Kotel)
Last year the Jewish Agency brought in 1800 olim from countries all over the world on our Red Carpet Aliyah flights. We arrange for groups of olim from the four corners of the world to arrive in Israel together. From the airport, we whisk them to a hotel in Jerusalem where they spend their first day as olim. We hold an aliya fair at the hotel with representatives from relevant Government ministries, health funds, cellphone companies, banks, the Post Office, English Language newspapers – we bring the bureaucracy to the oleh. By the time we''ve sent them on their way to their first destination they have their Teudot Zehut, Teudot oleh, Medical Insurance, Bank Account, Cell phone plan – all done under one roof and with our staff on hand to assist.
For olim who choose not to join a group, our staff makes sure that they know which government ministries to go to, in which order and which documents they need at each stage. Olim are assigned a personal file manager who speaks their language fluently as their point of contact should they have questions or problems that need solving. We also have a call centre that works around the clock with reps who speak a variety of languages.