New olim join Israel's workforce

This week on Cafe Oleh, our panel of Judaism and aliya bloggers recount their experiences entering the Israeli workforce as new olim.

What was the biggest challenge to finding work in Israel? The language barrier? A cultural barrier? Were there any stigmas against olim that made it difficult to get a foot in the door?
I was actually very lucky with the job that I have now. It didn''t take me too long to find and I was also lucky that it was a very anglo working environment.
My lack of Hebrew played against my continuing the work I did in hutz laretz. I had taught rhetoric and sociology. Mostly, I taught theory courses. To lecture at the third level of abstraction, folks need a command of sophisticated words. Upon making aliya, I knew I’d be happy just to be able to correctly order falafel.
 There are lots of challenges to finding work here, and native Israelis confront them as well, but the language barrier can be especially difficult in the beginning for olim. The biggest challenge I faced, and still face, is not letting myself settle for jobs that are "typical" and easy for Anglo olim to get—like telemarketing and tutoring—but that I have very little interest in.
What was your first paid-position in Israel?
I worked as a waiter in few different places, both in Jerusalem and Zichron Ya''akov. Again, both of these were very anglo-friendly environments and found through people that I knew.
I was an adjunct faculty member at a local college. There are entire programs taught in English, here.
I found work relatively quickly at my university. If you''re a student, find out where you can apply for a student job on campus. The opportunities are diverse and range from working in the public relations office to stacking books in the libraries.
What surprised or shocked you most about the difference between the Israeli workplace mentality and your home-country’s workplace mentality?
With most things in Israeli society, you have to really shout and make your voice heard to get what you want and even what is owed to you.
I was shocked at the stigma against religion, in the Holy Land, of all places. In one situation, a director of programming and I parted ways when she objected to my including, on a syllabus, the words “man vs. G-d,” in reference to one of the four types of conflict typically listed in hermeneutic, i.e. church-based (!) literary criticism. That silly duck was incensed about my using a “religious” word in a course incorporating classic European thought.
In another case, a department chair took one look at me, a modestly dressed woman, and then began our interview with slurs about Israel’s religious population. Throughout our talk, she made sure to let me know that being an observant Jew made me no better than dirt. Although I walked away from that opportunity, too, the irony is that she had pursued me, through emails and phone calls, to meet with her about work.
In the States, in contrast, my goyishe peers had gone out of their way to accommodate my holiday needs (even offering to cover my class meetings). Colleagues respected that I would not shake men’s hands. As well, they made no fuss when I brought my own food to faculty events, to symposia, and to conferences.
Those and related experiences left me flabbergast and hurt. I’ve lived as a secular Jew and as a religious one. Nowhere else have my personal beliefs mattered to my getting my job done.
I suppose as well, that we, as a people, need to work together to make “liberal” equivalent with “open-minded” and “compassionate.” Living in Israel remains the dream. However, we dreamers, being human, remain imperfect. I sense, in all of the above incidents, I could have manifested greater tolerance, too.
Is your salary significantly lower than your peers in your home-countries?
Yes. Sometimes it''s actually quite embarrassing when I speak to my friends and we compare how much we earn. Granted, a lot of my friends work in the corporate London world, but I still earn significantly less. Sometimes I think that it works out because the cost of living is cheaper here, however when you really look at it the prices in Tel Aviv are just as crazy as they are in London. And we all earn a lot less. But the thing that makes me feel better is the fact that quality of life here is better and you don''t need as much money to have a good time.
I never taught, full-time, in Israel. However, talks I’ve had with other academics revealed that professors, here, often have to find second jobs to cover their bills. No wonder there’s such a brain drain!
That said, lower salaries constitute an insufficient reason for not making aliya. As a collective, we never really needed second or third cars, second homes, bnai mitzvot that were like circuses, sometimes literally, or wedding gifts that cost more than small apartments. Less is more in that when not unwittingly obsessing about collecting possessions or about gleaning self-esteem from the adjudication of other individuals, because we lack the fiduciary resources to do so, we are eased into focusing on what’s truly important.

 Yes, it definitely is. It''s less than I used to make as well when I was working in the states. It''s just part of the reality you accept when you make aliya.

If you had previous training in a specific career or field, did you have to modify your career expectations or goals when you came to Israel or were you able to continue along roughly the same lines?
Gam zu la tova in my case. Whereas my research on the communication of medical outcomes, my research on teachers’ communication in the college classroom, and my research on the history and development of relative moral responsibility for communication had legs (a big government agency even paid for me to spend time at an Ivy League school to further my work), my gelatinous wildebeests, pregnant secretaries, and troubled midlife mom—i.e. the array of characters that populate my writing—reach a much bigger audience than had any of my academic papers. Interpersonal sleaze is still interpersonal sleaze whether it’s grounded by footnotes or floated in space operas.
To wit, my most recent books, Don’t Pet the Sweaty Things, short fictions, and A Bank Robber’s Bad Luck with His Ex-Girlfriend, relationship poetry, can be purchased at Amazon or directly from their publishers, Bards & Sages Publishing, and UnboundCONTENT, respectively. For a taste of something new, b’ezrat Hashem, I have an eBook of poetry celebrating Israel, Superlative Factors, coming out in August, through The Camel Saloon Books on Blog, and am in contract talks with yet another publisher about a book on Derech eretz kadma la-Torah, onbeing a mentsch before keeping the Torah,for 2013.
Not all of my writing is staid discourse. I have works on imaginary hedgehogs and on chimera, on seepage from the current global fiscal disaster, and on the tribulations of parenting. Lists of and links to my poetry, short fictions, and essays, my blogs and magazine columns, as well as announcements about upcoming writing classes, about works in development, and more can be found at my website;
Hashem has been good, is good, and will continue to be good, to me and to the rest of the klal. I think we just have to remove our prejudices about the way we think the world should work in order to see The Almighty’s kindness. This fact is especially ture when it comes to our transported careers.
Before I made aliya, I had my heart set on studying law. I ended up choosing a different major though because I wasn''t confident enough in my Hebrew at the time and am now considering pursuing law after I finish my current studies. You might have to change your short or long term career aspirations if you decide to make aliya so it''s important that you investigate your options before you do and make sure you are comfortable with them.