Digital Age Olim or Israel Shelanu?

As per journalist, Michele Chabin, in her Jewish Week Article “ In Israel, Older Olim Face Ageism Hurdles (July 14, 2010)” Rachel Berger, Director of Employment at Nefesh B’Nefesh, was quoted as saying that ‘“90 to 95 percent of the people who immigrate with her organization are employed a year after they arrive in Israel.’
While I am not privy to the statistics to which Berger is referring concerning olim who immigrate with Nefesh B’Nefesh while simultaneously seeking employment upon arrival in Israel, I cannot help but question these statistics based on the reality I have experienced as a olah--who in my 40’s emigrated to Israel (2008) with--multiple graduate degrees and over a decade of work experience with Jewish and immigrant resettlement related jobs—and who will likely leave Israel after February due to lack of employment.
Admittedly, I made Aliyah as an idealistic, spiritually-oriented single female who “bought into” Nefesh B’Nefesh’s statistical claim. However, to make myself more employable, in addition, I spent a year in Israel working almost solely to improve my Hebrew, first in Ulpan, and later at Hebrew University’s Rothberg Graduate School.
Hence, after beginning the job search I was truly shocked—first, to see how many job listings discriminated against me in various ways and second, to never even receive a phone call regarding an interview for a potential job to which I felt I rightfully applied.
In fact, despite the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC)’s establishment two years ago, job ads posted in English as well as in Hebrew blatantly discriminate when stating their job ad prerequisites. Typically in any day’s job listings one encounters job prerequisites which include “ideal for a student,” “post Army,” “ideal for Hareidim,” “male” or “female” wanted.
On the one hand, the “Digital Age” Aliyah set—those potential olim between the ages of 17 and 35 years old are offered the whole array of possible Aliyah resettlement services. In fact, a whole special division, “One Aliyah: Assistance for Young Professionals and Singles” has been created for this special population which is promised outreach in North America, daily meetings upon Aliyah with olim—with counselors ready to try and meet their every possible Aliyah related need from job networking to social networking.
On the other end, adults making Aliya in their 60’s or later are usually engaged in reunification with their children and grandchildren already living in Israel and these immigrants are usually retired with pensions or Social Security monthly checks.
The question I find myself left with is: Do Jewish Aliyah organizations and does the State of Israel find any value in Aliyah from the mid-age sector—would-be-olim-- in their 40’s and 50’s?
With all integrity I cannot help but ask: Would Aliyah organizations and the State of Israel prefer that individuals such as myself stay in North America and send our annual checks to UJA-Federation and invest in Israel Bonds?
North American would-be-olim in their 40’s and 50’s are a unique species of their own. They have usually reached the high point of their careers and have years of education and work experience already behind them. They may be married, with or without children, or divorced or single. They are less likely to be procreating in the State of Israel. Their intention potentially is Aliyah for themselves and likely their children. Also,
They may have less up-to-date computer skills although they compensate with other forms of work experience.
Is there a value to this mid-age set, with its own challenges, making Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael? (t certainly is a greater challenge and sacrifice for them.) Never mind that the initial command of “Lech lecha” (Breishit-12:1-4) was made to a 75-year-old man, Abraham, and to his barren, childless wife, Sarah, or that Moses was 80-years-old (Exodus 7: 6-7) when G-d first commissioned him to approach Pharoah of Egypt and demand the liberation of the Jewish people so that Moses could fulfill G-d’s will that his entire people be led out from Egyptian bondage through the Red Sea and Desert into the Land G-d designated for the Jewish people—the Land of Israel.
Ageism is an over-arching form of discrimination found abundantly in modern society—and definitely in the State of Israel. In fact, as one sees upon arrival in Israel, the make-up of Nefesh B’Nefesh makes that message abundantly clear. The largest segment of Nefesh B’Nefesh employees working with new immigrants appears to be quite a young community.
While I might argue that ageism is a concept completely foreign to Jewish Biblical and Rabbinic texts and values, the reality is that ageism in Israel is pervasive—especially in the workplace.
Yet, lest I describe a problem in Israeli society and the Aliyah world without discussing possible attempts at solutions, I offer the following choices and possible proposals:
First, a conscious decision must be made: Does the Aliyah resettlement movement choose to suggest to the 40’s-50’s set that as the Gemara in Brachot 5a suggests, “The Land of Israel can only be acquired through sufferings” and they are welcome to make Aliyah and do the best that they can to acculturate and find work- and if need be, return to North America?
Or--does the Aliyah resettlement community wish to choose to view this mid-age set as a valuable part of the Jewish people—with each individual possessing his or her own unique potential to contribute to the greater whole of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel?
If, in fact, the decision of such resettlement organizations is to not only focus its efforts on the digital age youth generation but, rather, to see the possibility and value in focusing on each potential olim category, I propose the following:
One possibility is create an independent agency with its own funding sources derived from organizations or foundations that value the Aliyah of all Jews who choose this challenge.
The other possibility is to create a department head at a pre-existing Aliyah resettlement agency to meet the unique challenges and concerns of this 40’s-50’s set of potential olim.
Such a department should place special priority on pre-Aliyah counseling and preparations. There should be extensive pre-Aliyah resume assistance so that these olim arrive in Israel with a resume tailored to Israeli society and emphasizing transferrable skills.
Second, potential olim in this set must be strongly urged to develop their Hebrew skills before making Aliyah.
Third, potential olim must be strongly urged to upgrade their computer skills and social networking skills—since the past couple of years alone have seen tremendous technological advancement.
Fourth, job networking needs to be initiated well in advance of Aliyah so that potential olim have the opportunity to discuss questions and issues with already integrated professional olim in Israel or other Israeli professionals.
Fifth, I would recommend new olim being matched to Israeli individuals or couples who commit themselves to a temporary “adoption” process whereby they agree for a year to assist a new immigrant or family with acculturation and networking and the job-seeking process.
Also, I would recommend prior-to-Aliyah webinars and updated web site information regarding training courses such as those offered by Mati or the Lander branch of Touro College and regarding possible new business grants.
As far as post-Aliyah counseling is concerned, I would recommend meeting with each individual or couple weekly for three months and following up that period of time with weekly phone calls to these olim for the rest of their first year of Aliyah.
Additionally, I would recommend monthly events for these new olim—whether they consist of dinners, lectures, museum visits, parties or other cultural or networking activities.
On a very positive note I must remark that it is highly commendable that the Israeli government has very recently initiated a voucher program whereby employers receive NIS 9000 per person for each Arab-Israeli college graduate a particular organization or business hires. This program sets a good precedent for a future program which might assist olim over the age of 40 with being hired likewise by an organization or business.
Finally, I very likely will return to the U.S. upon the expiration of my lease—and I anticipate that I will seek work—as in the past—which involves facilitating positive change and advancement in the Jewish world. My work will likely involve supporting the State of Israel—the Land of my national, religious destiny—because Israel’s destiny is the destiny of Klal Yisrael.
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Deborah Renert holds a BA from Brandeis and Master’s degrees in Judaic Studies from YU and JTS and an MSW from Wurzweiler. She has worked at NYANA, the Riverdale Y, and the Claims Conference counseling new immigrants from the FSU, seniors, and Holocaust survivors.