For many, finding work as a fresh immigrant to Israel, or “oleh,” is a daunting task. The language barrier, culture gap, and often lack of support are major hurdles that immigrants have to overcome in order to build successful careers.
“It’s challenging to integrate into Israeli society, learn the language to a point that you can actually be relevant in the workforce,” said Ronen Ben Ami, co-founder and chief risk officer at Justt.ai. “I saw that with many of my friends who either did a short period of time in the military or didn’t do military at all, who just came here and either went to school or went straight to look for a job.”
As an Oleh from Chicago, Ben Ami has seen and experienced the challenges of integrating oneself into a foreign workforce. He immigrated in 2007, going on to spend nine years in the military as an officer. After leaving the army, he sought work in the field of financial technology and went on to cofound his own company, Justt.ai.
The company, which is currently growing, emphasizes the diversity and multiculturalism among its employees and helps to integrate new and veteran immigrants in Israel, and works with them to innovate in the charge-back mitigation field. Justt works with merchants to dispute fraudulent charge-back claims, saving them billions of dollars every year. In February 2022, Justt announced the launch of Optimus, an extension of its AI platform, which enables merchants to further increase their net earnings.
Ben Ami explained that, though there was a steep initial barrier of entry, his time in the military served him well for a future in Israeli business.
“I was definitely, on one side, very challenged when I went into the military. On the other side, being in the military system gave me a way to integrate into Israeli society and learn the language very easily. I was able to support myself financially and build myself a career in the military.”
As an executive at Justt, Ben Ami works with a host of other immigrants to Israel – more than 25% of the company’s staff are English-speaking olim.
“The start-up world is very accepting of olim. I saw it in my experience in the past and I wanted that to be part of our company as well, because, in the end, English is such an important language in the start-up world.”
Still, for many newcomers in Israel, it can be a challenge to find a foothold in the hi-tech world. Jo Sugarman, an immigrant from Guatemala and head of charge-back operations at Justt, noted that both Hebrew and connections are critical aids in finding quality work.
“If you’re in the right circles of Tel Aviv, people in hi-tech then it can work out for you,” she said. “But it’s very hard without any Hebrew at all, especially if it’s not hi-tech. That’s not even an option unless you want to be an English teacher or something like that.”
“Aliyah [immigration] is not going to be easy, regardless of what your background is,” Sugarman continued. She expressed what she felt is the ideal mindset for finding career success in Israel. “Really throwing yourself into the water and learning Hebrew and being part of Israeli culture is very important. Try not to think ‘Okay, right now, this is what’s comfortable for me, and I’m going to stay within this circle.’ Try to open your mind to all of the beautiful and less beautiful things that make up Israeli culture. Think long term, because no aliyah is successful after a year. It takes time.”