Amid recession, Americans eye aliya

"The cost of living Jewishly is so much cheaper in Israel."

olim 63 (photo credit: )
olim 63
(photo credit: )
Ely Cole, a 25-year-old accountant from Columbus, Ohio, says he always dreamed of moving to Israel but worried about leaving his high-paying New York job before he'd established a career for himself. Now, that job is gone, and Cole is on his way to the Jewish state, joining a wave of returning Israelis and new immigrants fleeing the dismal economic outlook in the US. "It's a bit of a relief to be laid off instead of quitting - I'm not second-guessing myself," said Cole, who was let go two weeks ago from a New York hedge fund. "Having the push is beneficial." Cole will join his sister, who made aliya last year, and begin looking for work in either Tel Aviv or Jerusalem once he has completed ulpan. Cole was among more than a half-million Americans who lost their jobs last month, and economists predict that three million more could be unemployed in the coming year. The job losses, initially centered in the hard-hit financial industry, are beginning to spread through the economy, touching everyone from lawyers to book publishers to independent business owners whose holiday sales expectations have nearly evaporated. When pressed what opportunities they hoped to find in Israel, considering that the economic crisis is also affecting Israel and could get worse there, they did not mention specific job plans but expressed optimism that something would work out. "People who aren't even affected are saying, 'I just feel like I shouldn't be spending money right now' - they're afraid to buy," said Leah Zeira, who left her teaching job last year to help her Israeli husband, a jewelry maker who has been in New York for a decade, manage his business. The pair had scheduled a trunk show (in which vendors present merchandise directly to store personnel or select customers) on September 25, investing in advertising and food, only to find that friends and clients canceled at the last minute. "We're getting by, but not much - there's just a limit to how long we can weather the storm," said Zeira, 28, who is expecting their first child. She cited the cost of raising a child in a Jewish way - from paying for private school to buying kosher food - as a key factor behind the move. "The cost of living is so much cheaper in Israel," she said. "We've always wanted to move, but we've never been able to pinpoint when to go, and now I just don't know how we're going to make it here." Sami Zeira said he was exploring moving his workshop to Israel, where they could be near his family, but was concerned about being able to continue selling his finely wrought gold earrings, rings and bracelets through his Web site and in American department stores. "It's scary - I've spent 10 years building my business, and I have to make sure I can pick it up and move it," he said. The Jewish Agency and the Absorption Ministry have responded with a series of employment conferences across North America, set to begin Sunday in New York, promoting tax incentives for new immigrants and returning Israelis, education grants and job opportunities. Additional job fairs will be held in Boston, Chicago, Toronto, San Francisco, Miami, Washington and Montreal. The agency has seen a sharp uptick in queries since September, when the failure of Lehman Brothers triggered a chain of events that has left the American economy frozen. "The economic crisis has spurred increased interest in employment opportunities in Israel," said Liran Avisar, the agency's aliya liaison in New York. One New Yorker whose job offer from an investment bank was rescinded just as he was graduating from Yeshiva University this fall said he and his wife considered moving to the West Coast or to Texas - both far from their families on the East Coast - before deciding to make aliya. "I realized I would probably have to leave New York, because it's such a bad market, and once we were looking at relocating we decided we may as well just move to Israel now," said the 25-year-old, who asked that his name not be used.