Gone are the days when making aliya meant getting off the plane and having to dive headfirst into a mass of bureaucracy. A wealth of organizations to assist olim has sprung up over the last two decades, providing much-needed and invaluable support and guidance to those who decide to make Israel their home.
One such resource is the Department of Immigration and Absorption at the Jerusalem Municipality, which provides assistance from pre-aliya to a year post-aliya. The municipality also provides a dedicated service for English speakers.
The department, in existence for nearly a dozen years, also employs French, Russian, Spanish and Portuguese speakers, catering to most new immigrants. Two full-time English speakers, Yisrael Cohn and Jason Roth, co-direct the department for aliya from English-speaking countries, but also serve people not covered by the other languages spoken. This is a completely free service, paid for by the Jerusalem Municipality.
Contact with olim starts prior to their aliya. Cohn and Roth contact prospective immigrants via email and are often in frequent contact before they even leave for Israel. They carry out Skype or telephone interviews with them and can even get their children signed up and registered for schools in Jerusalem while they are still abroad. The two also explain the school system and housing benefits, and answer any other questions that may arise.
The department strongly encourages prospective immigrants to take a pilot trip to Israel prior to moving here to explore potential neighborhoods and schools. If they want, Cohn or Roth will meet with them on the pilot trip and show them different neighborhoods and schools that may be suited to their children. Roth also has a list of job resources that he provides to the new immigrants.
In addition to contacting immigrants prior to their move to Israel, Cohn and Roth also travel to English-speaking countries and speak at Jewish gatherings to encourage people to consider moving to Israel’s capital. The department works in conjunction with other organizations that support olim, such as Nefesh B’Nefesh and Telfed, to reach as many people as possible.
They also work with Masa, a program that places young people in work and volunteer placements here for a period of up to 12 months, in the hope that some of them will consider making Jerusalem their home.
A week before the immigrants’ aliya date, Cohn and Roth send them an email offering to meet up with them once they’ve made aliya. They estimate that the majority of families take them up on this offer, while approximately 60% of the singles making aliya do so.
They also work with a large number of pensioners who immigrate alone and often need more help with scheduling medical appointments, particularly if they lack Hebrew.
Once they arrive in Israel and come to the office for a preliminary meeting, Cohn or Roth will review their rights and benefits as new immigrants. They will also notify them of deadlines for important procedures, such as registering at the Interior Ministry to receive their ID card and when they need to join a health fund. They include a flyer that provides examples of bills and important documents they are likely to encounter.
The department offers to accompany new olim to government ministries or local authorities to arrange payment of arnona (property tax) if applicable, registration for National Insurance, the licensing bureau to obtain an Israeli driver’s license, and the offices to register for military or civilian national service. Cohn and Roth have even accompanied ill people to doctors’ appointments and Holocaust survivors to register for compensation.
One of their most challenging cases involved an almost completely blind cancer survivor in her 60s who made aliya alone. They helped her deal with the National Insurance Institute and welfare offices and even managed to find an ulpan (Hebrew language classes) for her to attend.
The department also put her in touch with another immigrant who wanted to volunteer, which provided an extra means of support from someone who had undergone similar challenges. It encourages new olim to build support networks for each other.
Cohn likens the work that he and Roth perform “as similar to a Swiss army knife, in that it contains a little bit of everything!” As two immigrants themselves who love living in Jerusalem, they are ideally equipped to understand the challenges that new olim face and feel honored to help them by providing practical support while sharing their love of Jerusalem with them.
While the department strives to provide relevant advice, it stresses that it does not recommend which bank or health fund to join or which mobile phone provider to choose. These remain the individual choices of the new olim.
With approximately 1,000 English-speaking immigrants moving to Jerusalem every year, this important service is in demand. Cohn and Roth estimate that they meet three or four times a day with new olim. The Department of Immigration and Absorption also organizes social activities for new immigrants and visiting Masa volunteers, such as a hike to the Mitzpe Ramon crater or a treasure hunt in Jerusalem to get to know the city.
A year after their aliya, the new immigrants are transferred to one of the capital’s six community administrations, which offer support and organize events where new olim can meet with veteran citizens.
Useful tips for olim• Always bring your teudat oleh (immigrant ID) and teudat zehut (official identity card) when confronting officialdom.
• Bring original documents when possible. Bring photocopies to leave for files when necessary.
• Always carry cash or a credit card as you never know when you will need to pay a fee.
• Call ahead of time to determine the office hours, which documents to bring, whom to speak to, if there is a fee, etc. You can save hours of waiting by calling first.
• Make sure your information is complete. Ask: “What else do I need to know?” • Get the names of the clerks who help you. Get their phone/extension numbers in case you need to get back to them.
• Be patient and keep calm. A smile and friendly attitude can go a long way! – K.P
The Jerusalem Municipality’s Department of Immigration and Absorption can be reached via its Facebook page, aliya2Jerusalem, via email at email@example.com or rtJason@jerusalem.muni.il; or at (02) 545-6903 or 545-6906.