First in a series of articles on acclimating to life in Israel.
By TALYA HALKIN
"What is your dream?" asked communication coach Idie Ilan, staring intently at one of the participants in a recent workshop for new immigrants in Ra'anana.
"I'm an opera singer, and I want to be successful at what I do," answered a bearded, middle-aged man from the US. "Israel is the most difficult place in the world."
"You're deviating from your dream," Ilan said.
"The last dream I remember having was that some corrupt guys were spending eight hours looking for drugs in my shipping container - and breaking all my furniture," the man retorted with bitter humor.
A dozen people gathered Sunday night at a Ra'anana community center for "Staying Focused on the Aliya Dream While Getting Through the Day-to-Day Experiences of a New Immigrant," the second in a series of six lectures on acclimating to life here. The series is given free by the community aliya program, which is cosponsored by the Immigrant Absorption Ministry, the Ra'anana Municipality and the Jewish Agency.
"When you make aliya, you have to deal with the concept of dream vs. reality," program coordinator Michelle Kaplan-Green told The Jerusalem Post. "People go through highs and lows, which are also impacted by those of spouses, children or by the process of searching for a job. It's important to learn how to express and cope with these feelings while life begins to take on more normal pattern."
Ilan, whose can-do attitude led her to specialize in coaching immigrants on setting and reaching their short- and long-term goals in a new reality, was intent upon imparting the message that with the help of some basic tools, her audience could learn how to move their lives forward, rather than dwell on their disappointments and difficulties.
"My goal," she said, "is to try and help you find ways to stay centered and continue being you in a new society. I know part of us just wants to gripe, but tonight is about developing skills to move forward."
Driving, she said, was an apt metaphor for how to approach what may initially seem like a chaotic new world.
"Where I come from in Columbus, Ohio," Ilan said, "cars are supposed to park between the lines. It didn't take me long to realize that in Israel the lines are just a suggestion."
Rather than trying to fight the logic of the Israeli system, she said, real and metaphorical drivers should spend their energy figuring out how they could get where they wanted to go within this new logic.
"It's about learning to adapt rather than changing the rules," she said. "The question is: What skills do I need to have a successful life here."
A young man who recently immigrated from Latin America with his wife told Ilan he was desperately looking for a job. When she questioned him about how he went about it, the man said that he had already sent out 300 resumes. As one more established fellow immigrant pointed out to him, however, doing business in Israel is predicated upon networking, not on the kind of anonymous job search that might have worked in his native country.
At the end of a 10-minute mini-coaching session, the young man agreed to set a new goal. He would use networking to find one person a day to whom he could turn to ask about possible jobs.
When one young woman spoke of her difficulty in getting used to what she described as the crude, sometimes aggressive behavior of sabras, Ilan stressed that newcomers can achieve their goals without letting go of the personal and cultural traits that define who they are, including basic courtesies that Israelis often consider superfluous.
"I try to bring the nice things from America, because all the dreck is already here," she said, eliciting a round of laughter.
Last but not least, Ilan emphasized the importance of what she called "championing" oneself.
"Give yourself credit for coming this far already, and doing things others just dream about - you're here, you did it!" she said.