Jewish Agency appoints ombudsman

Promises to 'hold hand' of any immigrant with bureaucratic problems.

bielski 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
bielski 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Jewish Agency is hoping that by reducing some of the run-around, it will prove that what goes around comes around. "The better we treat everybody, the better we'll look as a country as well as an organization," declared Rachelle Schilo, who has been tapped to be the agency's first ombudsman. A six-year agency veteran who was schooled in New York, Schilo and two staffers are setting up a "one-stop shop" - in the new ombudsman's words - for fielding questions and complaints from immigrants and those contemplating aliya. "We behave like their parents," Schilo said of her office's relationship to new immigrants. "We need to help them and guide them." She described her mandate as cutting through bureaucracy on behalf of immigrants, improving the efficiency of the agency and providing replies within 24 hours to any query. The ombudsman can be reached by phone at 02-620-4443 or by email at Schilo said she expects her office, which is still getting up and running, to deal largely with questions about immigrants' rights, eligibility for aliya under the Law of Return, and appeals for help navigating through government ministries. Josie Arbel, director of absorption services for the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel, said she wished the ombudsman luck in her new role. "I know there are situations where olim want to turn to someone and want to turn to the agency," she said. "[But] there are things that can't be solved by the Jewish Agency because they're not in its power to solve." Schilo acknowledged that she would not necessarily have an answer to every question. "Even if I can't be the address to solve their problems, I can refer them to the right person," she explained. "I'm a directory for them. They won't have to go from one office to another, by trial and error." Jewish Agency Chairmanship Zeev Bielski, who created the ombudsman office last month, has taken a more global approach to his office since taking over last June. Soon after he started, he told The Jerusalem Post that any immigrant with difficulties with agency and Israeli bureaucracy should phone his office directly. The next day his secretaries received 60 complaints - so many that he had to call in five volunteers from other departments to man the phones. One of his staff mentioned that many of the callers were seeking help with other ministries and agencies such as the customs office, so they weren't really concerns for the Jewish Agency. "Darling, it's also our problem," he told her. "If the problem is with the customs agency, we are going to go with them hand in hand." A year later, Bielski still said that work is part of his job description. "I'm the ombudsman of the Jewish people," he told the Post Monday. "It's my job." Arbel praised Bielski's approach as "refreshing," but added, "It has its limits." She continued, "It may be good in terms of the external image of the agency that he's so affable and that he's so nice." But she cautioned, "I'll be curious to see how it [the position of ombudsman] is publicized, because if it's taken as a solution to the olim's problems, there might be some disappointment."