Olim standing together in the fight against coronavirus

What are aliyah organizations doing to help and how are olim coping?

Yisrael Cohn, coordinator of English-speaking olim, aliyah and integration department, Jerusalem Municipality. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Yisrael Cohn, coordinator of English-speaking olim, aliyah and integration department, Jerusalem Municipality.
(photo credit: Courtesy)

Israel, like the rest of the world, is in a war against the novel coronavirus. Many new immigrants to Israel (olim, oleh [m], olah [f] in Hebrew) have the added stress of being away from the support network of their families – who may be in a worse situation than they are in the US or Europe – and have the extra worry of thinking about them too. What are aliyah organizations doing to help and how are olim coping?  

“The olim population is both concerned and resilient,” Donna Horwitz, head of the Community Integration Division at Nefesh B’Nefesh (NBN), told the Magazine. “We’re seeing an influx of questions regarding financial budgeting, employment and travel restrictions. Specifically, with Pesach [the Passover holiday] coming up, people are worried about being alone at the Seder,” she added.

“People are definitely concerned about their job security,” Horwitz continued. “Our employment department is working hard to keep olim both informed and connected with available employment opportunities.”

Horwitz noted that olim are supporting each other. “We’ve seen olim offering free virtual workshops, joint Kabbalat Shabbat and havdalah services, yoga, stress management and more,” she said. NBN also set up a program for Lone Soldiers who are sending food and packages to soldiers in quarantine.

The organization has also created WhatsApp groups in five different communities to encourage olim to help each other. “If an oleh is popping to the pharmacy,” Horwitz tells, “he’ll offer to pick up medication for someone who needs it and does not own a car.”

NBN has also a dedicated hotline called “NBN Answers” or *3680 for any questions or concerns olim have.

The Jerusalem Municipality is also putting on extra services to help olim at this very difficult time. Rabbi Yisrael Cohn, head of Aliyah and Integration, told the Magazine, “Olim continue to come and it is inspiring to witness their dedication and love of our city, Jerusalem. We are here to offer guidance and support as they navigate their first steps as Israelis during these uncertain times.”

Cohn praised the creative initiatives emanating from olim themselves. “It is wonderful to see how this challenging situation has sparked many projects: from virtual lectures, concerts and tours to social meetups, something for everyone.”

Cohn reminded us all that it’s really important for each and every one of us to take responsibility and reach out. “It can be lonely, especially for people without family in Israel and a short phone call to a friend can make all the difference,” he concluded.

Financial advisors are also being asked various questions by olim at the moment. Aaron Katsman, from Lighthouse Capital, told the Magazine, “A lot of olim have called about whether this is a good time to take advantage of the US dollar’s rise against the shekel and transfer money to Israel. If this is money that you will need over the course of the next year, then it makes sense to bring it over and take advantage of the favorable exchange rate.”

“CERTAINLY, THOSE seriously in the market for a home should be bringing money over now, and not try and time the market because trying to time currency markets is virtually impossible to do,” Katsman advises.

When it comes to insurance issues, are olim facing different challenges than native Israelis? Danny Newman, of Goldfus Insurance, says that he didn’t think so. “We’re not getting olim-specific questions. Corona is impacting everyone – olim and natives equally. So, I guess it is good, or really not so good, that everyone is in the same boat. Some people are looking to see if they can spread payments – but again, this is not olim specific.”

The Magazine also spoke with olim to find out what they are doing to cope – How has their work routine changed, how are they staying in touch with family and how are they keeping their children occupied?

Hadassah Levy, an olah from Great Neck, a digital marketer, is used to working at home and using technologies like Zoom for online meetings. But now that her children are home and her husband is busy with online teaching, the entire household has begun to rely on technology.

“I am lucky to be working during this difficult time, but [that] means that I don’t have time to homeschool. My kids are older and self-sufficient, but I am always looking for ways to educate and entertain them that don’t require my participation,” says Levy.

Levy’s household uses Zoom and YouTube to connect with university classes and colleagues. “Zoom is now installed on all phones and computers in the house and is being used for her daughter’s university classes and her son’s daily conference call with his class and teacher.” Levy’s husband is an English teacher and has recently learned how to upload videos to YouTube with assignments for his high school students to complete,” she says.

Like many parents in Israel, the Levy’s are using online resources to keep their children occupied. “One resource I have found really useful during this time is Torah Live. My kids also enjoy its rich library of videos on various Jewish topics. They especially like the new and popular courses in faith, prayer and power of speech.”

A well-known and popular Jerusalem personality, Yoni Mann, a senior member of the Hitorerut (Awakening) political movement, is showing how olim can go beyond staying safe indoors and actually help the broader community.  

“I am proud of our emergency response campaign in partnership with Lev Echad [One Heart], which has succeeded in recruiting over 700 Jerusalemite volunteers who have, to date, come to the aid of over 350 Jerusalemites in quarantine, which includes delivering groceries, distributing hot food packages to those in need, assisting with hospital day care, and standing in support of our elderly in quarantine at any given moment through our Adopt-a-Neighbor initiative.”

MANN’S WORK routine has had to adapt itself to the changing circumstances. “My colleagues and I are all working remotely. Working at Onward Israel, which brings young Jews to Israel for 6-10 week internship programs primarily in the summer, we're constantly working with hypotheticals.”

Mann explained to the Magazine, how they have had to think out-of-the-box.” How can we carry out our programs? If not, can we find alternative solutions? It forces you to adapt and be creative; a shift in reality is an opportunity for innovation, and our team is exercising responsibility and is quick to brainstorm original approaches.”

Like the rest of us, Mann uses Zoom and WhatsApp to stay in touch with family abroad. “We WhatsApp video more and decided to have our first family reunion (via Zoom) in honor of my father's 69th birthday – suddenly, virtual hanging out has become the norm,” Mann concluded.

Tali Kaplinski Tarlow had to totally change the structure of her business due to the COVID-19 crisis. “Here at ScaVentures, our business dried up and we returned thousands of shekels of advance payment. Like everyone, I’ve been scrambling to figure out how to keep my kids busy and engaged at home."

However, Tali didn’t despair and restructured her business overnight. “Out of this situation I created an online scavenger hunt called Quarantine Quest 2020 to keep people busy, engaged and having fun, and also to connect people from all over the world.”

Kaplinski Tarlow went on to describe how her whole community is supporting each other. “Gush Etzion has rallied around helping families who are in quarantine, doing vital errands for the elderly and those in need.  A lot of self-employed olim have lost their income, and many are trying to adapt as quickly as possible.”

Joe and Anne Krycer, olim of five years from Melbourne, Australia, are using technology to stay connected. “We are using the internet and digital advances which mean we can be virtually together, and continue to learn and find strength through nourishing our minds and souls.”

Like other grandparents, the Krycer’s decided to distance themselves from their children and grandchildren: “In order to protect us from possible infection, our children and grandchildren are not seeing us – a mutually most painful experience.  Personally, I am infinitely comforted and grateful that if any of us has to be more susceptible to this virus, it's we, the seniors, and not our precious next generations,” she concluded.

The olim community is strong and determined – the current crisis will only strengthen us and our connection to Israel and each other. NBN, the Jerusalem Municipality and other organizations are doing their very best to support and help. In some cases, as Yoni Mann showed, olim are actually contributing to the national effort. We all hope and pray that our lives will return to normal soon and we can enjoy all that Israel offers.

Note: The municipality has a very useful website: https://www.jerusalem.muni.il/ en/ or, if urgent, you can email Cohn directly: [email protected]