Support an Oleh is a Facebook group started by Caroline Goldman. The aim of this group is exactly what it says: support an oleh (new immigrant), some of whom are in trouble, really big trouble.
My aliyah to Israel from Brooklyn in 1976 was relatively easy; my main problems were missing my family and dealing with the huge culture shock – like living in a then very small Ashkelon where no one locked their doors at night, buildings were sparse, and where the fish store sold live fish that you picked for dinner as they swam in circles in a small pool, after which the ‘fish guy’ banged it on its head with a mallet. I thought that pool was a wishing well and dutifully threw in coins until I was told otherwise.
My new friends were like me, from comfortable middle-class Western families, sort of spoiled, and living materially well in our new country. There was no social media, so we were relatively limited as to knowing what was going on around us. There was an Absorption Center in my neighborhood whose residents were from the US, UK, South Africa, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) with an occasional Argentinian thrown into the mix. No one was really hurting, and if they were, it wasn’t for anything major like the basics we all took for granted: food, medicine, clothing and shelter.
Cut to 1993: Caroline Goldman made aliyah from the UK. After her ulpan studies, she worked in various jobs in restaurants, teaching English and working with youth. One day, she got a “lucky break” and began her career in television; in those days if you had basic Hebrew and English finding a job was relatively easy.
Jump to 2017. Caroline’s life was great. She had a lovely family made up of her Canadian-born husband working in cyber security and two healthy, happy adorable kids. She had climbed the corporate ladder and in 2005, became the head of acquisitions at Ananey Channels, Ltd. Although she loved her job, there was something in the back of her mind that she couldn’t shake – the annoying thought that “the world we live in isn’t fair.”
Caroline had the Internet and social media at her fingertips and that’s how it started.
“One day, I was reading posts on Facebook and came across one from a man who was literally begging for help. He had cancer and no money for food and to get to his chemo treatments. I was shocked by the reactions to his plea, a lack of empathy by so many people who responded in a very unkind way and by those who gave useless advice. You just needed to look at his Facebook pictures to see his health was very bad and I knew it wasn’t a scam. He was in Jerusalem and I live in Herzliya, but I asked him for his address and sent out a check. He called me in tears to thank me.”
“My life continued. His did not. I checked his Facebook page a few months later and discovered that he had passed away. This bothered me deeply and over the next few months, I would often think to myself that I should have done more. I knew I had to do something on a fairly wide scale but wasn’t sure what or how. Then one day in February of 2017, I came up with the idea of starting a group on Facebook called Support an Oleh.” I wondered how people would find the group and if anyone would join. It was clear what the aim of the group was but would anyone really care? “
“I made up some guidelines with the aim of the group being to help less fortunate new immigrants from any country. All items and services offered must be free of charge with preference given to those in financial need. Later, we added that if a person is not in need and would like a particular item, they need to make their status clear and they can get it if nobody in need wants it. In return, they are asked to do a food shop for someone who needs help or donate dry foods. No articles, blogs or links to articles that are not of direct relevance to the group may be posted. If we hear of a suitable job opening, we put that up, and, if someone is in need or knows someone in need you can post that on the site.”
“As more and more people took a greater interest, it was clear that I couldn’t do this on my own so I asked some of the especially active members if they would become even more involved and be part of administering the group. We became the “Super Four” – Barbara Diamant, Tania Shalom Michaelian and Naomi Ingram-Chanoch with the ongoing legal support of Dorit Stern from Olim Shield.” (Olim Shield is a NPO that helps olim as they navigate through the various avenues of their new lives in Israel). Today the group has over 5,500 members all across the country.”
“There are many ways to help. When someone in the group needs food, someone offers to buy them food or give them food vouchers. When someone needs baby clothes or formula, we do our best to provide. You would not believe the needs of our olim: food, baby supplies, formula and equipment, clothing for all ages and sizes including shoes and warm jackets, linen, radiators, toys, appliances, furniture and household items, including dishes and silverware (doesn’t have to be a matched set), a ride from the hospital after treatment (too weak to take a bus afterwards) – and the list goes on.
YUSSI, HIS wife and four kids ranging in age from 12 to 3.5, have been living in South Tel Aviv for 11 years. Yussi, 35, is a car mechanic who suffers from chronic venous insufficiency, a condition in which it is difficult for blood to return to the heart from the legs. Yussi had to leave his job and begin expensive treatment, not all of which was covered by his health fund. He found “Support an Oleh” and couldn’t believe the kindness shown when different members offered to help him get the bandages he needed, enabling him to start on the slow road to recovery.
In the middle of all this, the house suddenly became infested with bed bugs. The kids were covered in bites. It got to the point where they were all sleeping in one room and out of desperation, he contacted the group again. In just a few hours, he got a message that a member was covering the costs of a professional exterminator and another member would paint the kids’ rooms, which were covered with splats of blood. The members of the group also arranged a bat mitzvah party for Yussi’s daughter and took care of everything: dress, hairdo, manicure, the venue, a beautiful centerpiece, decorations, photographer and even party favors for the guests.
”These acts of kindness have had a huge impact on my family and I am now, finally, absolutely getting out of the gutter. To say this group is “fantastic” is an understatement. I can’t wait until I am in a position to pay it forward.”
THE GROUP also runs other “amazing campaigns” to help families that have been suddenly hit by illness.
“We help single mums. Some work 10 to 12 hours a day but still cannot make the month. Arranging an online shop for them every so often makes a huge difference in their lives. Because Support an Oleh is not a registered charity, when financial help is requested, a pay-box is set up so the committee can check the legitimacy of the request.”
People offer items they no longer need that are in decent condition (not clothes with holes or stains or appliances that on their last leg, for example). Others help deliver the items that can be left at any one of the 24 collection points all over the country that are actually the homes of members.
Yehudith, a retired cartographer from Givatayim, found the group on Facebook over a year ago and just happened to have some items to donate. This snowballed into delivering food. At one of these deliveries, she met Miri, with whom she’s still in contact today and who she continues to help.
“There are so many new and even older immigrants who fall through the crack of social services and it’s just not easy for many of them to get help. I’m thankful that I’m on the helping side, but you just can’t take these things for granted.”
According to Caroline, getting items around the country is not always easy, but generally, where there is a will there is a way.
“I have no idea how many people we’ve helped, but there are quite a few that we continue to help on a regular basis. For me, it is most important to reach olim who don’t have anyone else to help them, those who don’t have family or friends and are not part of a supportive community. Often, just having someone to listen to them and show they care is as important as material help.”
“I often think to myself if everyone in the world would do a kind deed every day, things would look a lot different, so this is my small way of giving back and I am absolutely delighted to be able to do so.”
You can visit/join ‘Support an Oleh’ on their Facebook page.
Olim Shield: olimshield.org.il