Aliya the practical way

Brad Hoffman can attest to the idea that a change in life can be beneficial

Brad Hoffman521 (photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
Brad Hoffman521
(photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
‘It was never in my mind to come here,” says Brad Hoffman, who left his Johannesburg home in April 2010 to try out life in Israel.
He’d come to visit many times, and even served in the army in his youth, but Israel as a place to live seemed no different from all the places his friends were going to – Australia, Canada or the United States.
Leaving South Africa, however was something he was sure about. In his work as a consultant he’d spent long periods in Nigeria, found living there less than efficient and feared that his own country was going in the same direction.
“My contracts were coming to an end and, as I completed my assignments, I realized this would be a great opportunity to make a change in my life,” he says.
With a sister and brother already living here, he contacted the Jewish Agency emissary in his hometown and found out his rights as a new immigrant.
In time-honored style, he was misinformed about what benefits he could get and later discovered he could have received financial help to cover his ulpan studies as well. He spent the first month with his brother in Neveh Daniel, then took the money he had budgeted, rented a place in Tel Aviv and joined Ulpan Gordon for intensive Hebrew studies.
“I had zero Hebrew until I did the ulpan,” he says, and he knew getting the language would be the key to finding a good job.
The five months focusing on Hebrew paid off and he found a job in a law firm through a friend who worked there and knew they were looking to hire. He was certainly over-qualified for the office job he was offered, with two degrees and an MBA, but he realized he had to start at the bottom. Before long, he was able to put his special skills to use for the benefit of the company.
“What I do is operational efficiency,” he explains.
“In business you make a profit in two ways – by selling more and reducing costs. My field of expertise is in working to reduce inefficiencies and improve the running of the department. At first I did it under my own initiative and, when the management saw I was succeeding, I got my own department.”
Now comfortably ensconced in a job he likes near the Ramat Gan Diamond Bourse, he also has a steady girlfriend whom he met through Gvahim, an organization he joined soon after making aliya two years ago.
“People don’t realize it, but there is a huge brain gain in this country at the moment,” says Hoffman. “A lot of highly skilled people are coming to live here and the market is not identifying and using those skills.”
Gvahim is a non-profit whose mission is to help highly skilled immigrants fulfill their professional aspirations in Israel. With the help of a motivated and qualified staff and volunteers who have benefited from the program themselves, Hoffman feels strongly that he can, in turn, contribute his skills to what he considers a very successful organization.
“I’m involved in internal fund-raising activities, trying to persuade alumni of the group to donate back so we can sponsor more people,” he says.
Living in Israel has proved challenging in some ways, and while he sees many positive things, he is not without criticism of the Israeli mentality.
“South Africans are on the whole quiet and conservative and we are usually considerate of each other,” he says. “Here it’s a self-centered society, with that fear of being a freier [sucker], which drives Israelis to do anti-social things.”
He also finds life very expensive here, as do many of his friends – not just day-to-day living expenses but also entertainment and travel, although he concedes that the lifestyle and social activities are great.
On the other hand, he has discovered that in Israel, you are never more than three steps away from the CEO of any company.
“This doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world,” he says. But in spite of this he has discovered that the “ p r o t e k t z i a ” (connections) principle still works, and knowing the right people is the key to an easy aliya.
Without any illusions or sentimental attachment to Israel, he is not yet ready to make a final judgment on life here. “You have to give a country at least five years to know for sure if it’s the right place for you,” he says. “It’s true of Australia, England, Canada and the US – all the places my friends went to when they left South Africa.”
Hoffman feels that he has a real relationship with Israel by not seeing it with rose-colored spectacles or as a haven from persecution, like so many other immigrants do.
“I’m not an idealist, so obviously there are things I find challenging, especially the mentality I’m not used to,” he says. “I don’t think I’m ever going to feel Israeli, but that isn’t so terrible. Diversity is a good thing.” ■