Good migrations

New immigrants prepare for their first Rosh Hashana as Israelis in the Gush Dan region.

olim 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
olim 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
"In the past year or so I’ve made 16 flights back and forth to the UK, dealing with a sick family member. But now I’m here for good, I made aliya.”
Adam Offenbach is a gregarious entrepreneur who speaks with a soft London accent. He was born in London 30 years ago, but his grandmother was actually born in Israel in 1925.
“She left in 1961, so in fact I’m related to one of the small group of Jewish families that were here before the birth of the state in 1948,” he says.
Offenbach first came to Israel when he was 16 years old and later volunteered in a short program that involved several months of army service. The idea of immigrating to Israel stuck in his mind.
“I didn’t really know Tel Aviv very well. I came back when I was 26 and I thought it was amazing. In 2009 I decided I was going to move here. I was involved in start-up companies... and the tech industry in general. It’s funny, because most people are aware of Israel’s role in hi-tech, but I didn’t know that there was a start-up community here. When I decided to come, I just wanted to move to a new place.”
However, making aliya was also a pragmatic decision.
“I was living here a year and a half before I made aliya; I needed to do it because I would lose the benefits.”
Offenbach faced some issues because his mother was Israeli.
“I had a type of Israeli travel document before I made aliya so when I initially went to go through the process they initially thought I was already Israeli, but in the end I did make aliya. I received my identity card on April 11, 2009.”
Like many new immigrants he faces the uphill battle of succeeding financially in Israel.
“I already have some income, but if not for that I think it would be much harder. I get frustrated because the prices are so high here, even compared to the UK.”
Offenbach says he has a close group of Englishspeaking friends as well as Israelis.
“It’s really social here, much more so than back home, much easier to meet people. I’m also looking to settle down with someone. I’ve been in and out of several relationships – I think for me the most important thing would be to find an Israeli who has traveled outside of the country.”
Offenbach comes from a secular background, but he puts on tefillin in the morning.
“I wanted to connect to something and I feel like this limited religious practice gives off a lot of good energy – it’s a meditation thing.”
The holidays are always a challenge for people who immigrate alone.
“For the holidays I’m going to spend time with my cousins and some friends. My mom will travel out here in a few weeks. The community of new olim [immigrants] is like a family here in Tel Aviv.
The period of the hagim [holidays] is very special, a magical time. You can visit Jerusalem and see the spiritual connection. When I was back in London it was depressing to leave the country. I feel very at home here now, and I’m settled, I’m here to stay.”
DOMINIQUE PAZ immigrated from Roswell, Georgia, on September 13. Her two young children and her husband Atsmon, who is Israeli, decided to make the country their home.
“We came on a Nefesh B’Nefesh flight. I had been coming here for 12 years and we decided to settle in Tel Aviv where my husband’s parents live. They are getting older and we wanted to be close to them,” she says.
For them, the holidays have a special meaning.
“We are very excited to spend the New Year here. We are looking forward to celebrating with our family in our new home.”
Dominique, who lives in Ramat Aviv with her family, is busy focusing on her ulpan while the children are in kindergarten.
For younger singles the holidays can be either lonely or offer a cultural contrast to what they experienced abroad. Alicia Keller, an outgoing 33- year-old from Philadelphia, dated an Israeli in the US.
“I was living in Philadelphia before I came here. I had completed law school at Temple University and I did some internships with the district attorney and US attorney’s office.”
She passed up a budding career as a high-powered prosecutor to come to Israel.
“I made aliya on September 15. I love it here, it’s such a laidback and beautiful place, especially Tel Aviv with its beach. I love the sea and I wanted to be somewhere warm and nice.”
Initially she came to Israel last fall on an exchange program with Tel Aviv University’s law program.
“The program was good, it’s a lot better than going to law school in the States. I’m thinking of applying for a job here to do international litigation. They said they want someone with a US law degree.”
The holidays don’t play much of a role in Keller’s world.
“My family didn’t celebrate them much in the US. Actually, I never celebrated at home, so I’m not missing anything. I think I celebrated more with my Jewish ex-boyfriends. I don’t feel lonely at all. In the end I’m sure I’ll go to a friend’s house for Rosh Hashana.”
Keller has enjoyed it here so far. Her only problem was trying to get her Israeli ID card.
“It took me a couple of hours standing in line and the people were very rude for some reason.”
Michael Sussman, 28, from Toronto, is one of those people who made aliya after many years of being in the country. An athletic young man who enjoys going to the gym, he lives in south Tel Aviv and recalls, “I came here initially in 2005. I knew I had lost all my benefits when I decided to make aliya in December of 2010. For many years I lived in Jerusalem, but I decided to come to Tel Aviv a few months ago.”
Sussman has a background in political advising and consulting in his native Canada.
“I came here initially to study, first at the Hebrew University and then at IDC [Herzliya]. I was studying the Middle East, and through my work and writing I got involved in what was going on here. Israel is a central hub of the region, a place that you can be in to deal with the main issues that exist in the Middle East.”
For Sussman the choice of living in Tel Aviv was based on his feeling that Jerusalem was too much a part of the conflict.
“I wanted to experience something new. In the work I want to do in policy-related issues in academics, I wanted to be in Tel Aviv. In Jerusalem you feel the politics more, whereas in Tel Aviv there is greater separation between my work and the reality.”
Sussman, like Keller, doesn’t have holiday plans yet.
“I have no idea what I’m doing, but I think I’ll end up with friends. Usually I’ve spent the holidays with my friends. I do miss my family. Since I come from a close family, it’s a time we all used to spend together. I also got used to celebrating the holidays in Jerusalem, which gives you a deeper Jewish feeling about them. By coming to Israel, actually, you trade your family feeling that you get during the holidays for living in a Jewish place.”
It is difficult to estimate the total number of new olim who will be celebrating the new year as Israeli citizens for the first time this year in the Gush Dan region. Since most immigrants from English-speaking countries come through Nefesh B’Nefesh, its figures may provide a piece of the picture.
According to Nefesh B’Nefesh marketing director Yael Katsman, close to 700 olim, of whom 395 are single and 64 are children, live in the Gush Dan region. Five new immigrants are currently serving in the IDF.
Not every immigrant celebrating Rosh Hashana for the first time as an Israeli will be doing so in ideal circumstances, according to Hazon Yeshaya, a charitable organization which provides meals for the poor as well as vocational training. According to its spokesperson, the organization will be providing 3,000 meals to needy families this holiday season in the Gush Dan region, some of whom are new immigrants from Ethiopia.
Sara-Ann Goldberg, who immigrated from America with her husband, explains that “For the hagim, and every Shabbat, people receive a double portion of food because that is the only day we’re closed. So this year it will be more difficult because it is a three-day holiday. Whether they are religious or not they still need the food. They take home [three days’ worth] of food for however many people there are in their home.”