Aliyah Poses Unexpected Challenges for Atlantans

Aliyah Poses Unexpected Challenges for Atlantans

Cultural differences create unique opportunities for individuals seeking immersion within Israeli society.

Patrice Worthy

Patrice Worthy is a contributor at the Atlanta Jewish Times.

Neta Gal, a North Springs grad who is entering the IDF, says the desire to make aliyah clicked for her during an organized trip to Israel without her parents last year.
Neta Gal, a North Springs grad who is entering the IDF, says the desire to make aliyah clicked for her during an organized trip to Israel without her parents last year.

Making aliyah will forever change many Americans’ lives, but as they embark on the journey, they will face challenges.

Israeli culture is a little more aggressive. The people are straightforward. Life can be chaotic.

But young people making aliyah don’t know what they don’t know about life as Israelis. Many have a tough time getting jobs and adapting to the culture.

Those moving with Nefesh B’Nefesh don’t face the hurdles alone, said Zev Gershinsky, executive vice president of Nefesh B’Nefesh.

“We identify four main barriers: social integration, bureaucracy, employment and financial,” Gershinsky said. “We will always be there, and every year that goes by olim tell us, ‘We’re OK. We don’t need your hand-holding.’ After the first year we give very tight hand-holding.”

He said the staff at Nefesh B’Nefesh tries to do everything possible to help olim (immigrants), including job placement and résumé preparation. Nefesh B’Nefesh tries to put young people where they will feel most at home, such as Tel Aviv, the largest city in Israel.
“We just opened a young professionals center in Tel Aviv, the center of the high-tech scene,” Gershinsky said. “We understand that’s where young people want to be.”

For those who make the move later in life, though, the transition can be daunting.

Tamara Haas was 34 when she made aliyah from Sandy Springs eight years ago.

She owned a home-organizing company for listed properties, but when the recession hit in 2008-09, business dried up. Haas was single with no children, so the situation was perfect for a move abroad.

Her experience with Nefesh B’Nefesh was different from the picture Gershinsky painted. She didn’t have a job when she arrived. Nefesh B’Nefesh helped her look for employment, but she said it was a fruitless effort.

“It was eight years ago, and they used LinkedIn as the main source for job placement, which wasn’t very helpful. They told me to go LinkedIn to find a job that suited me. My Hebrew wasn’t very good, so that didn’t help,” Haas said. “Most of the jobs want you to know Hebrew, and it’s easier to learn a language when you’re young as opposed to being 30 years old. I would also fail my job interviews because I was taken off-guard by the questions.”

Prospective employers in Israel may ask questions that are barred in the United States, such as whether you have children, whether you’re planning to get married and how much you pay in rent.

“I asked her why she wanted to know how much I paid in rent, and she said, ‘So I know the minimum I have to pay you,’ ” Haas said about one job interview.

She wasn’t prepared for the employment screening process or the competition for English-speaking jobs, which she said all the olim want.

After about six months of searching and living with relatives, Haas landed a job on her own at a shipping company where her English was an asset. After about a year at that company, she went to work at a tech startup but was laid off.

Haas did a lot of baby-sitting to get through the rough patches, then worked at a kindergarten. She has worked as an au pair the past four years.

The former entrepreneur overcame the challenges of starting over in another country and is now married, but she said she still isn’t fully acclimated to Israeli culture.

She’ll sit on her living room couch in Ramat Gan and order products like Ziploc bags from Target’s website to take advantage of a 24-hour free-shipping special. Americans living in Israel don’t pass up such opportunities to pay less for convenience, though problems with Israel’s postal service could delay deliveries by weeks.

Other adjustments range from buying appliances for apartments to handling rude behavior, and Haas said some olim never feel 100 percent at home.

“My husband looks at me and says, ‘You’ve been here eight years; how come you’re not used to it?’ ” Haas said.

But for Neta Gal, an 18-year-old Atlantan joining the Israel Defense Forces as a part of the Nefesh B’Nefesh Lone Soldier program, moving to Israel is like moving home. She was born in Israel and moved to Atlanta as a child. She attended Greenfield Hebrew Academy and North Springs Charter High School in Sandy Springs. Her mother and father live in Dunwoody about five minutes from the Marcus Jewish Community Center.

Gal said the Atlanta Jewish community was a huge benefit, but she felt a connection to Israel. She wanted to thank Israeli soldiers for defending the land after visiting a cemetery where thousands of IDF soldiers were buried, most of whom were no older than 23.

“There’s a lot of hate in America toward Israel and the Jewish people, and being here, not being able to do anything about it, it really stings. It feels like a waste, especially when you love Israel so much; it doesn’t feel right,” Gal said. “It clicked last year when I was on an organized trip to Israel, and it was first time I was alone in Israel without my parents. I met all of these Israelis my age and clicked with them. I went to their houses and saw how they live, and right then my whole life felt displaced. I never really realized it was because I wasn’t in Israel.”

Rachel Seiden, a 24-year-old from Alpharetta, was teaching English in Rishon LeZion two years ago through Masa Israel Journey when she caught the bug to make aliyah.

Seiden said her parents don’t understand her desire to move to a foreign country, even if it is the Jewish homeland, but she feels as if she’s doing what her ancestors would want her to do.

“I fell in love with everything Israel,” Seiden said. “When I came home, I told my parents I would give America two more years before making a decision. Past generations of people wanted to live in Israel, and the fact that I can do it and Nefesh B’Nefesh and the government make it so easy to do, why would I not take that opportunity?”

She began the aliyah process in November but wanted to keep teaching second grade at the Epstein School, though her heart was in Israel. “It felt like America wasn’t right for me anymore.”

Like Gal, Seiden said she noticed the rising animosity toward Jews, and Israel attracted her as a place where it’s easier to be Jewish. Now she lives in Tel Aviv and is working as an au pair, a job Nefesh B’Nefesh helped her get.

She said it feels good to be a part of a trend of young people moving to Israel.

“It’s the people, the culture and not being a minority anymore. Being anywhere in America and being a Jew is hard,” Seiden said. “I love Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the beach, but it’s just the culture and the people. I would be walking down the street, and a stranger would invite me over for Shabbat dinner because he saw me speaking English, and that just doesn’t happen in America. Everybody is just so friendly, except when they’re pushing you in line.”

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