Remember the first time you moved? I don’t mean the first time you went off to school, or your first apartment after leaving home, I mean the first time you had to move an entire household. When you and your partner, your children, your pets, and everything you own had to be uprooted and transplanted to a new location.
Remember how difficult it was? How packing up took three times longer than you budgeted for? The logistical nightmare of securing time off, arranging for trucks, keeping all of your family in the loop. Maybe you’ve had the distinct challenge of moving from a larger home into a smaller one, and you had to work out the complicated arithmetic of what you should definitely keep and what could be safely donated, stowed away, or dumped.
It was hard wasn’t it? Even under the best of conditions, even with the best reasons and motivations, moving is always going to be a challenge. Now for most of us, moving might mean a new neighbourhood in the city. It might mean an entirely new city, perhaps one hours away from your original home. In extreme cases, you might even move to a new province or state.
Now imagine you had to make the same move, but to an entirely new nation. One only accessible by air travel where every single pound of luggage carries a cost. One where you may or may not fully grasp the language. One where hopefully there is a demand for your skills, but one can never be too sure.
That is the challenge facing those making Aliyah, of Jews who feel the call to return to their ancestral home. And it’s why they must receive support to make the transition successfully.
Making the leap
Aliyah is not something one can jump into without serious consideration. Even for those who have dreamed of returning for years, putting together the preparations for Aliyah can be daunting.
Most need to make concentrated plans for more than a year in advance to even have a hope of being successful. The eligibility and application process in itself is a bureaucratic nightmare involving stacks of forms and in-person interviews, with an Israeli Shaliach (a sort of liaison officer) who will do their best to take them through the process but also has many other cases to attend to.
The larger your family, the more complicated the process. Children need to be accounted for, preparations need to be made for their continued education and the massive disruption the move will make to their lives. Pets need proper vaccinations up to Israeli air travel standards and all the documented proof, and on and on it goes.
This isn’t even getting into the personal preparation. Those hoping to make a successful transition need to learn at least a passable level of Hebrew so they won’t be stranded in a new land without knowing the local language. Learning a language, possibly from scratch, is difficult enough on its own. Trying to do it while also juggling dozens of other obligations and preparations is nearly impossible.
While there are government organizations that help with the process by offsetting some of the cost of the move and providing preparation materials and advice, it is still a challenging process – one that many Olim (immigrants) are surprised to discover is the easy part of the journey.
Building a new home
Unfortunately, even with diligent preparation it can be difficult to assimilate into Israeli society. While every Olim’s journey will be different and some settle without a hitch, many report difficulties with finding affordable housing, satisfying and well paying work, and new social connections to replace what they gave up.
The real estate market in Israel is very tough. There is high demand and low supply for affordable, comfortable homes. This is only accentuated when Olim wish to settle in specific neighbourhoods or cities. Anglo settlers may find it much preferable to settle in an Anglo neighbourhood with a healthy population of fellow immigrants from Western countries to commiserate with, but that means they’re buying or renting in a seller’s market that knows they can get away with charging extra.
Olim who lack the means to compete in that environment can settle in different areas, but that also exasperates the other major hurdles facing new immigrants, employment and assimilation. While a person’s University credentials may be impressive in Canada, employers in Israel have no idea what the value of a degree from U of T or McMaster is and might have little interest in finding out. That’s assuming the language barrier doesn’t automatically disqualify them. If an immigrant’s Hebrew isn’t up to the task it will be extremely difficult for them to find a job no matter what kind of experience or diploma they have backing them up.
Then there are all the other difficulties of adjusting to a new culture. Make no mistake, Israel is a country of welcoming, friendly people, but they do things their own way. If you think it’s difficult to get a barista’s attention at a Star Bucks in Ontario, you are in for some culture shock in Israel. Transactions and interactions in Israel tend to be more aggressive and direct, with the squeaky wheel getting the grease while the more "polite” are pushed to the sidelines. If you’ve spent your entire life in a country where patience is a virtue and rudeness a cardinal sin it can be difficult to adjust!
The difficulties are even greater for the young and more mature. Children and teenagers give up their familiar routines and social circles for an entirely new way of life. Older Olim who experienced the call later in life may face difficulties adjusting to the pace of their new life in Israel, or in finding community bonds to engage in.
Support is crucial
Despite the challenges involved, the majority of Olim say it is worth it. For Jewish people returning to their homeland, no amount of struggle and difficulty can outweigh the spiritual and cultural fulfillment of living in the Holy Land and connecting to their heritage in such a direct and personal way.
They don’t need warnings, they don’t need second guessers doubting their actions, what they need is support.
Many new immigrants need a helping hand to fully engage with their new life in Israel. Whether this is in the form of assistance with finding housing, direct financial or physical support to make ends meet, or finding a place in their new community and new friends, a little bit of kindness can go a long way.
At C4i, we’re doing everything we can to extend that kindness forward. Helping new immigrants is one of our foundational goals. We provide assistance for new families, after-school programs for their children where they are provided healthy meals, education, and social activities, and community institutions such as our Dine with Dignity restaurant in Dimona. Here, struggling Olim can enjoy a healthy, judgement free meal, make connections with fellow Olim and community members, and be connected with other assistance resources such as language training.
Making Aliyah is a heroic act, but one few can make completely on their own. A little support can go a long way in easing the transition and letting new families put down the kinds of roots that will help support their community in turn.