A couple of weeks ago, an old acquaintance of mine posted a complaint on the Nefesh b’Nefesh Facebook group. Her tone was aggressive, accusing Nefesh b’Nefesh and the Israeli government of failing to pay her bills and of generally ruining her life. She even threatened to leave the country (because the start-up nation really couldn’t survive without another whiny Anglo!).
I was outraged. I’ve had my share of struggles since making aliyah two years ago, but it never occurred to me to blame the State — or anyone else. Life has struggles, and why should living in Israel somehow shield you from them? For example, in my second ulpan, almost everyone was from South American countries, and I would feel the sting of isolation each time they spoke Spanish among themselves and I didn’t understand (though I did my best to pick up the language!). When the ulpan ended, I moved to a shared apartment in the middle of Ramat Gan with six Israeli girls I didn’t know. Each day I would commute to my work as a hotel waitress in Tel Aviv, where managers would yell at me in Hebrew, a language I wasn’t yet fluent in. (For comparison’s sake: the previous year, I had been finishing up my BA on the idyllic Sarah Lawrence campus in New York, where my only job was to learn).
But the struggles I have faced since making aliyah make me who I am, and I’m proud of myself for having gotten through them. I’ve cried, I’ve felt lonely, and I’ve dealt with types of people I never would have had to deal with had I stayed in America. Yet even at my lowest moments, I never considered going back: I was earning my way in this new country. I was stronger than I thought.
The absorption basket of government benefits didn’t give me a soft landing — and that is fine with me. But what is the real effect of making things too easy? Do aliyah benefits create an expectation in immigrants’ minds that the State will endlessly provide for them? Eventually, the benefits end — and some olim feel betrayed, like children whose parents cut them off without warning (even though there is a warning, and even though Israel is not their parent).
Let’s get real. A lot of Anglos bring so much personal baggage to this country that it wouldn’t even make it past the liberal luggage allowances on their aliyah flight (which I’m sure doesn’t suffice for some of them!). They expect Israel to solve their personal problems, and then blame the country when their issues persist. When Israel offers them help, it reinforces their view of the State as the provider, which in turn leads to more greed and more complaining.
If Israel truly wants to help newcomers, it should dig a little deeper into the psychology of its most privileged immigrants, the Anglos. Unlike the Russians, they are not here for economic reasons. Unlike the French, they are not escaping anti-Semitism. And yet obviously, things weren’t all that perfect for them in their home country, otherwise they wouldn’t be here. Anglos don’t need Israel’s money, although if you start giving it to them, they won’t stop trying to squeeze more out. That’s just human nature.
So what to do with these whiny Anglos?
Connect them to their Zionism, and appeal to the best of their motivation for moving here; connect them to warm communities and to social and career opportunities. Stop with the handouts — nobody appreciates what’s given for free. There shouldn’t be monetary rewards for making aliyah — living in this beautiful country and making a life here is reward enough. After all, it will still be here even when the absorption basket dries up.