Recently, I asked my olim subscribers for input on major challenges and dilemmas they faced following their aliyah. I share with you here the main subject of the responses.

While the complaints are many and the list is long, one overly dominant theme runs through everything – the limitations and hardships encountered by olim due to a lack of Hebrew proficiency.  A partial list of the difficulties:  negotiating with banks and service providers, communicating with our children’s teachers, finding employment and deciphering a simple credit card statement.  A client told me that he sticks all the letters from the bank, unopened, in a drawer, because he cannot understand them. A talented O.T. I know does not even bother marketing to Hebrew-speaking potential clients, due to her language deficiency.

Aliyah is difficult enough for one who understands and speaks Hebrew. Just think of the cultural differences, the lack of a nuclear family, the relative costs of food and clothing as a percentage of your income, the lower salaries, the falling exchange rates which affect pensioners – the list seems endless.  But for the most part, these things are out of our control.  We can’t change them, but we can learn to manage and make the best of them.

But not to learn the language of our adopted country? I realize that for many people it is very difficult, but through my counseling I have also encountered deliberate decisions and just plain laziness on the part of many olim not to learn enough Hebrew with which to carry out the major and minor tasks of daily living.

When in our history did Jews immigrate to a new country and not feel the absolute necessity of learning the language?  I understand that for older olim and pensioners the task is especially difficult. But I have met many families in the prime of life, raising children and at the peak of their working and professional careers, who cannot function at a very basic Hebrew level. Maybe someone can enlighten me, but historically, aren’t we Jews the master adapters? So how is it that when we have come back to our own country, with our own language, so many find Hebrew an insurmountable challenge to their cultural and material assimilation?

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