My Go North Aliyah Experience

In the past week I have been contacted by two journalists. The first was investigating possible failures in the Nefesh B’Nefesh Go North program, whereas the second was working with the Nefesh B’Nefesh Go North team and wanted to discuss my employment success in the North. The aim of this article is not to bash any organisation but to tell you it as it is.

I am 33, I made aliyah in July 2010 from London with my heavily pregnant wife and son of 18-months. Coming from the UK our aliyah was arranged through the Jewish Agency with Nefesh B’Nefesh providing the support on the ground.

My wife and I had discussed aliyah for about 2 years and due to a change in my employment status we decided to make the move (it was a case of now or ever). We had wanted to live a more rural life and our intention was always to move to the North.

On arriving in Israel we moved straight to Karmiel in the Upper Galilee and fortunately bypassed the mercaz klita with the help of Nefesh B’Nefesh finding us a vacant apartment for a few weeks. My wife was due to give birth in 5 weeks and we needed our own apartment and fast. We committed our time unsuccessfully to finding an apartment. We felt very much alone in during this period, we had a little help navigating (second hand website), however we found nothing suitable. Unbeknownst to us, it was coming to the end of the school holidays (August) when most of the good apartments would have already been taken. We were eventually told about the local real estate agents (tivoukim) and where to find them. Within an hour we had signed for an apartment and it only cost us almost 10% of the annual rent for the privilege of using a real estate agent. We received the keys a few weeks later and soon after our lift arrived (this is another story) my wife went into labour.

In September 2010 we were the proud parents to a second beautiful boy. To make life even more interesting I had also started ulpan just a few days before my son was born. Unpacking boxes, a new baby and attempting to learn a new language all at the same time.

Succot 2011 in Eilat with the family on a company holiday
Succot 2011 in Eilat with the family on a company holiday

I found ulpan hard. I have never had an attention span suited towards formal classroom-based education. I was impatient and determined to start my new life. I started my job search alongside ulpan. I spoke with olim, I spoke with Israelis, I spoke with friends, I spoke with family, I spoke to people in Tel Aviv, I spoke with Nefesh B’Nefesh, I spoke with UJIA, I met with recruiters, I signed up for job sites and eventually, slowly I started making progress. Most of my job search was based on my own initiative with little direction. At this point my CV was still in English and with no assistance offered in translating my CV I went to a relative that does translations. Although she was unable to translate English to Hebrew she asked a colleague who kindly translated my CV for NIS 100 and it has been a talking point ever since. Apparently it was translated extremely well using very good Hebrew! Don’t ask me for the contact details, I was told this was a one-off deal and I still have no idea of the name of the translator.

Through the very kind help of UJIA I managed to secure a interview at a well known company in the Golan. They were looking for someone to develop their business in Europe. The first interview went well, I was asked back for a psychometric test and then I was asked back again to meet with the CEO. The day before my meeting with the CEO I was contacted by the original interviewer to tell me that I need not attend, the job had been given to another candidate. OK, it was my first job interview in Israel and a good experience so no hard feelings. The following day the CEO’s secretary calls me. Am I attending the meeting with the CEO? Again another first, experiencing utter-disorganisation in the Israeli recruitment process. If you are wondering, I still did not get the job.

I was told by Nefesh B’Nefesh that it was important to have a job, it does not matter what job or how little you get paid, but it is easier to find a job in Israel when you already have one. I am not going to say they are right or wrong, this is their opinion. My opinion was different and I truly believed that there are good jobs with decent salaries, you just need to find them. To find a good job in the North of Israel can be like searching for a needle in a haystack – it is there but it could take a long time to find. Often companies might not know they need you, but with some persuasion you might be able to talk yourself into a job. Do not come to the North expecting to find a job easily. Also, be careful where you choose to live as this could severely limit you access to networking and to jobs. I chose to live in Karmiel for these reasons – it was a decision for the short term (a few years). The medium to long term goal for my family was to move to a yishuv.

In February 2011 I went for an interview with an organisation called Gvahim in Tel Aviv.

Gvahim provides highly-qualified new immigrants to Israel with the training, mentoring, networking and placement tools they need to secure jobs at the level of their qualifications, professional experience and career goals.

I was the only person from the Gvahim 12 group living in the Galilee. I travelled once a week for 12 weeks to Tel Aviv for an evening session. I really enjoyed the sessions, I was motivated by the content and received a confidence boost each week. Gvahim helped me to really understand the Israeli job market, to understand the Israeli work culture, negotiate a work contract and to fine-tune my CV and Linkedin profile for the purpose of finding work.

Thanks to the drive I got from attending Gvahim I set myself up as an freelancer (see my post on Registering as an Atzmai in Israel) so that I could undertake small jobs to earn some cash. Through advertising myself on the Yahoo groups I found a job at a small non-profit in Haifa. They needed a more efficient method for their email marketing campaigns. They were sending over 1,000 emails a month using Outlook. I identified a suitable, low-cost email marketing tool, I migrated all their contacts into separate groups, I designed a template for their email and trained them on using the tool.

I also undertook some personal projects to fill in the time prior to finding a job, including the creation of a website called 4Olim Network. The aim of the website is to create a visual directory of products, services and information in Israel for olim.

Towards the end of the 12 weeks at Gvahim I received an email from the CEO of a company in Karmiel asking for me to call him and arrange an interview.

The first interview was arranged with the CEO a few days later in a hotel in Tel Aviv (we were both in the mercaz at the time). We had a conversation for an hour and he invited me to visit him at his office in Karmiel a few days later. He mentioned he had a big trade-show coming up in Paris and he needed someone who could look the part. I therefore turned up at the second interview in a full suit and tie (I probably looked like a complete fool to the other jeans-clad employees). I was not only offered a drink by the blond at reception (which the blonde at reception now informs me was because she thought I was an important customer), but also a job (International Marketing) by the CEO. For the North the money is good, not great in comparison to the UK, but good and excellent for my first job in the North and in Israel.

Shortly after I got the job I asked my boss how he came across my CV. Still a mystery to me. With all my hard work, in the end it was a case of classic Israeli protexia. Shortly after my wife had given birth she was introduced to an organisation called Em L’Em (Mother to Mother). They provide new mothers who don’t have much support in Israel with a volunteer for an hour a week for about a year. My wife had this wonderful volunteer whom it seems is a good friend of my boss, she had passed my CV to him. I therefore stress the importance of networking with Israeli’s as well as other olim as an important part of any job search strategy in Israel. Networking is the most effective job search technique.

It is possible you may not find a job in your field, especially in the North. I have a friend, a UK trained lawyer who was unable to successfully find a job as a lawyer. He eventually retrained as a technical writer. I am not sure of his salary, but I do know technical writing pays well. It might be worth thinking outside of the box (yes, that old cliche), looking at what other jobs you could channel your skill sets into.

I have now been in my job for over a year and successfully renegotiated my salary to include a few items I asked for initially and was not given. Although I still have to settle for little more than 2 weeks paid leave a year (my one major bugbear).

I was recently asked by Mas Hachnasa to complete a tax return as I was registered as Atzmai. A 4-page document in Hebrew, a daunting prospect in any language! I contacted an accountant. He wanted NIS 1,000 to complete the tax return and submit it. With my dogged determination to succeed in this country I asked a native-Israeli neighbour to come and help me translate the document. He thought I was mad to even attempt to complete my own tax return. Regardless, he translated, I completed the information. The result – a credit of NIS 300 into my bank account. I also learnt something interesting during this process, there is everyday Hebrew and then there is legal Hebrew. Most Israelis do not understand legal Hebrew, it is another language to them and only understood by accountants and lawyers. This problem obviously stems from the rapid evolvement of an ancient language into a modern language without the centuries of natural development in between.

About 4 months ago we left Karmiel for a beautiful yishuv called Eshchar which overlooks Karmiel. We are renting a small house with a large garden and space for our kids to roam. Every night I get to see the sun set over Haifa and the Mediterranean.

And my wife. She is a full time mother to the horror of most Israelis. We believe it is important, especially in the early years to raise kids at home. It is not easy financially but we have made it this far. My wife has a blog, Diary of an Aliyah-nik, which she started when we made aliyah.

If you make aliyah (or move) to the North do not expect anyone to hold you hand, your success will be based on your initiative and perseverance. You’ll need to be creative and determined to make it a success.

Good luck!

About the Author
Howard made aliyah from London two years ago and lives on a quiet yishuv in northern Israel with his wife and two young sons. The views expressed here are his own.