Come to Israel! And we’ll be sure to send you someplace else!

The above is a perfect motto for just about every aliyah and voluntary organisation in Israel.

For there’s something the Israeli aliyah organisations fail to tell ‘new’ and ‘returning’ immigrants: Those who want to return to the Jewish homeland should ensure that they have at least half-a-million tax-deductible dollars on their bank account before arriving.

True, immigrants who are not yet multimillionaires are assured of an ‘aliyah package’ upon arrival. But as Liami Lawrence of Keep Olim in Israel points out: aliyah-promotion groups “do a wonderful job bringing us here, and then we get dropped off like a hot potato and it’s sink or swim on our own.”[What will it take to keep new immigrants in Israel1]

Lawrence, who returned to Israel in 2014, set up a Facebook page called ‘Keep Olim in Israel’ in 2015. Within 7 months the group had “20,000 frustrated olim members”.[Facebook group tries to keep olim’s dreams from becoming a nightmare2]

As a ‘returning’ oleh who arrived to stay on July 1st, I’ve had to fight against all odds to remain in Israel. The adversary is a nebulous ministry called Bituach Leumi.

In 1973 I volunteered on Kibbutz Mishmar Hanegev during my summer vacation from Syracuse University. I decided to take a leave of absence and remained on the kibbutz. Nearly a year after the Yom Kippur War I made aliyah (when there was hardly any aliyah from the US). Of my first two years in Israel as an immigrant, I spent 21 months in the army. The Immigration Ministry says I should now have full rights as a new immigrant since I previously did not receive benefits when I was here 40 to 42 years ago. Nor have I received a single shekel since I arrived.

However Bituach Leumi disagrees. “Then let the Aliyah Ministry pay for your health insurance!” was one of the responses. This secretive ministry is difficult to contact. One of my many social workers succeeded in calling a ministry receptionist. However she turned out to have been hired by the ministry to answer the phone, but knew little about them. She explained that although I was a candidate resident, I was not yet a citizen. And I would have to wait six months until I would become one. The social worker shouted: “But I’m holding a document in my hand which states he’s a citizen. Yes I’m arguing! You can be a resident and not a citizen, but not the other way around!”

Before arriving, I had undergone an expensive three-month treatment paid by my Dutch health insurance. It had succeeded and I only needed a check-up. However Bituach Leumi informed one of the first social workers I was sent to that they suspected I had arrived in Israel at an advanced age to sponge off the state. Hence, I would first have to remain six months in Israel without any rights to prove that this was not the case.

When asked why I had returned to Israel, I stated that I had always intended to do so and that now was the best time. In the Netherlands, I had made inquiries, but the various departments which deal with aliyah sent me back and forth and did not provide me with any information. I decided I would see what would happen when I got here.

The first government employees I saw immediately wanted to welcome me as a returning oleh. Though one of them, seeing that I had arrived with a suitcase and backpack containing clothes and books remarked: “That’s what I call cosmopolitan.”

I explained that another reason I had returned to Israel at this time was to translate a book about the Shoah from Dutch into English.[The Netherlands’ so-called anti-Zionism3] In my opinion this book is more important than Anne Frank’s Diary, since it gives a better description of what happened during the war — not to mention events after the Holocaust. Also, I have written a book and can read 10 languages and speak five. Seeing that many in my family work into their 90s and I am one of many people in their 60s who are still capable of learning (my Hebrew is better than it was 40 years ago and I’m learning to type) I could see no reason why I should not be welcomed with open arms.

Monetary rabies

However, I was unaware of a new illness which has spread among many bureaucrats, a form of monetary rabies. The bureaucrats nearly foam at the mouth while screeching: “But you don’t have any money! You need money!” And when informing you of your rights to 1,170 shekels rental subsidy, or the fact that you can work, the bureaucrats, who like everyone else must work two jobs, whip out their smartphones and ask: “I know of someone with a place to stay. You need only add (so much). It’s not that nice but…” Or they can find you a job at an office, where you must sign a contract. If you do not want to tie yourself down before figuring out what is best for yourself, you are in tough luck.

Since Bituach Leumi would not recognise me and I ended up on the beach, I was sent to a homeless shelter inhabited almost exclusively by people who had just gotten out of jail. There were five people in my room. However since I refused to help with cleaning on Shabbat the director began to make problems. Half the residents were non-Jews, but even those who worked had the day off on Friday. I saw no reason why I was forced to work on Shabbat in Israel. Moreover, due to the smell I would sometimes sleep on the beach and return in the morning. I was then evicted from the shelter because the director deemed that I was ‘not suited’ to the shelter.

Not long after returning to the beach, I stayed at a place where the sanitary conditions were so notorious that after a month or so I again returned to the beach. I sent a mail to a ministry explaining that like Moshe Aveinu I saw no choice but to return to the sea. I had been merely quoting Rav Philip Berg’s rather simplistic approach to Kabbalah and had no intention of parting the waters of the Mediterranean, however an official at the Absorption Ministry must have misinterpreted my remarks and summoned me to her office first thing in the morning.

Having heard that I was “too old” for an absorption ministry residence and having no money for bus fare I walked more than 20 kilometers, without sleeping and on an empty stomach. I had also not taken the medications for an irregular heart rhythm that I had been prescribed three years ago for some two weeks. Upon arriving, I was delighted to discover that, as I had suspected, I no longer needed the medications. The ministerial social workers however did not seem at all pleased.

“Returning to Israel without planning for the future? Such a thing does not exist!” I was told. But such a thing did exist. Here I was. Moreover, I had been reading Elie Wiesel who writes about such people.

“Have you done such things before?!” A trick question. Actually, several times, but I decided to answer noncomittally. “We do not have housing for people age 55 and older. At this age you are expected to care for yourself!”

I asked if this isn’t age discrimination. No, it is not, I am told. Then why the limit? No answer.

I am then sent to a counselor. Social workers are by definition Catch-22. There must be something wrong with you. Otherwise you wouldn’t be here.

“Have you ever been to a psychiatrist?”, she asks. I try to remember. Once or twice? And then for just one session. But it’s better to say no since psychiatrists are also Catch-22. If there wasn’t anything wrong with you, you wouldn’t be here.

I am then told that my situation is very sad, but nothing can be done about it. Before leaving, I tell them that they are the ones who should be sad, since they believe in not being able to do anything about anything.

In three months, I have been sent from office to office, from organisation to organisation. Religious and non-religious. If you don’t meet the criteria of the particular group, which can sometimes take until the Olam haBa (next world) you are in trouble.

One question: Why devote vast resources of manpower in a country with a severe manpower shortage to send people from office to office?

Why not invest in ‘older’ people, who in the future will be the future. Particularly Jews are known as a people who respect age. And Jews are also known for longevity. By investing in our own people and in technology Israel will become a world leader in the benefits of longevity. And not in the future, but now.

About the Author
Asaf Shimoni is an author, journalist and translator who returned to Israel in 2016 after spending 40 years abroad, most of them in the Netherlands. He grew up near Boston, made aliyah while living on a kibbutz (from 1973 to 1976), and graduated from Syracuse University in 1978. He also lived some 5 years in Sicily. He is currently in Amsterdam to sort our affairs. He believes that the media should be as critical and truthful as possible.
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