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Dear Mister Knesset Man, English-speaking olim deserve mention too

Nobody, but nobody is helping immigrants from Western countries - and even MKs who should know better don't seem to care
A client seeks work at an unemployment office in Jerusalem (Photo by Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
A client seeks work at an unemployment office in Jerusalem (Photo by Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Recently I read Dov Lippman’s article announcing his intent to run for Knesset in last December, and here is my belated response.

Dear Dov Lipman, I’m writing because I’m an American Oleh like you. Probably unlike yourself, I actually have to work for a living if I want to live here in Israel.

I’ve noticed that you made specific mention to assist Russian converts and Ethiopians in prospering here in Israel. What about American Olim from ordinary middle class backgrounds? How about taking a stand for your own people? You’ve said that your grandmother related that in Auschwitz every Jew was an equal Jew, regardless of background. So let me tell you a little bit what’s it like to live here as Americans that actually are part of Israeli society.

Olim Hadashim living here are being abused and exploited.

Anglo olim get 0 help from a particular Anglo non-profit organization, and I mean 0. This organization will go unnamed, but it has aggressively marketed Aliyah (immigration to Israel on a holy premise) to North Americans, and has self-lauded its imaginary social services. I’ve talked to dozens of olim about this, and they all agree about this organization on that point. How can anyone get paid to have an office, and a title to be an “employment coordinator”, and then just tell you to look on the internet if you need, actually, anything? As you can imagine as new immigrants there’s quite a few things we desperately do need.

Blitheful New Olim.

When this organization used to call me every month during the 1st year of my Aliyah, I’d tell them I don’t want any more of their help (already knowing what “help” means). The organization man on the phone would get defensive, and insist that I listen while he prattle off various services offered by said organization. So I would sometimes be dumb enough to reconsider, and contact the employment office, or whichever office at this organization. The answer from the organization’s “expert” would invariably be, “Have you considered looking on the Internet?” Honest to God, I kid you not, other times it was often “Have you heard of LinkedIn? You may consider creating a profile on LinkedIn.”

I have one friend who gave up trying to make it in Israel, and now moved back to LA. He came to Israel just to risk his life serving in the Israeli army. Afterwards he wanted to make Aliyah, but as he just spent the last three years sitting in the desert watching rocks erode on the Jordanian border, he needed some help to find an apartment and adjust back into civilized life after his national service. What did experts at this organization tell him? “Look on the Internet.”

soldier hearing rocks
Proud Jewish Oleh in the sun a little too long.

This organization seems to me a corrupt front to get money from donations and the gov’t, and actually does nothing for olim. Don’t get me wrong, they do distribute one-time sums of cash to new olim, but all they are doing is redistributing wealth that was donated to them for this purpose.  From my understanding they don’t even distribute the funds evenly: some people get many thousands of dollars, and others a pittance. It seems up to the discretion of the so-called non-profit.

I’ve worked for several refugee centers in Buffalo, New York (including Jewish Family Services). I know that what this organization is doing is a great disservice to the Anglo community. In Jewish Family Services we maintained contacts with employers, and we arranged the interviews for the refugees. We made arrangements for English classes. We made arrangements for transportation to the English classes; day care during if necessary. We made the arrangements with landlords, and even the utility companies. You know, “non-profit stuff.”

Why not just cut the expenses of this organization to the government altogether? Just have a disheveled drunk homeless guy with dirty beard stand next to the incoming El-Al planes filled with new olim. He should just wear a sandwich board that reads, “New in Israel? Need a job and an apartment? Check the internet!….And hey! You’re welcome!” (In small print below will read “formerly said organization”).

bum gives job advice
One hour after aliyah plane landed

Many of my friends have had their security deposits stolen by their landlords, or other similar situations. One ba’al teshuvah woman (a secular whose become devout Jewish) I worked with was beat up by her landlord, and, before physically throwing her onto the street, he stole her $1000 iPhone. Naturally the Israeli police took no action. In fact I’ve been the victim of hit and run accidents twice in Israel, and both times the police refused to even file a report. Another friend was viciously attacked by a drug dealer with a broken beer bottle. He was brutally stabbed in the face repeatedly with the broken bottle, but, before leaving my friend unconscious and bleeding to death on the street, naturally he stole his $1000 iPhone. After the police released this animal on bail, the Israeli government let him flee the country to his family in NYC. The DA has yet to actually take on any legal action against this thug after over a year. FYI my friend did survive the attack after intensive medical care.

We have no legal recourse in Israel for this kind of treatment, as we are forced to work in jobs that often pay thousands of shekels less than the national average.We can’t afford lawyers, barely rent.

We are usually forced to working degrading telephone jobs. Some times it’s sales, sometimes it’s customer service, and often all 3 shifts in a week. It’s not uncommon to work a morning shift and then followed by a night shift, then repeat this egregious schedule. I personally have chronic neck pain because the office was not ergonomic. I’m over 6 feet tall and the monitor was on the desk at elbow level, and we were only allowed ½ hour break during the whole shift. I couldn’t boost the monitor because they gave us a different desk each shift, and each small desk sat 2 people per shift and was shared by 80 some odd people on the shift; this created way too much chaos in between shifts.

I also have had ringing in my ears for the last 7 months from the head sets. It’s called tinnitus, and improper headsets cause it. A Google search indicates it’s permanent. I gained about 15 pounds from eating meals after work during all bizarre hours of the night and then going to sleep. Recent studies even confirm a link between shift work and cancer. There’s also a link to decreased learning skills in case you were planning on learning Hebrew or something. Don’t even get me started on how it felt to be verbally abused by customers making random calls at 4:37 am. Don’t get me wrong, I realize that we’re starting anew in as immigrants from the bottom, but stay with me here.

Many, if not most, of these English telephone jobs are scams, such as the green card lottery. We’re forced to steal money from people all over the world, because we speak English; as if we’re the orphan’s from Oliver Twist forced to find tutelage in some den of thieves, by the school of hard knocks.

One of my previous employers, Or, short changed me, and every other English employee on every single paycheck, and assured us any time anyone confronted him that we were wrong since, he graduated from law school. If he didn’t actually blow us off altogether, as was often his wont, he assured us that we didn’t know Israeli law like he did. Well, from what little English documentation of Israeli law is available, he was clearly making laws up as fast as he could speak. I (and all of us) eventually grew wise to his game however, what actually mattered was that I couldn’t afford a lawyer to sue his ass back to law school where he belonged, because he obviously had no respect for Israeli law. By the way, the owner of that company has strong professional and personal ties with a certain high profile Israeli now serving time in penitentiary for corruption charges while in office.

Yeah, you wanna work for this guy.

These are dead ends jobs. These are dead end positions that Anglos work in, and don’t practice Hebrew, until they eventually go back to the States, UK, etc. I’ve sent out thousands of CVs for non-telephone/shift/scam jobs. I have a technical degree in computer administration. I have conversational Hebrew. I’ve never been called for a non-telephone job.

If we must all work shifts during the week (morning, afternoon, and midnight) in English jobs then how can we arrange to go to Ulpan (Hebrew language instruction for immigrants)? If the meager education benefits for Anglos in Israel are for Hebrew programs and only good a few years, then how can we ever attend? How can we ever become valuable in the Israeli job market? We have no access to education that would make us valuable in the Israeli job market, as relevant education is in Hebrew only. There actually are degrees in English that are like 800% the cost of a Hebrew degree, and the programs are often cash cows with no employable skills, such as a master’s in “biblical conflict resolution.” Yeah, let’s see the HR guy whose eye’s light up when he sees that Cadillac of degrees on a resume. I believe many of these oleh benefits have been created as a bait and switch to prospective Western olim. They’re set up in such away that the government knows that many olim will never be able to collect.

When I met with my case worker at Misrad Ha’klita (Immigrant Absorption Ministry) for the first time, I was told that I don’t get all the benefits, because I’m not from a formerly USSR country or Ethiopia. I’ve heard that Ethiopians get education benefits for life, not just a few years, and even their children born in Israel get full benefits for life. I realize many would speciously say that immigrants from 2nd and 3rd world countries need more benefits than those coming from 1st world countries to acclimatize to life in a developed country. I say that’s nonsense. The costs of integration into a foreign society are the same for everyone who must make a living and learn the language; all the more so in a nearly-Western, kinda-developed, country like Israel.

I do make a distinction of the many Americans who move here and are independently wealthy. They buy private million-dollar homes that even the Israeli middle class couldn’t afford in a million years of hiding sliver dollars in the floor boards. Furthermore, this group of Anglos has no serious intent of ever working in Israel as a form of subsistence. I know what you’re thinking. You’re right, this group of Anglos has no need or use for real integration into Israeli society; they have no urgent need to learn Hebrew. Pretend education benefits and pretend non-profits are great for this sector. It makes them feel welcomed to the country, without actually needing anything or receiving anything. They have no need to deal with the daily trials and tribulations of life as an outsider trying to make the impossible happened and to integrate into Israeli society. There’s a general conception among Israelis that this group represents all Anglos. Say hello to the Martians for me while you’re up there in space.

Take me to your leader!

After the first time I got fired here in Israel, I went to the unemployment office. I was working in a warehouse 11 hours a day. On the day I got fired I was lifting boxes of sporting goods from ground level to a shoulder height shelf. The boxes were about as large as I am (6’1 and 200 and some pounds). The boss didn’t even fire me. He sent me on unpaid vacation for 30 days with about 30 seconds notice, because that’s legal in Israel. The owner was a relative of a relative by marriage, and so after fighting with them I managed to get the warehouse to actually fire me. Dismissal note in hand, I headed down to the unemployment office, where the case worker yelled at me for not speaking Hebrew. She continued to yell at me that I have no benefits coming to me, and she wasn’t going to find me any job. I’ve had this conservation with other olim, and I’m not the only one to be yelled at by the unemployment office for getting fired and … know… being unemployed in the…uh…um… unemployment office.

The bottom line is Americans that must work to survive here never integrate into Israeli society, and become the victims of indefinite abuses and exploits. This is a time when 1/5 of Israelis live in poverty, how much more so, we that are foreigners in foreign land with no protection. These are the points we must address as Anglo olim:

  1. We need better access to Hebrew language education.
  2. We need vocational training relevant to the Israeli job market.
  3. We need legal representation. This one is crucial.
  4. We need assistance securing interviews and apartments.
  5. We need fair working conditions with fair pay.
  6. We need protection from abusive land lords.
  7. We need long term housing incentives that don’t only benefit those Americans coming here with large sums of money (with nothing better to do than wait for the Benjamins to grow payot).

As we celebrate Yom Haaztmaut (Independence Day) in Israel, let us also remember that there’s still much work to be done for the prosperity of Jews of all colors, national backgrounds and challenges. Kind Regards, Bryan Bergman

About the Author
Bryan is a writer from Buffalo New York. He made Aliyah in 2010. As he explores being a sentient being in this strange world he continues to write about life's meaningful experiences and the issues of our times.
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