Minister Oren: Middle Aged Olim Count Too

Deputy Minister, Michael Oren, recently announced an embryonic plan to financially incentivize Aliyah from America (see here).  But he qualified the type of Olim he’s seeking; young ones. As the article states: “When I moved to Tel Aviv I met many young Anglo Jews who came to Israel because of the good life in Tel Aviv, not necessarily out of Zionism or Jewish identity,” he added. “Why not incentivize young Jewish professionals to make aliyah? That’s the whole idea.”

In framing his suggestion as he has, to incentivize young adults to make Aliyah, Oren (perhaps unwittingly) exposes a painful truth about Aliyah.  The old adage that that “Israel loves Aliyah but hates Olim” is an absolute truism; at least as applied to middle aged Olim.  Culturally, as a society, there is no place for us here.  No one is at all prepared or willing to take the steps necessary to meaningfully integrate us into Israeli society.  Sure, Israel is thrilled we’ve come.  The stores hungrily take our money, the government loves the taxes we pay.  But if middle aged Olim think they will find honorable decent work, the kinds of positions they left to come live here, forget about it.

A simple Google search of “failed Aliyah” or “leaving Israel after Aliyah” reveals all the problems middle aged Olim face. Those problems all too sadly morph into reasons to pack up and return to the diaspora.  A few of the poignant examples can be found: here and here and here

My own experience bears out the claims in those articles. I’m forty-eight years old. I made Aliyah with my family two years ago. Despite over twenty years of experience in a distinguished career as an attorney in America, passing the Israeli bar exams and completing the required clerkship, I have yet to receive an appropriate job offer. “Your experience isn’t quite what we’re looking for.” “Your Hebrew, while very impressive for a new Oleh, isn’t quite up to par to work here.” are some of the replies I’ve received. One head hunter went as far as to say that a firm rejected me because they see no point in training someone my age. Another firm flat out informed me they preferred to hire the younger, less experienced, candidate.

Very often, middle aged Olim are admonished that Aliyah demands a significant amount of professional reinvention and personal rebranding.  Rather than insist on replacing the pre-aliyah jobs they had, they are told to look into “something else.” We knew that coming in. We are prepared, sometimes eager, to enter new fields of endeavor. We want to apply our skills and knowledge in ways that will most effectively assimilate us into the workforce and society.  But more often than not, “something else” turns out to be code for jobs that both are far below our training and experience and pay far less than what we need to support our families. Aliyah, by its very nature, is a humbling experience.  Leaving the cultural comforts of one’s birthplace, adjusting to an entirely new culture, dealing with the myriad difficulties engendered by so life altering a move, makes one feel small as it is.  Accepting the humiliating end of one’s career aspirations, taking a “go nowhere” job that offers far less, both in terms of the job itself and its salary, than one’s abilities, skills and background would indicate, ought not be part of the price of admission to this country.  Israel has to do better.

Clearly government initiatives and even an effort to reverse societal biases will not solve every difficulty Olim face in a highly competitive job market.  Nonetheless, there are things policy makers could do to help a group of Olim, who have much to offer, but are often pushed to the sidelines of Israeli business and professional life.  Here are three modest proposals:

Incentivize Hiring:  To its credit, the Ministry of Absorption provides financial incentives, for one year, to employers to hire Olim.  The maximum amount paid to employers, approximately NIS 3,750.00 per month though, isn’t enough to help middle aged Olim all that much.  The salary expectations and needs we have, given our ages, past careers/experience and need to plan for retirement, are far too high for that sum to really serve as an incentive to an employer to hire someone from that demographic.  A tiered system of incentives, tied into the job type, age and experience of the Oleh should be implemented.  This would be an effective initiative that could greatly assist in combatting the social bias against hiring older Olim.

Streamline Licensing Procedures:  My experience is in law.  In Israel it can take up to a year plus to get a license to practice law from the time one passes all the required exams.  It can take longer if one has a hard time securing a required clerkship.  And then there is the lag between the end of the clerkship and the actual conferring of the license at a swearing in ceremony.  In my case that has turned out to be a three month wait, during which I cannot present myself as an attorney.  There are no provisional or temporary licenses.  My wife was a nurse in America. Our understanding was that it could take up to a year to get licensed upon passing the required exams.  (My wife ultimately decided not to pursue a nursing license, despite her love of the field and her great aptitude for it, given the bureaucracy involved.  She’s using her medical knowledge as a medical transcriptionist in a private lab).  Anecdotally I understand, other fields have similarly long waiting periods.  While waiting to get a license, one cannot, upon pain of criminal prosecution, practice one’s profession.  For middle aged Olim, these waiting periods are torture.  For most of us, preparing for and passing the required exams, and securing internships, can take several months, sometimes more than a year.  Saddling us with additional bureaucratic hurdles and wait times, once we’ve finished the required exams and internships is unfair.  In law, for example, employers will not consider an application for a legal position unless one has an attorney’s license.  Applications for attorney positions in the government are rejected out of hand and not considered unless one presents his/her license along with the first application.  Forcing us to wait up to an additional six months, before we can meaningfully apply for jobs is an onerous waste of our time.  It merely extends what will most probably be a protracted, arduous, usually demoralizing and often humiliating job search.    Licensing procedures must be modified to enable the immediate conferring of a license upon people with extensive past professional experience, upon their completing the required exams and training.

Earmark Government Jobs:  Go to the government jobs portal.  In virtually every government ministry, jobs are earmarked for various segments of the community; for women, for disabled citizens, for Ethiopian Israelis, for Chareidim, for Arab Israelis.  Despite the 2016 law requiring employers, including the government, to consider a job applicant’s Oleh status, the government does not earmark any positions for Olim.  That sends a message; both to Olim and to the community at large.  If the government is serious about helping Olim resettle in Israel and assisting us in finding suitable employment; i.e. positions that reflect our years of experience, skills and abilities, it itself must demonstrate the commitment.  The government has an opportunity to set an example for the rest of the nation.  Are Olim not as precious a resource as, say Chareidim?

To be honest, Deputy Minister Oren’s idea is disappointing.  He’s entirely focused on acquiring what he doesn’t have, and ignores the opportunity staring him in the face.  There is a cadre of people already in Israel; people whose idealism, Zionism and hopes for the future brought them here.  People who have the experience and knowledge to make impactful and meaningful contributions to this country.  And Israeli society ignores us; rejects us really.  Perhaps in addition to looking to the diaspora’s younger generation to build the future society, Deputy Minister Oren might be willing to invest something in those who have already demonstrated our loyalty to and love for the Medina?  That too would be a good investment.

About the Author
Daniel Schwarz, an attorney in Jerusalem, made Aliyah from Rockland County, New York in 2016. He's also an avocational chazzan.
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