Andrea Samuels
Andrea Samuels

Nightmare on aliyah street

Welcome sign in the absorption office in Ben Gurion (picture credit Andrea Samuels)

Making aliyah is a challenge at the best of times, especially if you’re doing it with children. The whole process can be very difficult and daunting.

The pandemic has made it even more of a challenge for some of those 20,000 lucky ones who have managed to immigrate to Israel over the past year.

Compromises have been forced on many as the new life which they’d dreamt of having here has not lived up to their expectations.

The first thing to go overboard was the absence of any sort of fanfare or welcome on arrival. In the past, new olim have been met by friends (as was the case when we arrived almost 5 years ago) or the well known Nefesh B’Nefesh fanfare. Since the start of the pandemic, however, neither has been possible, leaving people feeling bewildered and flat as they stepped into the arrivals hall at Ben Gurion airport.

As one woman said: “For years I watched the videos, getting chills envisioning my own arrival and hoopla.”

When the time came for her and her family, however, things were very different. Sadly, her expectations have been dashed many times since they stepped foot off the plane last October.

Invariably, the first 2 weeks for all new olim who arrived during the pandemic, had to be spent in quarantine. They had no real contact with the outside world, making it impossible to explore their surroundings, meet people in their community and settle properly into their new lives.

Before the pandemic hit, new olim tended to rely heavily on others who had been in a similar position to them. Many joined shuls, gyms and other group activities in order to meet people and form support networks. Sadly, this has not been possible in recent times as all group activities, especially indoor ones have been severely curtailed.

Without this lifeline, things have been extremely difficult. Lockdown after lockdown has left many isolated, miserable and in some cases, facing extreme hardship.

The wonderful staff at the absorption office haven’t always been on hand to offer guidance and support as their offices have been closed, which has added to the misery.

Further, many ulpan (Hebrew) classes have been cancelled or at best run on zoom, making it extremely difficult to learn Hebrew and meet new people.

Arguably, children have been affected the most by the pandemic. Extended school closures have caused their education to suffer as well as their social lives.

Sadly, children who have recently made aliyah have had to deal with more exaggerated problems. Many have been stuck at home. As a result, their hebrew is almost non-existent and their education has stalled. School closures have made it almost impossible for them to meet other kids and form friendships. This has taken its toll, not only on them, but on their parents too who are waiting with bated breath for the schools to reopen.

Jobs have also proven rather difficult to come by of late, leaving many new olim struggling financially and even contemplating returning ‘home’ in some cases.

For those who had hoped to commute, this hasn’t been possible. Instead, they have had to make do with working remotely on zoom for example, or give up their jobs altogether.

To make matters worse, New Olim have had to deal with these problems in unfamiliar surroundings and more often than not, in a language which is foreign to them.

For many, what should have been a wonderful time in their lives, the realisation of a lifelong dream, has been anything but.

Like so many things, the pandemic has all but snuffed the joy out of this amazing adventure for a significant number of new olim.

About the Author
I’m a British lawyer from Manchester. I made aliyah in 2016 and now live in Netanya with my husband, 3 children and 3 dogs. As I wasn’t able to pursue my legal career here in Israel, I started a small business editing English language papers for academics. I also write short stories or ‘blogs’ about the trials and tribulations of my new life.
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