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The Start-Up Nation would do much better thinking outside the box on age

Israeli government policies and regulations –- as well as many startups –- tend to follow international norms regarding age, even if they are ridiculous and at odds with Jewish culture
As far as the eye can see: the Tel Aviv view from the Azrieli observatory (photo: Courtesy)
As far as the eye can see: the Tel Aviv view from the Azrieli observatory (photo: Courtesy)

Israel is known as the Start-Up Nation because Israelis – and Jews in general – are more inclined to be flexible and to think outside the box. However, governmental policies and regulations – as well as many start-ups – tend to follow international norms, even if they are ridiculous and at odds with Jewish culture.

My non-Jewish grandfather has always been one of my greatest inspirations. His parents were anusim, Sicilian Jews who because of the Inquisition hid their identity for hundreds of years. During World War II he was said to have helped coordinate the Allied invasion of Sicily. He was a famous race walker and when his knee cartilage wore out a doctor told him to use a wheelchair. He ignored the doctor’s advice and until the age of 93 was the oldest person in the world to run up the Empire State Building every year. In an interview with the newspaper La Sicilia, he said:

Age doesn’t matter. The only thing that counts is your spirit. What you are. How you are. How you move… There aren’t any more old people in this world. I don’t feel old. The only people who are old are those who consider themselves old.”

After posting about age discrimination on the Keep Olim in Israel site on Facebook, I received quite a few replies, some of which are to be found below. Perhaps the most symbolic was the following:

Husband has an IEEE degree, worked as a design engineer for a major US cell company for years – was one of a 5 man team that launched the 1st US nationwide 3G network, has patents in his name -etc. Very smart guy, good work ethic, in great health. Went to many many job interviews here. One in particular exemplifies his experience – was there for hours (4!), at the end he was taken around and introduced to everyone “he’d be working with”. Finally someone pipped up and asked his age.. when he told them he was 59 he was escorted out of the building and that was the end.”

Government agencies and Nefesh B’Nefesh advise Jews not to come to Israel

“Immigrants have returned to their country because of this. Many.”

I had an interview with reps of NBN before I made aliyah. One of the things they told me was that age discrimination is not against the law here. I was 62 at the time, and they pretty much said that I would not be able to find a job here. I did interview for a job doing voice over work, but they offered me 10 NIS/hour which is illegal. They said to me, “You are old, and will not find another job, so take what you can get.” I have not once regretted that I turned them down.”

“Yes,once you are over 40, you are over the hill; at 50, they treat you like you have one foot in the grave.”

Not just olim

“Its general, not just olim. I recall reading recently a piece about some madly qualified Israelis who have to spend most of their time working overseas because nobody will hire them at their ages here.”

Thank for posting. I thought I was losing my mind. I am 51 and have a super resume with recommendations. I have been sending my information and cv all over but people do not even have the courtesy to send a reply. I went for an interview two weeks ago, they basically offered me the job, told me that they would call the next day to finalize. I haven’t heard from them since. Fortunately not all Israelis or Anglos are like that and I think it is still just a matter of perseverance and looking at the half full cup.”

“A neighbor of mine who is a young guy is guarding and discovered that these companies pay the younger employees more that the older ones as a matter of course.”

Don’t put your age on your cv!

“This is a disgrace. Older people have tons of experience, much more value to offer and are much more consistent and dedicated. Israel is worse off I think.”

“For sure, don’t put your age when you apply. At least let them like you enough to call you in.”

I trimmed my CV back to only the last 15 years or so. I made sure I listed the new technologies I use (yes, I’m in hi tech, if you’re out of diapers you’re too old.). I never listed my age or birthdate. And I still didn’t hear back from many. I aimed for jobs that were in my wheelhouse, but not at the same level of seniority.”

Who is responsible for Bituach Leumi’s decisions?

My own experiences have also been harrowing. Having made aliyah in the early 1970s I made inquiries before returning in Israel in July. However, the Israeli embassy referred me to the Jewish Agency, which referred me to the embassy and Nefesh B’Nefesh – which does not deal with anyone residing in the Netherlands. As an avid newspaper reader and journalist I’d read nearly every article on aliyah published in the past 50 years or more and had never seen one describing a change in policy in relation to the rights of olim.

I returned to Israel this July. All the employees in every office I visited welcomed me and told me they would help with my resettlement. However to their surprise (and mine as well) “Bituach Leumi” was of the opinion that I had arrived in Israel “at an elderly age to sponge off the state”. Although I had abundant evidence to disprove this supposition I was told that I could not do so because nobody knew who “Bituach Leumi” was, nor how “Bituach Leumi” formed its opinion. I was subjected to an inter-agency quarrel.

Many tens of thousands of qualified Jews leave Israel

However tens of thousands of olim, returning residents and native Israelis leave the country against their will because of their age. Which is ridiculous if you consider that Jews are known for respecting older people and as a people who are often extremely active at an older age. Leonard Cohen and Shimon Peres are just two examples of many thousands.

In my opinion there are two main reasons for this absurdity.

1) Many bureaucrats and government advisers have been attached to their seats for too long and are more interested in their own positions than the country’s interests.

2) When it comes to age – which is only a number – many people who pride themselves for thinking outside the box are – perhaps without their realising it – embedded inside the box.

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 believes that the media should be as critical and truthful as possible.
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