Featured Post

Free The Hostages! Bring Them Home!

(this is a featured post and will stay at the top for the foreseeable future.. scroll down for new posts) -------------------------------...

May 22, 2012

Absorption and Immigration Ingredients For A Successful National Program

A Guest Post by Dr. Harold Goldmeier

Recently, a consultant from a Think Tank interviewed me. The consultant is working on a White Paper to identify and incorporate best practices into an immigration program for New York Mayor Bloomberg’s office.  An article I wrote on our experiences in Israel’s Ulpan program impressed her: a government funded, classroom experience, designed to teach newcomers in Israel to speak Hebrew. The number one barrier to successful immigration is lack of language fluency.  Job options are limited and schooling is near impossible; making friends, shopping, finding a bus, telling the doctor what hurts, and other daily tribulations of life are overwhelming.

The interview got me thinking about Israel’s appetence for immigration. Immigrating to Israel is known as “making aliyah.” Aliyah is Hebrew for going up, i.e., going up to Israel both physically and spiritually. It’s all in the ATTITUDE.  Israel wants new immigrants and expats to return.  She allocates huge sums in the national budget for outreach, programs, benefits, and services to encourage immigration.

 Israel has a Ministry of Immigrant Absorption that “offers updated information on all types of services (and their rights)…to both new immigrants and returning residents. Information is in Hebrew, English, Russian, Spanish, and French.”  An Absorption Basket of benefits and services begins upon arrival at the airport.  The NGO, Nefesh B’ Nefesh, established in 2002, contracts with the government to stimulate and manage immigration “Soul by soul…one person at a time.” They have brought in over 30,000 immigrants with a 97% rate of success.

Meanwhile, immigration policy discussions in other countries are dominated by nationalism, fear, and bigotry; their aversion is palpable.  America’s Homeland Security agencies handle immigration telling applicants, “Not so fast, buddy.” Even before the economy hit dirt, immigration reform was a killer issue for political careers spurred by radio hosts who rave against.  Migrants know they are going to have long waits, and will need to pay lawyers to fight for them. One U.S. immigration lawyer told me, “coming to the U.S. is a process: visas, Green Cards, work permits, naturalization, etc.” The immigrant to the U.S. is given a basket of laws, rules and regulations and is on his own relative to absorption, except for the goods works of non-profit organizations that operate independently on meager budgets.

The consultant who interviewed me wanted to know how we planned our aliyah. We started thinking about it a few years before, when we sold our family business.  At that time we had one married child living in Israel for nearly two decades.  After we sold our business, a second married son made aliyah. Though we kept active our lifestyle changed as we entered semi-retirement.

As we began to think more seriously about moving to Israel, we met in America with representatives of Israel’s Jewish Agency and Nefesh B’ Nefesh. We talked about the move—packing our house, finding a place to live, work, medical care, living expenses, language barriers, and the psychological impact of leaving our beloved U.S. where we lived in freedom and relative luxury all our lives; leaving our friends, family, our other four children and grandchildren behind in America.

Before we made our final decision we took Ulpan, Hebrew language classes, once a week for a year. The classes were ten minutes from our house and organized by the Jewish Agency We attended NBN gatherings to explore our reasons and socialize with other committed and potential immigrants.  Once we made the decision to move the detail work began.  A pilot trip to Israel was set to explore housing, communities, and if needed schools, employment, talks with doctors, and anything else. There were numerous meetings with the JA and NBN staff in America to process paperwork like health forms, passport pictures, financial aid, and entry visas.

We flew to Israel with forty other Americans making aliyah.  Charter flights are filled only with passengers making aliyah, but we went off-season in the middle of the school year.  The JA paid for our one-way ticket to Israel.  When we arrived at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport our group was taken to a large lounge area; they gave us telephones to call relatives and friends, real food, places to wash up, and then we met privately with counselors from NBN and JA.

We were each handed our Israeli identification card that includes a picture, our I.D number, which is like a U.S. Social Security number but used more often—even to retrieve a package at the Post Office, and other personal information. We were signed up with one of the national health insurance providers; all Israelis receive low cost health care coverage.  Everyone was given an envelope with Israeli shekels—my wife and I received 2,500 shekels, because no one should leave the airport with out money in their pocket.  How you going to buy toilet paper for your apartment, a Coke, toothpaste? A small stipend is also deposited every month for six months or a year directly into your bank account. Finally, each of us was given a free ride from the airport to wherever we were going in the country in a vehicle large enough to carry our six pieces of luggage.

It’s all about the attitude toward the new immigrant.  Make the system as wrinkle-free as possible.  Many staff we met through NBN had gone through this process before us, and their cumulative recommendations and complaints helped create the experience my wife and I share.  My wife keeps reminding me we promised not to take the small things seriously, but to smile and laugh. The immigrant’s attitude is also critical to a successful aliyah. The best gift from NBN is the counselor assigned to help us.  She gave us her email, cell, home and office phone numbers, to ask any questions about any subject.  She even returns emails when out of the country on NBN business. She is a lifeline in a sometimes-rocky sea.

We have a fourteen-point checklist from NBN.  Some items were taken care of in America or on the airplane. Others need more time like converting a foreign driver’s license to an Israeli one, getting diploma accreditation from American universities recognized in Israel to enroll in school or to teach. The checklist also includes information on buying appliances for your home, discounts on purchases as an immigrant, discounts on property taxes, and rent subsidies; getting your shipment of household and personal items released from customs and delivered from the dock. Item ten has to do with registering children in school, and what to expect; enrolling in social security, and paying property taxes.  After three months in Israel, we got an email from NBN reminding us about to-do 14, and go to a government office and register for temporary travel documents allowing us to go abroad for visits without interruption to our benefits package.  A year after immigration we will receive our official passport.  There is a lot to do when you move to a different country.

One day, my wife and I travelled to two different government offices in a nearby city to register for certain benefit programs. We checked online for office hours and locations.  We arrived at the first location, but it was closed on the day we went.  We walked to the other agency; entering a large empty waiting room with chairs lining the walls, I explained in pigeon Hebrew, our intent to the guard at the door.  The guard walks to his desk, puts on his security uniform jacket, presses a button, and hands me ticket number one.  I look around the empty room and ask who is number two? Not funny. He sends me to a clerk who speaks perfect English, but she only takes customer number two. She sends me to a colleague who speaks no English.  After ten frustrating minutes trying to explain why we came to him, my wife leans back in her chair, smiles, and says the magic words to him: “Olim Chadashim,”- New Immigrants.  He jumps from his chair with a broad smile on his face, extends his arms, and loudly proclaims, “Bruchim Habaiim,” -blessings and welcome.  He then realized why we were in his office, and quickly registered us with our I.D. numbers in his computer.  We spent the next fifteen minutes explaining when we arrived, why we came to Israel, about our children here, and discussing Jewish geography.

It’s all in the attitude: the government’s, native Israelis’, and our own.

Reach thousands of readers with your ad by advertising on Life in Israel


  1. Dr. Goldmeier - I don't know if you're reading these comments, but if you are I have a question. When you say NBN has a 97% success rate - how is success defined?

  2. I took the figures from their web site and from comments made to us during meetings with NBN staff. I thought they brought 27,000 people on aliyah, but the editor was told it is 30,000; that is why this figure appears in my post. I did not mean this as an evaluation of NBN, but perhaps it is time for an independent evaluation of their operation including how they define "success." Call them and ask.


Related Posts

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...