Friday, March 04, 2016

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Is Life in Israel “Downright Obstructive”?

by Reb Akiva @ Mystical Paths

A reader interesting in making aliyah (Jewish family returning / moving to Israel) from the U.S. wrote me about some concerns and negative feedback they’ve been hearing…

I’d like to get your perspective on the negatives that keep coming our way.  Surely you, as a forever resident, can clarify for us what we are hearing:

- That there is mistreatment and corruption at all levels, even in law enforcement.  (this is fairly tightly regulated here in the States)

- That even at the grocery store level there is no social requirement for helpfulness or responsiveness. (because there is less pressure from a marketing competitiveness)

- That North Americans are not really sought after or wanted or helped by the government compared to others.

- That life in Israel isn’t hard, it’s downright obstructive.

- That basically we will be eaten alive by the bureaucracy before we even unpack, depending on what mood the clerk is in that day.

Is this the case only for we olim (immigrants) who harbor “the dream” for years and show up starry-eyed in unrealistic infatuation?  And if this is the case, why did it appear to us when we visited that residents seemed happy?  It can’t ALL be about the great food!

How do people like you navigate your way through this to achieve some sort of protection from your own country?

Akiva answers…

imageI'm not a "forever resident", having returned to our homeland just over 8 years – no longer an oleh chadash (a new immigrant), but not quite a veteran of Israeli society.

We'll set aside the Zionism, Jewish homeland, religious reasons, and coming home drivers for a moment.  Let's talk some up-sides and address your questions...

-- Israel has a higher life expectancy than the U.S., and is actually #3 in the world.

-- Israel has a higher happiness index than the U.S., by a significant amount.

Israel is full of Jews, about 5% of which came from the U.S., and probably 40% who speak some English, but it is NOT the United States of America.  It's a different system, a different culture, with a different mind set.  Some things are better, some worse, and many just different ways of doing things.

"That there is mistreatment and corruption at all levels, even in law enforcement. ( this is fairly tightly regulated here in the States)"

Many who have run-ins with “the system” in the US would disagree about it being "fairly tightly regulated".  In particular the administrative state in the U.S. has become so ridiculous that it's pretty hard not to break laws on a daily basis - and get hung out to dry if somebody arbitrarily comes after you on it.  I personally was accused of "building without a permit" for removing old carpeting (go ahead, prove you didn't build), and for trimming a tree (yes, it was a crime to cut down a tree in my own yard where I lived).  But putting that aside...

Yes the Israeli system has some problems with corruption, and with influence peddling.  In some ways this isn't so different than the US, just a little more obvious.  It has been doing a reasonable job of cleaning itself up over the last 10 years.  But more to the point, why would do care?  Do you plan on becoming a land developer, or a supplier of services to the government?  Meaning - few people have day to day run-ins with the portions of the system having such problems.  In other areas, what seems like corruption or mistreatment is a misunderstanding of the local system – remember, it’s the not US.  Sometimes the Israeli system requires getting to know people, and bringing community pressure, and using contacts – Israel is NOT a representative democracy, the officials are not dependent on servicing your area (there are no geographic constituencies).  As a parliamentary system, it’s all about relationships and pressure.

On the side of the police and criminal justice system, the police have less restrictions on their actions than in the U.S., and indeed do not treat citizens with respect, BUT also DO NOT shoot suspects.  There are almost no police shootings in Israel, even in normal crime situations.  And the police have to worry about terrorist incidents as well (which is about the only time there is police shooting.)  In other words, in Israel, #JewishLivesMatter.

"Even at the grocery store level there is no social requirement for helpfulness or responsiveness (because there is less pressure from a marketing competitiveness)". 

This is a cultural misunderstanding.  Yes, true, customer service and pandering ("the customer is always right") is not part of Israel culture or business.  On the other hand, if you approach an Israeli in a store and ask for their expertise, not only will they help you, often all the people nearby will join the conversation to offer group advice. 

Israel has a flea market / swap meet / shuk / baazar culture - everything's a negotiation and you have to push to not be taken advantage of - but also a brotherhood culture, when someone needs everyone will jump in.

"That North Americans are not really sought after or wanted or helped by the government compared to others"

Not helped by government immigration funding compared to others - true.  If a Jew is arriving poor from Argentina, they will get 20x the benefits of an American, who is assumed to arrive with skills and resources.  The system is modeled on average wealth of point of origin.  Though it’s worth noting that Nefesh b’Nefesh stepped in and covers much of this gap, and is only for Americans and Brits.

Not really sought after - before coming to Israel you MUST have an idea if you have skills, or a plan for acquiring them, that are of value in the Israeli employment market.  How are you going to support yourself?

Areas where Americans are in great demand... high tech (computers, software, engineering, science fields), medical, dental, bio-tech, international sales (usually high tech), pharmaceutical.  Many Americans are also successful working remotely as lawyers, writers, software support, continuing their US jobs.

Jobs where there is too much competition and Americans are unwanted: mechanic, construction, network administration, law enforcement, retail, food, media, government administration, banking, mashgiach kashrut (in Israel), sofer stam.

Americans without skills end up:  teaching English, working in call centers, cleaning, running daycare centers.

"That life in Israel isn’t hard, it’s downright obstructive"

Life in Israel is DIFFERENT.  Some things are harder, some easier, some very challenging, some completely unrestricted.  If you come with "it's got to be the American way", then it's going to seem obstructive.  EVERYTHING is different, you have to learn the new normal.  Banking is different, renting an apartment is different, school systems are different.  Is it obstructive that it doesn't work the way you are familiar with?  No, it's a new country!

"That basically we will be eaten alive by the bureaucracy before we even unpack, depending on what mood the clerk is in that day."

How's the DMV where you live?  Every tried to get a permit (yourself) to remodel your bathroom?  Ever been fined for a "obstructive bush"? 

The problem with coming to Israel is you have to walk through so much bureaucracy that you might never touch in the US or touch once over 10 years...and you get to do it all in a few months, yay!  You have to go through…

-- The immigration offices (Misrad HaKlita)

-- The interior offices (Misrad HaPnim)

-- Getting/transfering a drivers license (Misrad HaRishiu)

-- Getting into the health care and social security system (Bituach Leumi)

-- Getting into an HMO (Kupat Cholim selection and office, 4 options)

-- Getting children into school (Egaf HaChinuch + schools)

-- Getting an electronic public transportation card (Rav Kav)

-- Selecting a bank and opening an account

-- Registering for city occupancy tax (Arnona)

-- Deal with import paperwork and import office if you ship in your household goods (Meches - import tax certification)

-- Deal with the arrival at the port itself (Sochen - port agent)

(I’m sure I missed a few.)

You get to have all the fun doing all that, in Hebrew, and if you get any of it wrong you have to do it again.  Some of the offices may be local, some in another city.  Each office has it's own hours, with surprises (like closed Tuesday afternoons).  Each requires it's own paperwork, and some require paperwork from others (meaning the list above has to be done in the right order).

Bring a smile, a good attitude, a good book, every piece of paper you are issued by every office to every other office (bring a briefcase), and just know it's going to take some months to get through it all and get everything settled.  But once it's done, it's done.  And if you are using someone like Nefesh b'Nefesh, they do cut through some of it for you, and at least advise you on the process.  Ask for help, ask neighbors, ask in synagogue.  Everyone has done it and can advise.

"Is this the case only for we olim, who harbor “the dream” for years and show up starry-eyed in unrealistic infatuation?"

Realistic:  How are you going to earn a living?  Don't know?  That's unrealistic.

Realistic:  How old are your children who will be making the transition?  Young, easy.  Older than 8...hard without serious advanced preparation.

Realistic:  Do you have any children with special needs?  ADD/ADHD?  Other needs?  Have you pre-checked out how those needs will be fulfilled in a foreign system?  No, unrealistic.

Realistic:  Do you have any special health needs, special medications?  Have you pre-checked out if those needs can be met or meds are available?  No, unrealistic.

Realistic: Anyone in the family speak any Hebrew?  Read Hebrew (modern language, not prayerbook)?  It's REALLY HARD to arrive with no Hebrew and trying to learn and function in a foreign system.  (Some friends who’ve been here for maybe 2 years came to us… “What’s this we got in the mail?”  ‘It’s a parking fine from the city, says you parked in a no parking area.’  “What do I do with it?” [not as silly a question as it sounds, how do you pay a parking ticket in a foreign country?]  ‘You pay it at the post office.’)

"And if this is the case, why did it appear to us when we visited that residents seemed happy?  It can’t ALL be about the great food!"

30% of olim fail and bail.  70% make it.  The more prepared you are, the better the chance of making it.  Making a living and children adjusting or having their needs met are probably the main reasons for failure. 

But many things are great.  Low crime rate, especially violent crime (which means children can go out and roam and travel by themselves to school safely).  Ready very inexpensive access to health care.  Oh, and it’s Jewish, and our homeland, and G-d’s gift.  Did I mention it’s Jewish?  The whole country is planning for Purim right now.

"How do people like you navigate your way through this to achieve some sort of protection from your own country?"

You learn the system.  How do you avoid getting audited by the IRS, with 100,000 different regulations that could get you?

2 comments:

Neshama said...

Shavua Tov. Very good Akiva! What an attitude. I think Ametican Jews are spoiled, and don't realize they live in a self induced ghetto - American style. BTW, did NJ really give you trouble about a tree? A bush? And a bathroom? Never heard that before.

LondonMale said...

Rav Akiva

This is a very good article which so closely mirrors my thoughts and experiences on Aliyah.

The main point for the questioner to note is:

If you do not have a job offer or know for sure how you will make a living, then you can be in trouble.
This is the overwhelming key to a successful Aliyah for people of working age.
It is the only reason my Aliyah did not work.
I wanted to stay but without a viable job my cash ran out.

As for "Bureaucracy".
Whilst one has to do a lot of form filling and meeting with different agencies as Rav Akiva has listed, he is so correct in saying that a smile, and patience, will go a long way.
israelis value politeness and calmness.
They actually respect it.

But at the same time they do not respect someone who is a "Soft Touch".
You need to stand your ground at times, and have a bit of a "Chutzpahdik" attitude to get along, or else you might up being a sucker (What Israelis call a Frier".)
All this whilst maintaining a good Mussar attitude.
A delicate, but achievable, balancing act.

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