Gil Margulis lived in Westfield until this past September, when he made aliya to Israel. It has been a very different experience from his first attempt, 18 years ago. Margulis grew up in a passionately Zionist home. His mother, Aliza, comes from Israel; she fought in the country’s 1948 War of Independence before immigrating to the United States. But when he first tried to settle in Israel in 1991, he found the obstacles overwhelming. This time, with changes wrought by technology and new organizations dedicated to helping newcomers, he has rapidly found his feet.
The Israel I lived in in 1991 was a developing country with lots of large government-run companies and a small tech sector. You couldn’t Google information on the Internet; there was no browser yet. It was an era when the country was being flooded by over 350,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia. However, newcomers from Western countries were considered “rich” and the government had other priorities than helping them. Besides the efforts of a few of the immigrant groups such as the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel, there were no programs to help Americans successfully stay in Israel.
Fast forward 18 years and you find a very different place. Israel’s high-tech sector is driving the economy, and Israel has developed its infrastructure. I can actually use the rail system to get around the country on time, and the European-built trains are nicer than the ones I took on NJ Transit.
But the biggest change in making aliya today from North America is thanks to Nefesh B’Nefesh. Before, aliya from the States took at least six months, with lots of paperwork being sent back and forth and dealing with the notorious Israeli bureaucracy. Today, I made aliya on-line. I filed my application on-line, uploaded all the documents on-line, and had all the material I needed sent back to me via e-mail. It took only five weeks from the time my application was completed to getting on the plane to Israel.
These days, I don’t have to call or go to a government office first if I have questions. I call Nefesh B’Nefesh. Either they can answer my question directly or they have someone on staff who deals with the right person at the government office to help me take care of it. If I need to go to a government office, I know what I need to do and how the system works.
Once you are in Israel, you need to find a job and make a living. If that doesn’t happen, you’ll be heading home pretty soon, no matter how much idealism you came with. This is why most of immigrants from Western countries used to leave.
Now, however, there are effective programs to help recent immigrants successfully integrate into the Israeli workforce. One that I have had the opportunity to be involved with is Gvahim (Heights). It was founded in 2006 by French Jews and Israeli business leaders who wanted a way to incorporate the talents of young French Jews making aliya into the Israeli economy, and help them stay. This different kind of “French connection” was born out of the realization by top Israeli businesspeople that they need Western know-how and talents to help grow Israeli companies in a world market.
This year, after partnering with Nefesh B’Nefesh, Gvahim opened its program to English-speaking immigrants, and through it, I received a crash course on how to make it in the Israeli work-world.
In a few weeks I learned how better to understand the Israeli mindset, how to rewrite my resume for the market, how to search for employment, and how to interview for a job (don’t wear a suit). These workshops are given by Israelis or veteran immigrants who volunteer their time to help new immigrants, and they know it’s critical for the future of the country that those with experience and skills stay here.
Gvahim is helping me directly and through events with people in my field (marketing), in most cases, pairing with a mentor. After being in the country only a few months, I’ve been given a critical understanding of how Israel functions, along with connections that would normally take me years to acquire.
Gvahim became an official Israeli nonprofit at the beginning of November, and the event celebrating that provided an excellent insight into the way Israeli leaders now view immigrants from Western countries. President Shimon Peres addressed the group. The event was hosted by popular TV personality Yair Lapid, and Yair Shamir, son of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and Gvahim chair, was part of the festivities.
Israel now views itself less as a place for Jews around the world to send donations to, and more and more as a place where Jews can come and live well. Thanks to organizations like Nefesh B’Nefesh and Gvahim, that is proving true for me. I’m finally making my long-deferred dream of living in Israel come true.