May 31, 2010 / 18 Sivan 5770
On a recent Thursday night, the crowd at Galina's, a bar along Tel Aviv's trendy port on the shore of the Mediterranean, swelled to over 1,000 strong.
More than just another night out for young Israelis, the partiers were all olim – new immigrants - to Israel who were celebrating the launch of ConnecTLV, the Jewish Agency's newest venture that is social networking portal, Aliyah and acculturation guide and urban navigator in one.
"Our goal was to reach every oleh chadash (new immigrant) in Tel Aviv and we did it! This was the biggest olim party ever in Tel Aviv," said ConnecTLV's Director Miki Leibowich of the party that lasted until the wee hours in the morning.
But the party was but the first introduction to a comprehensive venture to help young adults (ages 18 to 35) considering Aliyah, visiting Israel, and new immigrants (up to one year) with everything from navigating the Aliyah process, getting settled and finding community. And the interactive website uses the latest technology to link olim to each other, keep them up to date on events, and offer step-by-step guidance on everything from Aliyah information to finding a job, an apartment or even the best hummous place in town.
"Tel Aviv is a tough city live in," said Leibowich. "It is expensive, noisy, difficult and often lonely – but it is also the one city in Israel where you can be and do whatever you want to fulfill your dream and succeed in Israel."
True to its name, ConnecTLV is that vital link young olim need to succeed in Israel.
"Most young adults come to Israel come with a dream, and the goal of our project is not to tell olim what they need, but to provide them with the tools and connections to help them to fulfill these dreams," said Leibowich. "That is why this is such a unique project. We not only give them the tools, but also open every door necessary for them to succeed in Israel and in particular in Tel Aviv."
A central component to ConnecTLV are its volunteers: A team of young Tel Avivians who act as welcome guides to their peers as they acclimate to life in Israel. The volunteers are both native Israelis and veteran olim who have full-time jobs and who volunteer their time outside of work.
"The ideology behind the volunteers is that they will be role models for the new immigrants – they will show olim chadashim that success is possible," said Leibowich.
There is also a social agenda woven into this arrangement since volunteers are paired with new immigrants who live in their neighborhood, which means they can be available for both walking tours and friendship. This pairing also bridges the often impenetrable social divide between new immigrants and native Israelis.
Over one thousand young olim celebrated ConnecTLV's launch at a bar in Tel Aviv.
ConnecTLV volunteer Hannah Glass, 28, moved to Israel four and a half years ago from London.
"When I heard about this new project I wanted to take part - but this time as an olah vatika (veteran immigrant). I wanted to give back and meet people," she said.
Glass works as Resource Development Coordinator at Merchavim-The Institute for the Advancement of Shared Citizenship in Israel. Part of her duties as a ConnecTLV volunteer include running events twice a month to welcome new olim in the neighbourhood and introduce them to each other, as well as organizing Shabbat dinners and other social events.
Shahar Ben-Dor, 30, is another ConnecTLV volunteer. A native Israeli who works for Israecard he decided he wanted to help new olim after happening upon an interview on the radio.
"I heard a young guy from Brazil talking about making Aliyah and how much he loves it here and I said to myself, 'He doesn't know what's waiting for him.' I am a native Israeli. I grew up here and did the army, but after living in the United States for six years and then coming back I experienced culture shock. So I can only imagine what it is like for someone who is not from here."
He immediately sought out ways to volunteer his time. Eventually, he was put in touch with ConnecTLV and felt it was the perfect pairing.
"This is a wonderful way for olim chadashim to make connections and meet new people," he said.
Next on the horizon for ConnecTLV is its very own space in central Tel Aviv. The hub will offer everything from workshops and career counseling to just a fun space for hanging out.
Because socializing is also an important part of ConnecTLV's mission.
"We will run over 100 social events a year," said Leibowich.
For more information on ConnecTLV please click here and then link to the website