Daniel and Alva Litvak and their three children found a welcoming home in Kiryat Bialik, a suburb of Haifa, through the Jewish Agency's Direct Community Absorption project.
After their family business collapsed, Daniel and Alva Litvak, a couple in their 30s from Buenos Aires, were forced to give up their home and move, together with their three children, into a single room lacking even a bathroom! Every night Daniel would rummage around the neighborhood in search of empty cans - in order to buy milk in the morning for his children with the deposit money. Like many Jews in Argentina's once thriving middle class, the Litvaks were victims of the country's spiraling financial crisis that sent the economy into a tailspin, leaving large numbers of previously comfortable people living in grinding poverty.
Their decision to immigrate to Israel literally made it possible for the Litvak family to build a new life. Arriving as participants in the innovative "Direct Municipal Absorption Project" in Kiryat Bialik, they spent their first five months at the Jewish Agency's Absorption Center in nearby Kiryat Yam. During this initial absorption period, they studied Hebrew at ulpan, while learning the "abc's" of adjusting to life in Israel. The children, ages 5,7, and 9, quickly settled into the local schools.
The family found a welcoming home in Kiryat Bialik, a suburb of Haifa, with a population of more than 40,000 that includes many immigrants from the former Soviet Union and Latin America. Mauricio Balter, a charismatic Conservative rabbi originally from Tucuman, in northern Argentina, spearheaded the Direct Municipal Absorption project. Shortly after making aliyah in 1995 together with his family and 30 other families from Argentina, Rabbi Balter approached Kiryat Bialik Mayor Danny Zack and asked him to accompany him to Buenos Aires and talk to the Jews there about aliyah. "It's not politically correct to have a rabbi who is a dreamer," Balter says. "But I dreamed of the possibility of helping other South Americans decide to make aliyah."
The Litvak children, ages 5, 7, and 9, made the transition from Buenos Aires to Kiryat Bialik quickly, and have settled into the local Israeli schools.
The project, launched by the Jewish Agency, with the support of the municipality and of the Masorti/Conservative Movement has provided a new model for absorption into Israeli society. Teams of representatives of the Jewish Agency, the Kiryat Bialik Municipality, and former Argentineans who are members of the Masorti/Conservative Movement in Israel, as well as prospective employers, periodically visit Argentina to recruit new immigrants. Each new immigrant family is "adopted" by a local veteran immigrant family, providing the personal contact and one-on-one attention that gives them a "soft landing" in their homeland. The relative old-timers speak the same language as the newcomers, have similar backgrounds and know exactly what the new immigrants are going through emotionally. They help them find their first rental apartment after leaving the absorption center, and provide guidance in dealing with the bureaucracy -- from registering with government offices and schools to obtaining medical insurance, driver's licenses and immigrant benefits.
After completing ulpan, the Litvaks were eager to become financially independent, and accepted whatever work they could find. And now, just sixteen months after their arrival in Israel, they have already saved up enough money to think about purchasing their own apartment, with the help of government-subsidized mortgages.
Both Daniel and Alva are now planning to take professional retraining courses that will provide them with new career skills. Encouraged by the couple's amazing success in turning their lives around, Daniel's mother and his sister, together with her husband and two children have recently immigrated to Israel.
In moving to Kiryat Bialik, the Litvak family joined the more than 168 Argentinean families (some 620 individuals) that have settled in the community since 1997. "They are recovering their dignity," says Rabbi Balter, "and they know that they have a better future for their children."
Credits: Photos by Avi Hirschfield