November 4, 2009 / 17 Cheshvan 5770
Leaving behind family and friends is the hardest part of emigration, and when you’re young and still dependent on your parents, the experience is very different.
Moving form the comfort of parental support, a school or university environment, “life long” friends and no “real” life experience to a new country where you may or may not have a grasp of the language, don’t know many people and have little or no family is daunting to say the least.
But the Jewish Agency, through its Aliyah and Absorption department, makes the process a more pleasant, easier one for them.
“Aliyah on a Red Carpet” is the first step towards the absorption process. Conceptualized in South Africa in 2007 and implemented in 2008 by then Aliyah shaliach and director of the Israel Centre in Johannesburg, Ofer Dahan, the idea has exceeded expectations.
By removing all administration nightmares for new immigrants and allowing them to avoid the red tape that usually goes with immigration, the Jewish Agency has enabled new immigrants to land softly in Israel.
Young women from France at the recent Global “Aliyah on a Red Carpet” experience
In two days, immigrants walk off with their immigrant cards (needed to receive the various immigrant benefits available), Israeli ID cards (showing they are citizens of the country), bank accounts, cellphones, health insurance and more. By providing these services to immigrants within hours of their arrival, the Jewish Agency has taken away the hassle that most people experience over weeks and months.
This process helps youngsters to bridge the gap from their old home to their new one and enables them to ease into their lives in Israel without the added stress that comes with immigration.
Unaccompanied youth and young adults
Over two days in October, nearly 200 immigrants from eight different countries landed on Israel’s soil, including about 80 under the age of 30. Of these youngsters, 30 were between 15 and 20. This was the first global “Aliyah on a Red Carpet” experience and immigrants came from France (60), South Africa (50), Switzerland (1), Belgium (1), Mexico (4), FSU (30), United Kingdom (35) and Turkey (1).
All new immigrants received their Teudat Zehut (ID cards) at a special ceremony held in Jerusalem in the square in front of the historic building where Chaim Weitzmann, was sworn in as the first president of Israel. The building now houses the Jewish Agency and Keren Hayesod (United Israel Appeal).
The enthusiasm of the youth was palpable. The excitement to get going with the rest of their lives was evident and they’d already made friends in the few days since they had left their respective countries.
Some would say it’s easier for the youth to adapt to a new life and the challenges that go with making Aliyah, but for many, the challenges become insurmountable. The numbers of those returning to their countries of their birth differ between the various countries, but many of the new immigrants who leave Israel are under 30, and many leave within the first two years.
The Jewish Agency has a variety of programs aimed at educating youth around the world and encouraging young Jews to make Aliyah or supporting them in one way or another. These include school programs (Na’ale, Yesodot/Foundations program and the various youth movement excursions), after-school short- and long-term programs, such as Taglit-Birthright, Shnat, MASA, Youth Aliyah, Lone Immigrant Soldiers, Youth Aliyah Villages (targeting youth at risk), and Kibbutz Ulpan. Click here for more Jewish Agency youth and student Aliyah Programs.
As the recent global Aliyah can attest, these programs have worked extremely well. Every youngster under 30 interviewed either experienced a youth program or wanted to participate in some way.
Young immigrants tell their stories
South African-born Capetonian, Jason Paradise (19), believes it is important for every young Jew to serve in the IDF (Israel Defense Forces), and once he’s finished his three-month ulpan at the end of December, he will report for duty. His aim is to join the navy, although he knows it’s not easy to get in. “I love being on the water,” he said, “and it is my dream to be part of Israel’s navy.”
By joining the IDF as a volunteer without family, Paradise immediately becomes a “lone soldier” who will benefit from the Jewish Agency’s Fund for Lone Immigrant Soldiers. This fund assists immigrants who have come to Israel alone to serve the country by providing them with a small stipend to help them cover the costs of living expenses, buy appliances and provide them with assistance in various ways.
Having left his parents and older brother in South Africa, Paradise has started his Israel experience on a kibbutz in the north near Haifa, which has the best waterpolo team in the country, a sport he played competitively at school and in which he loves to participate.
Jason Paradise receives a gift from Eli Cohen, director general of the Jewish Agency’s
Aliyah and Absorption department, to mark the occasion of his Aliyah
Paradise visited Israel recently for the first time, but it didn’t take him long to realize he wanted to stay. “I thought there was no better way to come to Israel than by making Aliyah,” he said. “When I was in Israel in August and September, I fell in love with the country and didn’t want to go back, but I returned to say goodbye to my family.
“Funny thing is that my parents wanted me to come to Israel to study and I refused. I thought, ‘No way, I’m not going to a place I’ve never seen before’. So we decided I’d go on a holiday first and see what I thought.
“Then, when I arrived here and saw all the soldiers walking around in their uniforms, I wanted to join immediately. But first, I decided to travel the country with a friend so I could see it properly. I went north to south, east to west and saw most of the country, except Jerusalem. But there’s still time for that – Jerusalem isn’t going anywhere!”
He had an amazing time and decided it was where he wanted to be. On his return to South Africa, Paradise went directly to the Jewish Agency (Israel Centre). “They did everything for me. All I had to do was sign the papers and pack my bags,” he said.
Aron Waltuch (24) from Basle, Switzerland, decided to make Aliyah when he was a member of B’nei Akiva about 10 years ago. “I’ve changed my mind about 100 times since then, but I’ve been to Israel 10 to 15 times since then. I lived here for about seven months learning in a Yeshiva in Petach Tikva and then started to learn for the Israeli bar exam to be accepted as an attorney.”
Waltuch graduated with a Bachelor of Law from the University of Basle and he is now a Masters of Law student at Bar Ilan University. He too has made Aliyah without his family.
Swiss-born, Aron Waltuch
Waltuch did his research well before coming to Israel. “I got plenty of background information from people who came on Aliyah before me,” he said, “and because I took a long time to decide what the advantages and disadvantages were and what it meant to be an oleh chadash (new immigrant), I managed to inform myself pretty well about all the procedures, so there were no surprises.
“Things went pretty much as the Jewish Agency told me they would. I’m amazed still and positively surprised about how smooth the process is and how nice the people are. I’m not naïve; I’m going to be an Israeli like everyone else – which I want to be – and I don’t expect to keep my status as an oleh chadash for a long time, but it’s nice to get a warm welcome.
“Life is going to be hard enough in the aftermath and I’d like to say a ‘big, big kol hakavod’ to all the people who work for the Jewish Agency. This is very important work and I think they are doing it the easiest way possible for people coming to Israel,” says Waltuch.
Alicia Abitan (18), Tsila Ayache (22) and Simha Benoliel (19) from France have much in common. Besides being firm friends, they’re all young, French women who have made Aliyah together and are here to study engineering, two of them with a focus on computers.
Ayache, who decided to come to Israel on a long-term program before making Aliyah, has already completed her first year of study in Jerusalem. “I’ve been to Israel four times since I was three,” she said, “but I wanted to see if I would like living here before making a final decision. I chose to come through the MASA program, which helps students with financial and other support.” The year spent in Israel enhanced her belief that this is where she needs to live her life.
“I am looking forward to living in ‘my’ country with my ‘brothers and sisters’ (other Jews),” said Ayache. “In Europe, we think a lot about the Second World War and when I’m in Israel and we’re all together, I know it will never happen again. I’m not expecting a lot because I know it’s a difficult country, but it’s very important to be here. We’ve waited for our country for 2000 years and I hope that all Jews understand that we have to ‘do’ Aliyah.”
Abitan wanted to make Aliyah from the age of eight. She was a member of B’nei Akiva and this influenced her decision to be in Israel. She too has visited Israel a number of times since she was very young.
In 2008, she decided to attend a B’nei Akiva seminary (yeshiva) to study Torah and Hebrew and experience life in Israel. While here, she decided to study for her university entrance exams so she could come back to do her degree. She is now officially a university student.
“Israel is the country of the Jews,” she said, “and it’s great to be among Jews. In France, we don’t feel French because there are many others who make it difficult for us. Here, I can live with other Jews – my ‘family’. This is a new country, but already we see that a lot has happened and we can be free with our religion.
“In France, it’s very complicated to be Jewish and practice our religion and keep kosher. You can’t even put a kippah on your head. And married women can’t cover their hair if they’re religious. It’s very hard, so I’m happy to be here where we can do all those things if we choose,” says Abitan.
Benoliel decided to make Aliyah only this year even though she’d been thinking about making the move for years. “When I was 13, I begged my parents to let me come to school in Israel,” she said, “but they wouldn’t let me, so as soon as I finished school, I decided to come on my own and studied here last year.” She couldn’t wait to make the final commitment and has now returned permanently. Israel is very close to her heart and she has dreams of bringing up her children in a country where there is balance and where “we can practice Judaism freely with other Jews”.
Ore Goldgammer (24) may not be a new immigrant as his parents are Israeli, but his experience on the MASA program makes his decision to return fitting for this article. Unlike his two older siblings who were born in Israel, his birthplace is the other “City of Gold” – Johannesburg, South Africa – along with his younger sister, Gilly (22).
“Gilly ‘returned’ to Israel about two years ago and then went to London for a while,” Goldgammer said. “Then one day, we were speaking to each other and decided to come to Israel to study – you can’t put a price on education – so we both came to Israel and attended the Mechina program at Bar Ilan University. My program was through MASA, which is a great program. Now Gilly’s studying psychology at Tel Chai and I’m studying political science at Bar Ilan.”
Ore Goldgammer (right) with fellow oleh chadash (new immigrant)
Another difference between Ore (pronounced ‘Uri’) and Gilly and the other new young immigrants is that their parents live in Israel so they’re not alone. (Ore’s father commutes to and from South Africa throughout the year as he still has a business in the country.) But the impact of the Jewish Agency’s programs has been the same for all of them.
“I decided to return to Israel a while ago because I was really keen to see what student life is like here,” he said, “and I thought, while I’m still young and able, I should take the opportunity I’ve been given so graciously. I came with MASA last year so that I could ease myself into this world with their help. I wanted to further my education and learn to speak Hebrew really well. I do speak the language, but I’m not fluent and have a lot to learn.” And what better place to do this than in the heart of the Hebrew-speaking world.
Click here for more Jewish Agency youth and student Aliyah Programs.