Taking the Easy Road
Immigrating to a new country is a major decision in anyone’s life, no matter where a person chooses. But making Aliyah is very different from moving to any other country – Israel wants all Diaspora Jews to be part of the Jewish homeland and, as a result, helps ease immigrants into life in Israel.
Throughout its existence, Israel has provided immigrants (olim) with a range of benefits and absorption programs to help them settle into their new home. One of these programs is “First Home in the Homeland” (Bayit Rishon B’Moledet), which offers olim the opportunity to live for six to 12 months in reasonably-priced, subsidized apartments in a peaceful, safe and secure kibbutz environment, with instant access to schooling for families with children and a fairly active social structure, including social and community activities and cultural events.
Each kibbutz involved in the program is different, with its own history and character. Since the program requires a commitment of six months by the olim and the kibbutz, it is important to match each immigrant to the most suitable kibbutz based on his/her needs and preferences, as well as on the character, location, population and opportunities of specific kibbutzim. There is also an option to establish a connection between program participants and other immigrants who speak the same language on the chosen kibbutz before making Aliyah.
On arrival in Israel, olim are brought to the kibbutz where a coordinator is waiting to welcome them, whatever time of the day or night they arrive, and take them to a basic, furnished apartment prepared and equipped with food in the refrigerator.
A few days after arrival, the local coordinator of First Home in the Homeland (Bayit Rishon B’Moledet) will accompany the olim to the nearest city to arrange all the required documentation. They will also be introduced to their host family (if one has been arranged for them) and the relevant kibbutz service managers such as the nurse, the kindergarten director, the mini-market manager, the laundry manager and the dining room manager, among others. In addition, information, advice and guidance are offered to olim by the coordinators, who are usually members of the kibbutz.
Throughout the program, assistance is also provided by the regional council in various ways, and olim are treated as residents of the area and included on all regional cultural and other activities.
The most important part of a successful Aliyah is mastering the Hebrew language. Most olim who arrive in Israel are not able to speak the language and many have never had any access to Hebrew at all. As a result, the government provides a free Hebrew ulpan for all olim and the main aim of the First Home in the Homeland program is to enable olim to learn Hebrew without having to worry about the stresses of city life.
The first six months includes an intensive Hebrew ulpan. Studies take place in a local or regional ulpan, three to five mornings a week, depending on the ulpan. On completion of the first six-month period, olim may wish to extend their stay by an additional six months. This gives them the opportunity to strengthen their Hebrew in a more advanced ulpan class (if there is one available) or work with the kibbutz members to practice their Hebrew (if they find a job on the kibbutz).
The importance of learning the language cannot be stressed enough if olim want to succeed in Israel, and Steven Ross from Manchester, England, who made Aliyah in July 2008, is a perfect example of how easy it is to get swept up in a new life and not taking advantage of ulpan.
“I was in Tel Aviv for the first two years working in customer services, doing shift work, and so I didn't have the time to learn Hebrew,” he says. “Financially I wasn’t doing very well and there weren’t many opportunities for me because I couldn’t speak Hebrew. A friend told me about the program and when I explained my situation to Elena, she made an exception – not being a new oleh – and accepted me onto the program.
“My life is a lot more relaxed now. Financially, being on the kibbutz, I don’t feel the struggle as much and I can concentrate on learning Hebrew. I don’t have family in Israel and there is more support on the kibbutz than in the city. It may not always be easier, but it’s definitely softer. I feel like I’m part of a family again. There are children playing and people around all the time; in the city I was more alone. I feel more alive again. I’m happy for the first time in a long time. It’s very easy to book a flight and go home, but I want to live here. I’m enjoying being in Israel and being on the kibbutz,” he says.
Ross works in the main restaurant of the Royal Beach Hotel in Eilat on weekends, where he speaks mostly Hebrew, something he doesn’t do when he’s with the other olim on the kibbutz. “You have to really push yourself to practice Hebrew as often as you can.
“I would advise people to come to Israel with money; to save more than just what they need to get here. It’s important to have a safety net while learning the language, which really is the most important thing. And patience. Patience for a program that takes five months and can only help. People have to take it slowly so they don’t feel overwhelmed and ready to leave before it’s time. They should try to relax with it and enjoy it and pass each bridge as they come to it. The main thing here is to learn Hebrew,” says Ross.
Other advantages of the First Home in the Homeland program include: various seminars that help olim to get to know their rights and benefits, find out about the tax system, learn about writing a resume and finding work and more; cultural activities on the kibbutz and outside; and trips throughout the country, which are organized to enable olim to explore Israel and learn about its culture and religions.
Once olim have completed the program, many (not all) of the kibbutzim offer participants the option of staying on as residents or enable them to apply for membership. Alternatively, they are now free to move to any of the cities or towns in Israel in order to start the next leg of their Aliyah journey.