RA'ANANA, ISRAEL - Meet a new member of Israel's small, but growing Greek immigrant community: Matityahu Mizan, who made Aliyah from Athens in September 2012.
The 31-year-old has been learning Hebrew five hours a day, five days a week at Ulpan Sapir in Ra'anana, and says he's impressed with the high level of instruction.
Sharing an apartment with olim from France, Germany, and Venezuela, Matityahu's already traded alpha for aleph, and his ouzo for arak. While he misses his family, he says he found the transition to a new life here relatively easy.
“I felt like I got on a flight, went to sleep and woke up at home," he recalls of the short hop across the Mediterranean.
Darkening skies for Greek Jewry
While the local weather, and food and culture are similar to those in Greece, Matityahu said one major difference is how free he feels to be Jewish in Israel.
He pointed to three prime factors behind his recent Aliyah: the recent financial crisis in Greece, its dwindling Jewish population, and anti-Semitism; he says it's important for his children to grow up in a country where they will be Jewish.
Anti-Semitism has always been a part of the lives of Greek Jewry, but now it's getting worse with the rise of the neo-Nazi political group Golden Dawn. The party won 18 seats and 7% of the vote in Greece's June 2012 elections.
Noting the predicament, Matityahu said that, even within his group of friends, some have made openly anti-Semitic remarks.
Many Greek Jews have pointed to a decline of Jewish tradition; there are no kosher restaurants, and the rate of intermarriage among the remaining 5,000 Jews is high. The Jewish Agency has recently responded to this need by funding Jewish and Israeli educational programs, and posting a shaliach in Athens.
Economic woes hitting Greek Jewry
The national financial crunch has also left its mark on the Jewish population: latest reports say there's been a sharp drop in funding to communal institutions like schools, synagogues, and senior citizens' care, and the younger generation is thinking twice about its future in Greece.
With workers around the country suffering salary cuts every few months, Matityahu, who holds a Masters in Logistics and Supply Chain Management from a UK university, says that when his last paycheck was cut by 30%, he knew it was time to make a change – so why not to the Jewish State?
"I feel like I have found myself in Israel. For me, this is freedom," he beams.Aliyah Young Aliyah Ulpan Etzion Sapir Raanana Voices Aliyah "I feel like I have found myself in Israel. For me, this is freedom" says new Greek oleh Matityahu Mizan"I feel like I have found myself in Israel. For me, this is freedom" says new Greek oleh Matityahu MizanAliyah