Sunday, March 23, 2014

Aliyah Stories: Natan

As part of this blog, I'll be interviewing olim, both new and long-timers, about their Aliyah experiences to share with you. These aren't just people with spectacular stories, but regular people like you and me, who decided to make Aliyah for various reasons. My hope is that these stories will give you a better idea of why people choose to make Aliyah, what the process was like for them, and how they felt at different stages. What struggles they faced, and what triumphs.

If you're an oleh/olah and would like to be interviewed for this blog, feel free to contact me at!

To start off this series I spoke with Natan, who is currently living in Ma'alot, in the North.

Natan is married, with four children, and moved to Israel from Atlanta, Georgia roughly 7 months ago. He runs an e-commerce business, and his wife is a homemaker. Here in Israel their four children are all in school, ranging from kindergarten to 8th grade. Natan and his wife just finished their six month ulpan and are now both looking for work.

Natan’s ulpan was provided through the municipality for new olim. Natan attributes this to the government’s desire to promote Aliyah to the North and South by providing additional services for olim to these areas. It is abnormal for them to have an ulpan in such a small town, but there are enough olim here, Russian, British, and American, to support a class. The other nearest ulpan options were Nahariya or Karmiel. 

According to Natan his children are adjusting well to the move, for the most part. Their oldest son had troubles in the beginning, adjusting to the new country, new school, new language. Natan has a mildly autistic son, and accommodating him was a major consideration in his family’s Aliyah preparations. They researched schools and programs before arriving. Because he is very high-functioning, he goes to a regular school but he is in a special class.

As for the adjustment of Natan and his wife, the big question is: finding work.

So far it's mostly the local municipality that has been helping with their job search. They're also searching online. It hasn't been all that urgent yet, because Natan has his own business, so they've been pretty casual about it so far. They would like to find work though, because they want to be more immersed in Israeli life. As Natan says: "we're not going to learn Hebrew sitting at home."

The Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption offers numerous programs to help with the job search, including SELA job-search workshops for professionals, preparatory courses for licensing exams, and professional training and re-training courses, in addition to ulpanim. Our Ministry Advisors are happy to help new olim through the job search process, and more information can be found here.

Coming to Israel

Natan visited Israel several times before making Aliyah. He traveled to Israel for the first time one summer with Camp Ramah, the American Jewish summer camp, and has visited many times after that. He and his wife have visited Israel together twice since their marriage. They also came to Israel on a Go North pilot trip with Nefesh b'Nefesh for a couple of weeks, after hearing about the Go North program.

Natan says they chose the North, and specifically Ma’alot, because they wanted to live somewhere quieter and more suburban. They didn't want to be in an inner city.

As for Ma'alot, the city Natan and his family chose to settle in, Natan says he loves it. They found an apartment with "an amazing view," Natan gushes. It's a little on the expensive side Natan says, "but you get what you pay for." Natan described the people of Ma'alot as "unbelievably helpful." At this time they can't afford a car, but the bus transportation is "fantastic." They've made friends as well. In fact, Natan's wife went shopping for the kids' costumes for Purim with some friends who invited her the day of my conversation with Natan. He feels they have had a great success in getting settled here in Ma'alot.

Most of the Israelis they come into contact with speak English, but not as a first language. There are some native English-speakers, although Natan would not describe them as living in an “Anglo” neighborhood. “We mostly interact with Israelis,” he says. “We didn't move to Israel to speak with Americans!”

Natan and his wife’s main reason for making Aliyah was their children. They wanted their kids to grow up with a strong Jewish identity. America, as Natan explains, “is not a very Jewish country. Everywhere you turn, there's a holiday season. Valentine's Day, Easter, Christmas. We wanted our children to go to school with other Jewish people, to live as much of a Jewish life as possible. You can do that in the US but it's not as easy, and it's not as free.”

They don't have any family in Israel, says Natan, so that wasn’t a major factor in their decision to make Aliyah or where to live in Israel. They have some contacts here, but nobody close. His parents have discussed making aliyah, they were looking into it at the same time as Natan and his family, but they're not ready yet according to Natan. They’re taking their time. So far, Natan and his wife are the first to make the move to Israel.

As far as the Aliyah process goes, it was not particularly difficult, Natan says. He adds that there were other factors for his family that delayed their departure. They needed to rent out their home in the US and prepare their son for his Bar Mitzvah. They wanted to do that before making Aliyah because they have a large family that wouldn't all have been able to come to Israel. So they intentionally delayed their relocation for a while. They also didn't want to relocate in the middle of the school year. So they chose to move in summer, otherwise they could have done it a few months earlier. In Natan’s estimation, the process takes around a year for a family. For one person, a single, it would probably be much faster, maybe a couple months, considering paperwork, he adds.

Looking to the Future

As of the time of our interview, Natan and his wife’s biggest goal is to find work they enjoy and to improve their Hebrew. For his kids he hopes they become absorbed into Israeli culture and life. “Our hopes for the future are nothing really profound,” Natan says, “except to be happy, healthy, and successful.”

He added that he thinks improving his Hebrew is crucial to his integration here. “Although we're getting along fine as we are, we're not where we want to be. We want to be more comfortable getting out and speaking to people. There's nothing that really prepares you as much as just sitting down and having a conversation with somebody in Hebrew. My wife and I just haven't been able to do that yet. Going to ulpan five hours a day five days a week and then getting home and getting ready for the kids to come home,  we haven’t been able to immerse ourselves in Israeli culture yet like we would like to.”

To sum up where they’re at right now, Natan says, “we’re settled, but I don't really feel settled yet. I haven't had time to take a breath. It's a mixed bag. We're finally starting to get settled and comfortable, and then we realize we have to go do something else!”

A huge thanks to Natan for taking the time to speak with me, and best of luck in adjusting to life in Israel and learning Hebrew!

If you're an oleh chadash, you can contact one of the Ministry’s branch offices with questions here.

Or you can contact a Nefesh B’Nefesh representative or the Jewish Agency if you haven’t yet made Aliyah.

Feel free to comment if you have any suggestions or advice for Natan, or if you would like to be interviewed for my next Aliyah Story!

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