TEL AVIV – One of the many things Israelis will celebrate on Yom Ha’atzmaut Independence Day, May 9 – is the fact there is now a place that Jews from all corners of the world can make their home. In Tel Aviv, a group of young North Shore Jews are proof of this vision’s success.
This group of Olim – (the plural of Oleh, someone who has made Aliyah to live in Israel) – has settled into their adopted home, despite bureaucratic red tape, cultural differences, and bouts of homesickness. Hannah Finkel, a Swampscott native who moved to Tel Aviv in March, feels like she’s a part of the melting pot.
“Being here, you feel welcome and everyone wants you to be here, everyone’s excited for you to be here,” she said. “You look at any Jewish person, and even if I don’t know anything about you, I know that your great-great-great grandparents and my great-great-great grandparents were both in a shtetl somewhere longing for the opportunity to be able to go to Jerusalem, and yesterday I took the bus to Jerusalem like it was nothing. That’s such an amazing privilege.”
Even though Finkel has only been in Israel a month, her new life is up and running, and she credits Israeli society for integrating new arrivals so well.
“As crazy as the bureaucracy is, it’s miraculous to me that as an immigrant, I’ve been here for a month, and I have health insurance, I have a bank account, I get money from the government, I get ulpan,” she said. “There’s all these frameworks that were put into place to make sure that I can come here and be comfortable and to get my feet on the ground and start to build my life here. For a country this young, it’s really remarkable the infrastructure that exists here.”
Israel has always been a nation of immigrants, and that trend continues as it turns 71. According to the Jewish Agency of Israel, 29,600 people immigrated to the country in 2018, a 5 percent increase from the previous year. Of that amount, 2,066 came from the United States.
Despite the success stories of Finkel and countless other Olim, the “crazy bureaucracy” she mentioned should not be discounted. First, there is the application process itself, which requires several interviews and documents, including proof from a rabbi that the applicant is Jewish. Once the application is approved and Olim arrive in Israel, more bureaucracy awaits.
“You need to have an [ID card], and in order to get an [ID card] you need a cell phone so that they can text you when the [card] is at the post office so you can go pick it up,” said Finkel. “But you can’t get a cell phone unless you have an Israeli credit card, you can’t have an Israeli credit card until you get a bank account, and you can’t get a bank account until you have an [ID card]. It’s a headache and a half.”
Finding an apartment in Tel Aviv, where all the Olim interviewed live, can be just as tricky. Karen Sokolow, a Swampscott native who also just arrived in Israel, said that finding an apartment in Tel Aviv is even harder than finding one in New York City.
“When you’re signing a lease, you need to have two guarantors, no matter how much you make,” said Sokolow. “They want two people to be signed, and they have to be working Israeli citizens. So what if you don’t have anyone who can sign on your behalf? It’s a very legitimate question.”
Rachel Osher, a Peabody native who moved to Tel Aviv in 2011 a year after her sister Lana, said she’s learned to prepare for some back-and-forth wherever she goes. “In Israel, you want to go deal with your phone company, your Internet company; be prepared to get into an argument,” she said. “You have to stand up for yourself.”
Lana Osher also finds Israeli society more open. “Israel is much more accessible in terms of meeting people than the United States,” said Osher. “I was at the dog park, and I bumped into someone who happened to be from the Boston area, and I think he’s from the North Shore. My neighbor – he’s from Lynnfield. It’s a very small country. It’s never more than 2 degrees of separation.”
Daniella Tacheny, a Rowley native who moved to Tel Aviv in 2016, said that she’s found Israelis to be more hospitable than Americans, even to strangers. “They’re a bit more willing to take people under their wing, take you into their house, invite you for Shabbat,” she said. “In general, people really empathize with immigrants.”
The Olim report having a mixture of friends that are Israelis and expats. Some, like Sokolow and the Osher sisters, have an Israeli parent, and already knew Israelis before moving to the country permanently. Others, like Finkel, knew Israelis from having previously lived in the country. Because many attended the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, a college popular with expats, and attained English-speaking jobs through job boards on Facebook (though all are fluent or near-fluent in Hebrew), they generally report befriending more English-speaking expats than native Israelis.
“I would say that the majority of my close friends are expats, because when you come here rather young as an expat, you have a common understanding and a shared experience, so you’re able to instantly connect,” said Lana Osher. At the same time, she married an Israeli last summer, and has gotten to know her husband’s friends and family.
So on Independence Day, when fireworks light up the sky and Israelis gather around the grill with their family and friends – much like the Fourth of July here – the Olim have a lot to celebrate.
“A lot of people here are so grateful to be Israeli, and to be in Israel – a lot of people here lived in a time when there wasn’t an Israel,” said Finkel. “Gratitude didn’t feel like a conversation I’d ever have with my peers in America. Here it’s like I find myself walking down the street with people that moved here and saying, ‘Wow, I am so lucky.’”