Aliyah is hard work. As far as I’m concerned, you deserve a medal just for considering it. And hey, so do I.
But as far as the average Israeli is concerned… well, nope. Nothing. Silence.
Most Israelis are just going to give you the cold shoulder. They won’t care that you’re an oleh. They won’t be handing out hero cookies at the airport.
Many olim have been griping about this lately, and in a way, they’re right to complain.
Once you’ve been in Israel for a while, a refrain like this, from a fellow oleh, will start to sound very familiar. I spotted one person’s sad message on Facebook this morning:
All our lives, we kept hearing “Come make aliyah”, “It’s your place, you belong here”... And than, once you arrive... “You made aliyah. Mazal tov, I’m busy.”
“Israelis you meet are nice and curious of your life and life decisions,” he wrote, “but that is it. Before each holiday. .. silence. We end being among other olim hadashim, because Israelis are busy.
I’ve been here a year and 4 months. Every day, someone asks me why I made aliyah. More and more, when I’m asked, I don’t remember the answer... I wish the same people would ask, “Do you want to join my friends and come to a movie, the theater, the beach, on a trip...?”
One man agreed, “It’s not easy to break into Israeli society.” He’s been here for nearly 40 years, and most of his friends are still other Anglos. (The blanket term for English speakers, no matter where they come from.)
Another person echoed the first, saying that all our lives in chutz la’aretz (outside of Israel), “we hear, ‘you should come here,’ ‘this is your home,’ ‘you belong here,’” and then, once we arrive, the response is more like “What you doing here? Get out of my face!” (He’s heard responses like this both informally and in more official circles.)
There is an old saying: “Israel loves aliyah but hates olim.”
But is it really hatred? Do they REALLY hate us that much?
I don’t think so.
Some Israelis resent olim, it’s true. They feel like we get benefits – like tax breaks – that they don’t. Some may believe that we live rent-free for the first year (not true) or that we get our education and other perks paid for (sometimes true).
Fair enough, except that if they’re not olim themselves, chances are that their parents or grandparents were. Somebody claimed those rights and benefits, even if they didn’t themselves. (Here’s a shot of a bulletin board in my daughter’s classroom a couple of weeks ago with “family stories.” Notice all the airplanes and boats; most were about aliyah from somewhere.)
(In case you’re interested, here’s my daughter’s. It’s called “From Canada to Israel,” and shows her hugging her grandmother in the airport.)
Somewhere, if they go a generation or two back, most Israelis have an oleh or two in their lineage.
Born Israelis simply don't understand what it's like to be an oleh because they are so connected themselves. Most have family nearby, friends, connections from school & the army.
Where I come from, in Canada – and in the US, too – we spread out and lose touch with old friends. Here, the country is so small that many people stay in touch with the same people their whole lives.
Because of that, it simply doesn't occur to them to invite you. They have no concept of being alone.
Think about it: even if Israelis grow up and move “far” from home, they're still probably less than 2 hours away from their parents, siblings, grandparents, nieces, nephews. I love taking the train on school vacation days. It’s full of grandparents taking their grandkids to various spots around the country – sometimes home with them to another city, for an outing or an overnight. Israelis are rarely alone, and never too far away to call for help.
So no, I don’t think it’s hatred. I just think they have no clue what we’re experiencing. They can’t, unless they’ve spent serious time in North America or Australia (which some have, and then, they’ll probably relate to your situation better).
Since it’s not hatred, just cluelessness, that means you can help yourself by reminding Israelis what isolation really means.
When I posted on my son's class's WhatsApp group that the group had really helped me figure out what's what because we're new here, it suddenly clicked. The other mamas realized that we were olim, and perhaps lonely and clueless. Several of them stepped up to invite my son after that.
Just saying, “We’re all alone. We don’t have any family here,” could help trigger the kind of reaction you’re hoping for. “Everyone is back in Canada,” reinforces the idea that they are very, very far away – farther than Eilat, even, with a whole ocean between you and everyone who might invite you for a Yom Tov meal.
No matter how long you’ve been here, born Israelis will keep on asking why you made aliyah. Instead of taking it as a hostile, “why are you here?” question, treat it as an opportunity to reach out.
Try saying, “I came because I heard how friendly and welcoming Israelis are.” It may help you find a Shabbat invitation, a recommendation of a place to shop, a friendly new Israeli acquaintance.
At the very least, you’ll both get a terrific belly laugh out of it. And you’ll take comfort in knowing you’re not the only new oleh who feels this way.
What’s the secret to getting Israelis to open up? If you know, please tell me, because I still have no clue!