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Sunday, April 28, 2019

Nefesh b'Nefesh: How helpful are they AFTER you make aliyah?

One of my children will sometimes say, "You hate Nefesh b'Nefesh."  But nothing could be further from the truth.  Really.

So let's just say it straight out before I start here -- I love Nefesh b'Nefesh.  Adore them.

We have met and been helped by so many great people through Nefesh b'Nefesh (NbN).  I don't know what the aliyah process would have been like without them, but I'm sure it would have been quite a bit harder.

So that's the first thing.

The second thing, though, is that olim sometimes arrive with unrealistic expectations about what NbN is going to do for them.

At this point, I’ve met quite a few of these olim, and some, I’ll admit, actually do hate NbN.  They feel like they were lied to, tricked, duped, swindled.

Whatever it is that they expected NbN to do for them when they got here – it never materialized.

Sometimes, these expectations were based on things like the fact that their site implies in various ways that they're going to hold your hand, start to finish, helping ensure a soft landing in Israel, an easy job search, and tons of follow up.  They might also be based on personal conversations with aliyah advisors suggesting that once they were in Israel, help woudl be at hand anywhere, anytime.

Based on what I’ve seen,  heard, and experienced, all those expectations need to be... well, shall we say, tempered a little.

Because they're not going to hold your hand.

Okay, maybe a little.  They're supposed to call you every month for a while and see how your aliyah is coming along, and that's very nice if they actually do it.

They do provide some employment services, though in our area of the country, that mostly amounts to telling you to teach English or work in a call centre -- or helping you network with other "entrepreneurs."  (Even if you didn't really want to be an entrepreneur but are forced to be one because you couldn't find a job.)

They also provide social, cultural, and recreational opportunities for English-speaking olim, and I think this is what they do best -- in the north, they have an annual summer picnic and winter Shabbaton, along with various tiyulim (road trips) that we've enjoyed in the past.  There are other events all over the country, but of course, you usually have to get to them, which isn't easy if you live where we do.

But in general, let's face it:  the bulk of what NbN does is focused on getting olim here.  Because when it comes down to it, that's what they're getting paid to do.
And the truth is, they don't keep great track of "dropouts," that is, olim who don't make it for whatever reason.  While they claim to do exit interviews for olim returning to North America, it's fair to say that not every dropping out oleh or olah feels like sitting down for a heart-to-heart with NbN before they do so.

An October 2012 article in HaAretz (never my favourite publication to begin with, you understand) called NbN an "ineffective monopoly with overpaid executives".  I don't know if I'd go that far. 

It is true that NbN is a monopoly, in that it's the only game in town.  In English speaking areas, it's impossible to make aliyah directly, that is through the Jewish Agency alone as you once did -- all paperwork must be filed through the NbN website.  As for retention rates, at the time, they wrote a rebuttal that I'll link to here (www.nbn.org.il/statement.doc) in which they claim the retention rate is audited by the Israeli government.  Again, I'm not so sure most unsuccessful olim would sit down for a heart-to-heart with the government before they head back to wherever they feel is more like home than Israel is.

If you talk to any long-time oleh or olah, they'll be happy to tell you how tough they had it when they first came here in the 1970s, 1980s, or 1990s, before NbN started up.  Plus, the toilet paper was bad.  Plus, you couldn't get chocolate chips or Ben and Jerry's on every street corner.  Life was tougher all over back then.

So they figure we have it easy, with all the hand-holding NbN provides.

But when it comes right down to it, please expect that you're going to be mostly on your own.
They won't be here holding your hand every step of the way.

Sure, you'll probably be assigned a person you can check in with, and who may even remember to check in with you periodically, but they have dozens of other olim to take care of and may forget about you and your troubles unless you remind them.

Though they may offer helpful sessions on any one or all of these topics, in general, you'll have to figure out most aspects of housing, banking, taxes, transportation, bill payment, health care, your children's education, and a whole bunch more... all on your lonesome.

That is, frankly, why they call it a foreign country.

Often, it will be hard.
Often, especially if you're outside of Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, it will be in a language you don't understand.
Sometimes, things will go easily, but often, it will seem overwhelming.

And you may wonder where Nefesh b'Nefesh is for you during these tough times.

They're there... but they may be tough to find.

I'm not going to weigh in here on whether the claims on their site, or of NbN reps at aliyah fairs and so on are overblown or overstated.  But I will say that I've known many olim at this point who felt a little bait-and-switched by the friendly, easygoing, accessible face of NbN pre-aliyah and the distant, cool, uninvolved face of NbN after aliyah.

Like I said, I like NbN, and everybody I've met with the organization seems entirely dedicated to what they do and very caring about every single oleh and olah.  I don't think it's a bait-and-switch.  To some extent, there are different folks responsible for pre- and post-aliyah, and that's probably part of the problem.  And then -- there are only so many NbN staff members, probably not enough to provide all the hand-holding all olim may need.

So, yeah -- expect to be on your own quite a bit.
Expect to be overwhelmed.
Expect to be lonely.

Expect to be exhausted.
Expect that you won't be able to leave any of your life's problems behind when you make aliyah.  Not for any major period of time.

Aliyah is about making a new life for yourself in this incredible promised land, and that's a tough task for anyone, at any age.  It isn't easy, no matter how many people are in your corner.
But if you keep your eyes on that, instead of sitting around wondering why you're not getting the help you expected, you'll probably have a better chance of making it here.

One person who's decided to actually help hold the hands of olim in the last few years – and up the odds that they’ll actually stay – has been LiAmi Lawrence, an oleh from LA.  His organization, Keep Olim in Israel, which is based mostly on Facebook, provides a network of support similar to NbN's, with two main differences:  there's a little bit more tolerance for kvetching, and a little more grassroots proactiveness in terms of olim helping other olim.  They also organize things like meals for holidays so no oleh or olah has to be alone.
General chat page:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/KeepOlim/

(They have a website but it seems to be suspended at the moment.)

More about KeepOlim, which is now a registered charitable organization in Israel.  And here’s there official organization Facebook page, if you’re interested in seeing the kinds of services they provide:  https://www.facebook.com/Keep.Olim.in.israel.movement/

It's probably true that no matter how good their intentions, no organization can do everything.
That's why it's nice to know that NbN isn't all there is out there.  There are also other organizations like ESRA (English Speaking Residents Association) and AACI (Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel).  But my impression is that these are mostly social, and in some cases cater mainly to retired or older people, in mainly English-speaking areas of the country.

If there's another organization that's been particularly helpful in your aliyah process, I'd love to hear about it!  Let me know in the comments.

Tzivia / צִיבְיָה


5 comments:

  1. We've been in Israel since 1970, and we were just a young married couple.
    The trick to managing in a new country, any new country, even here in Israel is to take responsibility for yourself, and don't be shy about asking people for help.
    We're lucky to have friends from "the old country" living here. Over the years/decades we've helped each other. And we've helped others.
    Don't be shy.

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    1. Very wise advice! I do think that some people flounder and don't reach out for help. If you believe everyone around you is happy and successful, it can be tough to admit that you're a "failure." But I think we all have moments of being depressed or hating it here and not really believing we'll make it. And then I'm glad to have other people around me who can help...

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  2. In addition to social activities at our various branches, and membership services, please know that AACI offers klitah information and advice to potential, new & not-so-new olim, has a counseling hotline Mon-Thurs 12:15-13:15 (02-5661181) & organizes "navigational workshops on many aspects of living in Israel, not just in Jerusalem & Tel Aviv but also in Beer Sheva, Netanya, Zichron & Haifa.

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  3. My experience with NBN has been mixed. They do a good job of getting you to Israel. After that I really only think they put on some good events. I personally am quite disillusioned with them as they portray themselves as being way more helpful than they actually are. Do they ever help someone find a job? I'm sure they do, especially if that person is young and in a high-demand field. They've been of zero help to me in doing that though.

    It's not that I expected them to hold my hand every step of the way; I really think you are unfair to imply that anyone expects that from them. I'd say they definitely portray themselves as being willing and able to do far more than they actually do once you arrive.

    If I could offer any advice to prospective Olim I'd say to assume that NBN will help you get to Israel and that's the extent of it. Don't count on them for anything else. Also, be wary of much of what they tell you, especially as regards employment.

    My experience has also been that they are unwilling to shoulder any of the blame for their lack of assistance. If Olim decide to leave Israel they put the blame on them for their failings. I wish I'd known how little they would help and how little they know. I was given bad advice on far too many things that have hurt me here.

    And I'd say just from what I can tell that many Olim who leave Israel to return to where they came from don't actually even tell NBN they are doing so. They are shamed by too many other Olim as it is so why expose themselves to more? I'm leaving soon and have been told by other Olim that I'm not motivated, didn't try hard enough etc. NBN told me I had a bad attitude from day one. For some reason this seems to make people feel better as they can just blame the Olim who give up and leave for their "short-comings" and not accept that anyone else bears any responsibility for this.

    You also need to remember that everyone's situation is different and everyone gets varying levels of assistance and support. Some Olim get to live in the Merkaz Klita, get lifts paid for, get grants, training programs, schooling, good Ulpans etc. Others get nothing but the minimum required by law. Everyone's situation is different and it would be better if we recognized that and stopped heaping blame on Olim who decide to leave. My choice to leave doesn't negate your choice to stay. I'm doing what is best for me.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by! I can't speak to your personal experience, but I definitely don't believe that you or most olim come expecting to have their hands held!

      But NbN do sometimes imply that they'll be with you every step of the way, like this page on their site in which they quote an olah as saying, "They basically hold your hand and help you with every little detail"
      https://www.nbn.org.il/aliyah-inspiration/visions-of-aliyah/trending-in-israel/retirees-thriving-israel/

      That might lead someone to suspect that they're going to hold your hand, and I'm here to tell you they won't.

      And since I know literally NOBODY who has had that experience, yeah, I think it's a little deceptive to put it up on their site.

      Even their catchphrase "We’re here to help… every step of the way" (from this page and many others, https://www.nbn.org.il/officially-israeli/) could be interpreted to mean that they are literally at your side every step of the way. And I think that's not the case.

      I do appreciate your pointing out that there are varying levels of assistance and support.

      In fairness, some of those types of support have little to do with NbN (Merkaz Klita, lifts paid for, schooling, ulpan), so I'm not going to hold them responsible for all of that.

      But I do find that where we are, outside of the centre of the country, olim are more easily forgotten than in places like Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, or Beit Shemesh. I think they could be more realistic about warning olim about the "periphery" phenomenon.

      Thanks for sharing your experience!

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I'd love to hear what you have to say.

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