Aliyah organizations 101

For some reason (probably because I don’t like getting flamed) today’s article has been avoiding the word processor for several days. I finally realized that I was looking at the whole thing wrong.

I was trying to figure out how to tell you which aliyah organizations are the best to join and which are waste of your time and money. I knew that whichever ones I slammed would be very upset and someone would invariably write in to say “HOW COULD YOU SLAM XXXX LIKE THAT! They REALLY HELPED ME!!

What I realized was that I was asking the wrong question, just like the week I got here and was trying to figure out which kaput cholim  (oops I mean chupat cholim) to join. The day you arrive on aliyah, they give you several items at the airport: Money, a cab voucher, your teudat oleh (your “aliyah license”, or as some have said, your license to now act totally stupid and insane with impunity for at least the next 3 years), and a form to take to the post office.

This form, although only a half size sheet of paper, in triplicate, which you pay the post office about the equivalent of 3 stamps for letters to America to process for you, is your selection of which HMO you want to join. As I recall there are 3 main ones, each with branches all over the country. They tell you to do it immediately—this week, before you open your checking account, before you get your teudat zehut—ASAP, as you have no coverage until you do, and you only get 6 months free coverage from the day you arrive.

Every day, for about 3 weeks, I asked everyone I met which one they thought was the best. I was surprised that almost no one would give me a straight answer. Hardly anyone was truly happy with the one they were in, but not unhappy enough to switch. Why? Because for every horror story I heard about one company, I would hear 5 about the other two. It was the same for all 3. It did not matter whether I asked a leading question about one company or the other. Finally, one person explained that a lot depended on where you live, that some were better in some areas, or known to be the best in a particular area.

So when it comes to aliyah organizations, I realized that it is not a question of “which one is the best” but rather which one is the best for you. For example, if you are dati-leumi, and are looking to live in a small, rural community, there is an organization called Tehilla that will help you find out about lots of communities that fit your criteria, and will even help you plan a pilot trip, arrange for you to spend Shabbat in the community of your choice and the like (at least they used to do this.) They also have other information resources, housing prices information, banking information and connections and more. Their office in Jerusalem is just down the block from The Great Synagogue, very convenient, and the director, Ron Alswang, is very nice.

But what if you are a left wing democrat, or Chareidi, or none of the above? If you are under 35, the Aliyah center itself will probably offer all the information you will ever want or need, BUT you HAVE TO ASK FOR IT. (Yes, I am yelling here.)  I cannot tell you how many friends I know who never bothered to ask about some very important things. Things like, will they pay for me to get a degree (or a Masters’), what can I bring tax free, how much should I be expecting to pay for rent in Jerusalem? How do I get an internship? 99% of the aliyah programs are ONLY for the under 35.

Now, if you are like me, and you like to take your time in deciding important things, and you could not decide to make aliyah before you turned 36, then my honest advice is to join everything you can and gather all the information you can, and use it all to your best advantage. You can join many groups online, others probably have local chapters in your area, unless you live in the middle of Kansas. Even then, you never know. Tulsa, OK has Jewish facility for seniors that provides kosher food to the residents, supervised by the local Chabad rabbi, and the university in OKC had aliyah related programming as well, so take the time to look around where you are before deciding that there is no one local.

Org #1, of course, is THE Jewish Agency, the parent organization to the Aliyah Desk or Aliyah Program office. These folks are the ones who process your paperwork. Some people have received a lot of help and useful information from their shaliach (representative). I had to call mine every 3 days to get her to follow up on something she promised to do “the next day”. I knew to ask for information, but there was very little forthcoming from the agency, as every program I asked about I was either too old for, or they would not take someone who was married to an Israeli (no matter that he has not lived in Israel for 20 years).

As it turned out, (as you know from my first article) that even some of what I got was wrong. One thing about the Jewish Agency is that it is its own kingdom, and not even the State of Israel, it seems, can over rule them. They existed BEFORE the state, and there is a very interesting web of relationships between them, but I do not suggest you explore it too deeply until after you make aliyah, or you may not. Also, many (but not all) of the representatives are relatively young and have not worked for the Agency for very long. Often they are only recently out of the Army or National Volunteer Service Corp, so although they work very hard as represenatives, they simply cannot know everything that every person will ask them.

At any rate, the Jewish Agency processes your paperwork, but if you don’t fit neatly into one of their cookie cutter aliyah “tracks” then you pretty much have to find your own housing, ulpan, education, job/retraining programs. Israeli’s figure this all out by what is called “protexia”, or knowing the right person, usually someone they knew from high school or their army days. They say here, “it’s not what you know, but who you know.” Olim can help create this “protexia” network for themselves by joining organizations that help keep them in the information “loop”. These organizations disseminate information in the language of its members, helping you find out about opportunities and issues that you might never know about since you probably can’t read headlines or understand the radio yet.

The hot name today is Nefesh. Nefesh B’Nefesh, continues to be a positive new force in the aliyah movement, offering real counseling, practical information before during and after aliyah, and active job placement for those who request it. Some (but not all—we did not, for instance) participants receive a financial grant to help with the costs of making aliyah. But as I mentioned in a previous article, because they are not just a network of aliyah minded people outside of Israel, but a fully staffed organization in Israel, they were able to step in and help deal with a major problem that I had.

Another organization is the AACI, which has a network of offices around the country. They supposedly send you an aliyah planning kit, but they lost my application in the US for several months, and only found it the week I made aliyah. They also have a network of staff and volunteers who have been assisting olim from the US and Canada for over 30 years. They can provide members with lists of companies by type and or location, for job searches, for example. I personally found their information to be somewhat dated, late or repeated from other sources, even though they charge for it. I was not overly impressed when they offered to sell me an information booklet in English on how to protect and prepare my home during a time of crises. This information was available at the time for free in Hebrew, from the Northern Command of the Army. It should have been sent out for free, in any language needed. I thought that charging for it was tacky.

The “other organizations” I mention are not necessarily organizations that you join, at least not by paying dues anyway. The first one of these is a website:

This is one of several sites created and maintained by one person. As far I a can tell, the same person does , or computer jobs in Israel, which will he culls from Hebrew and English sources. He posts pictures from every aliyah related activity you can think of, help for learning Hebrew, and whenunfortunately needed, helps us see what is going on when another attack occurs. I have no idea how he finds the time to do everything he does, like compile lists of reasons why we all made aliyah in the first place:

This same person also contributes to an email group list that anyone can join, unlike the Nefesh email list which is restricted to people who have, or are planning to make aliyah with them. This other list is called tachlis. If you want to join, us this link: (this is NOT

This group, more than any other is what helped me keep what little sanity I thought I had up to my actual aliyah. For a while, I felt like a double agent, working on things in the US during the day, as if nothing was happening,; then up until all hours of the night, emailing and researching jobs and planning until we decided what we needed to buy to send in our lift. The folks on this list are amazing. Every few months, they patiently answer the same questions from new folks, who don’t bother to read through old posts for the answers to their questions. My suggestion to you is to take the time to read old posts, at least from the past one year, which should cover issues from every season. I mean honestly, if someone explained all about transformers, back in October, do you really need to ask again? Do you think that maybe they changed the electrical system to 110 since then?

There is one engineer-type on the tachlis list, Israel Pinkas, who has researched all sorts of things, like practical cost comparisons for heating a home with gas vs. solar (=oil) vs. electrical. I think he also did a cost comparison of various VIOP programs, down to the agora, as I recall. Others have done exhausting research on various appliances. Instead of posting and waiting a week for others who are in the same boat to answer you, just read though recent posts, and 10:1, you will find your answers and then some.

Why reinvent the wheel? Save your creative energy for your brilliant startup that will come up with the cure for cancer and the common cold.

Here’s the link to the “other aliyah related links” page at the Nefesh B’Nefesh site, and as you will see for yourself, I could make just this topic a column of its own if I wanted to. If you take the time to check out the information on even half of them, you will be helping yourself and your fellow olim tremendously, by being a source of accurate information based on experience here, rather that people’s mistaken memories or family stories of uncles who made aliyah 15 years ago. If you read them all, you could probably start your own aliyah organization!

There is one critique I would like to add to most of these organizations. It is that each organization acts a little too proprietary about its information. It has been my experience that this is a general attitude here in Israel: information is power. If I know something that you don’t, I have more power than you do. I will only share this information with those I feel are worthy. Only heaven knows what those qualifications might be.

One of the main reasons I joined elephant was that they put a premium on helping others more than “being a member”. Of course, it is only reasonable to expect that one will eventually reciprocate that help to others when you can and join an organization that has helped you. So try to keep in touch with folks who do help you, and hopefully one day you will become one of the helpers yourself.

PS. If there is anyone out there to whom I owe a call or email, please accept this as a formal apology. You should be hearing from me soon. If not, I will be expecting you chastisement in the form of a comment to this column or an email forthwith.

Next time, I will tell you about how a more experienced oleh and an newer oleh worked together to help me ( the wet behind the ears olah) without one ever knowing that the other existed, in “A funny thing happened on the way to the electrical store, or shocking truths about Israel”, coming on March 22, 2008.