No, I did not assault the Em Bayit, or even yell at the Director of my Absorption Center.
About two weeks after I arrived, my husband came to visit me at the Absorption Center. We were told that since he already had citizenship, he was not allowed to live there, and since he already knew Hebrew, we embarked in what is called “split aliyah”: when part of the family comes and gets settled first, and then sends for the “rest” of the family, sends the lift if there is one and the like.
For some reason unknown to me, everyone was waiting for him to arrive before helping me to do anything. No one would discuss ulpan options, or anything else, even though I only had a “reservation” in the absorption center for 6 months. I knew from friends that ulpanim were starting in Ra’anana, and I wanted to get registered so I could finish before my “time” ran out, but no one seemed to care.
When my shlicha made my reservation, we made it very clear that I was coming alone, and she made it VERY clear (repeating it about 3 times) that I would be sharing a room with someone. When my husband arrived to visit, we finally had my overdue meeting with the director, who seemed very upset that my husband was not staying. A few days after my husband left, I was called down to the social worker’s office and told that I had to find somewhere else to live—by next week. I was in shock.
All this time I was thinking about ulpan, and now I was supposed to come up with rent money that was 10 times what I had budgeted for the absorption center.?? I still did not even have cell phone, and I was trying to make calls using a calling card from the phones in the building that were either out of service or in use for hours with kids calling home to Russia. It turns out that someone decided I was not allowed absorption center rights because my husband was Israeli, when in fact, I had been informed that I did have those rights, if I made aliyah alone.
I had made aliya with Nefesh B’Nefesh, and I called them for help. They had a very helpful and caring social worker who managed somehow to keep me from totally freaking out—although I am sure I was VERY close to it. She allowed me to call my husband in NY and tell him what was going on. (I did not know about VOIP lines back then, and I was very, very grateful that they did.)
They finally got the mess straightened out, but in the meantime, I must have called and emailed EVERY aliyah related organization for help and advice. Some of them I reached through multiple channels, as one organization advertises under several names. One person I finally ended up on the phone with, had already received my networking emails from at least 2 other sources, and he finally called someone he know at the Jewish Agency, who then called me to get my version of the story.
I was impressed that he had taken the time to call because I had heard his name mentioned at the Nefesh office and I knew that he was “pretty high up” as they say. After listening to me for over 40 minutes he asked me if I was any relation to a certain person, with the same last name, who ended up being my sister-in-law. It turns out he went to school with her in NY 25+ years ago before both made aliya.
So nu, he says, what are you doing here now? So I explained how my husband ended up back in NY and how we met, and how we were finally getting it together but the only way we could afford to do it was this “split aliyah” way so I could get the ulpan, and how no ulpan wanted me because I was too old, and (I was probably close to blubbering at this point,) how I was going to be out on the sidewalk with my stuff by the end of the week, according to the absorption center director.
First, he was very kind and told to forget about being out on the street. Then he asked me to try to find out where there were functioning ulpanim on my level. It took a few weeks, but with the help of Nefesh and some new info that I had found out by telling literally everyone I met about my situation, I found both an excellent ulpan and an absorption center with in commuting distance that had space available.
In the end I ended up at an ulpan that I really loved, and at an absorption center where I liked both the staff and the fellow residents. I got to know a whole area of the country that is incredibly beautiful that I never would have even visited. My husband came at Passover time to visit again, and he says that they liked me too. They always invited me to their activities, even though they knew that I was on a bus at 6:20am to get to a higher level ulpan in the next city over, and only got back after 6pm. They tried very hard to keep me in the “information loop” instead of making me find things out the hard way, when they became an emergency, something that is a rarity in this country.
This week’s moral: As crazy as it gets, try to hang on to why you came here in the first place and ask literally everyone you know for help, because sooner or later someone will help, and you just never know who it will be.
Add your comments and come back March 7 for: Aliya Organizations 101.