What Every Oleh Should Know

The S.S. Jerusalem Zim passenger ship in Haifa port, October 1955. Photo: Hans Pinn/Israel Government Press Office

 

This article is excerpted from the January-February 1970 issue of Jewish Life, the predecessor to Jewish Action. In the essay Rabbi Aaron Rothkoff (today known as Rabbi Rakeffet-Rothkoff), who had just made aliyah, advises new olim.

. . . This article is not being written for those who still need to be won over to Aliyah but rather for those who are already convinced that the destiny of the Jewish people is being forged in Israel reborn. It is planned for those who believe that it is their sacred responsibility to fulfill the charge of the pre-eminent Mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Yisroel at this crucial moment in the eternal saga of our nation. It is designed to share the experiences and reactions of a family that has recently made the transition so that others may benefit from their encounters and decisions.

Sitting in your suburban home or cooperative apartment, surrounded by all that is currently so familiar, you are probably apprehensively wondering, “How do we begin?” However, before you begin to implement the practical steps of Aliyah, it is more important to develop the proper state of mind that is essential to successful Aliyah. Granted that you have made a most important decision and are undertaking a momentous step, nevertheless, relax and trust in G-d. There is a host of minutiae to be arranged, and there will certainly be some mishaps and disappointments. This is a move of six thousand miles and not everything you plan will go according to schedule. However, if you realize this from the outset and make your arrangements in this vein, the disappointments will be minimal. Remember that you are fulfilling a cardinal Mitzvah, and even if your lift of household possessions arrives late and is unloaded at the wrong port, grin and bear it. If you can transmit this attitude to your family, then you will be winners from the outset.

. . . The most basic decision which Olim must make concerns their future means of livelihood in the Holy Land. The Committee of Manpower Opportunities in Israel, which functions in cooperation with the Jewish Agency, will attempt to secure employment for future Olim before they have finalized their Aliyah plans. Their aid is essential for academicians and professionals, since these classes of workers will be able to strike a better bargain and gain additional benefits from their potential employers while still negotiating from outside Israel. Arriving with employment also spares one from the intrinsic frustrations and tensions that are invariably interwoven with job-seeking. These feelings will also be intensified when one is in surroundings which are still new and partially strange. Nevertheless, many Olim, mostly businessmen and some professionals, arrive without employment. After leisurely attending Ulpanim and mastering the rudiments of Modern Hebrew, they gradually seek out an appropriate field of endeavor. Willy-nilly it all works out, and the Israel relief rolls are not being swelled by the current “Anglo-Saxon” immigration.

Rabbi Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff in IDF basic training in 1976. Courtesy of Rabbi Rakeffet-Rothkoff

 

. . . To sail or to fly is the next question which must be resolved. The advantages of going by air are speed and slightly lower cost. However, when going on Aliyah, journey by ship is to be preferred. The twelve-day voyage will be a welcome respite and vacation from the strains of Aliyah preparations. Modern ships are literally floating hotels and you will enjoy the multitude of activities. Spiritually you will value the opportunity to reflect and experience the anticipation of returning Home after two thousand years of exile. Ship travel will also aid in solving the moving problem, since each person is allowed a substantial amount of free space in the boat’s hold due to special arrangements made by the Jewish Agency. When a large family travels by boat, this space can be utilized to accommodate a fair-sized lift. Even more helpful is the fact that you are allowed to take a substantial amount of baggage into your cabin.

. . . Depending upon your arrangements with the Jewish Agency, you will probably be transported to an absorption center, ulpan, or hostel. Conditions vary from place to place, and it would be prudent to correspond with an acquaintance who has preceded you at the designated location and can inform you exactly as to the facilities that await you. It is wise to arrive with some easy-to-serve foods such as dry cereal and cans of tuna, soups, and vegetables to utilize in your initial days in Israel. Arrangements for permanent housing obviously depend upon the location of your employment. Generally, you will be able to arrange this after your arrival, once you learn the areas and survey the available apartments.

However, future Jerusalem residents are faced with grim and difficult housing problems. Since the Six-Day War and the liberation of the Kothel, real estate prices have been rising daily in the Holy City. Rentals are prohibitive on an Israeli salary since there is an abundance of professionals spending their sabbaticals in Jerusalem who willingly pay exorbitant rents. The government’s housing facilities for Olim are severely limited in Jerusalem, and the purchase price of apartments on the private market is almost twice as expensive as elsewhere. As of December 1, 1969, the government is making special 50,000 I.L. [Israeli pound]-30 Year mortgages available for Olim in Jerusalem to aid them in purchasing apartments.

. . . A more difficult challenge facing the newcomer is in the spiritual and ethical realm. It seems sinful to observe how naturally and quickly we adjust to the miracles of Israel reborn. We walk through the public thorough-fares on the Sabbath, enwrapped in our Tallith, as if this has been our life-long practice. We often give lifts to soldiers carrying machine-guns, and we continue to drive as if we have long been accustomed to having guns adorn our cars. We daily mingle with the masses of Jews gathered together from the four corners of the earth, and we act as if we have always been rubbing shoulders with Jews from Iraq, Yemen, Morocco, and India. If only we could develop the ability of the masters of Mussar to experience the thrill and exultation of the daily renewal of life in the land of redemption and fulfillment. Nevertheless, even the least sensitive among us will still be periodically awakened by the wonders happening in Israel.

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This article was featured in the Summer 2022 issue of Jewish Action.
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