NGO Chaim Shel Tova (Heb: life of goodness), which has been working in recent years to help families of Olim in Israel, particularly in Judea and Samaria, believe an important aspect of the Aliyah experience – emotional and psychological support – has been missing from the services available to newcomers.
“The process of making Aliyah can be very complex and discouraging,” explains CST head Rav Natan Shelo, who also serves as Rabbi of Mevo’ot Yericho in the Jordan Valley. “A person is leaving their job, their society and their social status behind. Further, the culture shock, foreign instincts, difficulty in adjusting, and other issues are likely to increase stress. A couple that comes and struggles to find work in Israel might experience disappointment, anger and frustration. If in their native country the family members held well-respected jobs, the new need to receive financial assistance is not only an economic crisis, but also an emotional one. In such cases, assistance to the family consists of three components: providing for economic needs, assisting in finding work, and providing necessary therapeutic sessions to help the family members overcome emotional issues.”
Devorah (pseudonym), who came to Israel four years ago from Belgium, is one such Olah. She was raised in Israel, where she met her husband, an Oleh. They lived in Israel for a few years, during which she gave birth to their two daughters. The family later moved to Belgium to find work, lived there for 10 years and had several additional children.
Four years ago, they joined a group of Olim from Belgium and France that came to settle a town near the center of Israel. Despite the joy in coming back to Israel and their good command of Hebrew, the family experienced many difficulties. “While it is very exciting to make Aliyah, it is something that can lead to feelings of doubt and insecurity, says Devorah, adding, “This can be seen both between husband and wife and in relationships among all members of the family.”
“Before our Aliyah, we shared a sense of euphoria,” she relates. We didn’t anticipate the economic difficulties we were about to face. We arrived in Israel with a budget for one year, expecting that within our first year we’d be able to get a source of income.”
“We owned a successful business abroad, so our economic situation was stable and good,” she explains. “We could afford whatever we wanted and spoil the children with everything their hearts desired. We didn’t need to establish priorities and decide which things were more important and which we could do without.”
“Once we arrived in Israel, our adjustment to the new realty was very hard. By year’s end the money was gone; we started borrowing and got deep in debt. Our quality of life sank significantly. Suddenly we didn’t have whatever we wanted around the house, everything required consideration and thinking – is this necessary? The kids had a hard time accepting it. Why had they been entitled to whatever they wanted abroad, and here, in Israel, they aren’t?”
“The atmosphere at home was becoming harsh and stressful,” she recalls. “My husband stayed a whole year at home, because he couldn’t find work. Being home under these circumstances created tension. Everything was falling apart. In a time of crisis, it overflows into all the difficulties in our lives, taking them out of proportion. My very relationship with my husband was in question suddenly. The children would yell, in times of conflict, ‘Why did you bring us here?’ My own emotional state was so fragile. Everything was falling apart, including our marriage.”
“In times like this, every small difficulty becomes a huge hardship,” she explains, recalling, “For example, I would contact the school concerning one of the children, and I remember stopping in the middle of the conversation, crying, and getting back to the call.”
“The tension around the house would collect and drain down to the Shabbat meals. Shabbat, which is supposed to be the day of rest, a time for replenishing, became a charged and harsh time. Whatever had been burdening the children’s hearts the entire week would come out around the Shabbat table. Often this ended with a shouting match, crying, a child storming away. Shabbat marked our deep sense of failure.”
Devorah realized she needed help. “Because I have a background in therapy, it seemed natural to me to ask for help. And since I had no problems with the language, I was able to seek out help rather quickly and within a year I found someone who was able to counsel me and also counsel our older children.”
It was at this point that Chaim Shel Tova entered the picture, offering to subsidize group and personal therapy for Devorah’s family. “Without them, I don’t know what we would have done,” she says. “Their support was crucial because each session is very expensive and each member of the family had to go to sessions for an extended period. Our Aliyah had already put us under considerable financial stress. And knowing there’s this organization whose purpose is to provide for mental health issues was also comforting,” she explains.
As a result of the therapy, the family persevered and stayed in Israel. Devorah, as someone who had experienced the process of making Aliyah, now offers her advice to new immigrants as well as for those considering Aliyah.
Devorah emphasizes that faith must accompany the decision to make Aliyah, to help them overcome the tests and crises that will occur along the way. “You need a lot of faith. You have to look at everything and realize that the tests are truly for the best in order to help you and your family grow,” she explains.
Devorah advises that Olim properly prepare to integrate into Israeli society including learning the language and meeting people. “There is something psychological that people are very loyal to their language,” she notes. “You have to realize that Hebrew is the holy language of the land of Israel. Insisting on relying on your native tongue will make it much harder to integrate.
“I am in contact with many Olim and see many who close themselves off, have difficulties educating their children, and fail to understand what their spouse is feeling,” she says. “A person who makes Aliyah has to come with an open mind and realize that the toolbox they used in their old country is not the same as the one that they’ll be using here. The education system is not the same education system. Life is not the same and people’s mentalities here are different. In the Diaspora, education is influenced by the gentile surroundings. A person has to be prepared to separate from things that they have become used to, but that are no longer applicable in the land of Israel.”
“Part of the difficulty of Olim is the result of trying to hang on to what they had there, primarily in terms of physical things,” Devorah states. “Life in the Diaspora involves more physical comforts and wealth, but it is important to realize that the future of our people and our children is here in the land of Israel. In the Diaspora there is no future for Jews.” She recommends making Aliyah with a group, yet at the same time points out the flaws in this approach: