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Integration Is Never Easy

But it can be smoother

Elena K. repatriated to Israel about a year ago. Her absorption was hardly easy, and the Jerusalem branch of the Ministry of Aliyah and Absorption, or, as they say today — integration, did not helped her much. Elena tells about her experience, which helped her to see shortcomings in the work of the ministry. This experience will undoubtedly be useful for some of the new repatriates, and if officials pay attention to Elena's recommendations, it will be in everyone’s best interests.

Very first steps

A new repatriate comes to the Ministry of Absorption on his or her first day in Israel. About two years ago I happened to visit the Jerusalem branch. To my surprise, I found that people sitting in the “Information” booth and at the reception only speak Hebrew. It seems that nobody cares of how they understand a person who came off the plane just a day before. 

Elena K. says:

«Now the situation has changed, and the ladies at the reception speak Russian and English. So getting an appointment with a case manager is not a problem. Difficulties start later. One of the first questions the manager asks is: „Do you have anyone in Israel?“ You see no trick here, but it exists. If one answers “Yes”, the official immediately concludes that relatives, friends and acquaintances, rather than the ministry, would solve all of  the problems the new citizen faces. I have a classmate in Israel, I stayed with her while looking for an apartment to rent. But she lives her own life, works and has no time to care for me. I can only advise to new repatriates: Never tell the Ministry of Absorption that you have family or friends ready to solve your problems; you count on the case manager’s help literally in everything.

“To behave properly, you sometimes have to go against your heart. As for me, I don’t like to burden my concerns on others, so I decided in to cope by myself. It turned out to be impossible or almost impossible. If you, from the very first minutes, do not force an official to do his job, your problems will be never solved, or the solution will take a disproportionate amount of time.»

Lost in translation

Have you ever noticed that, after some time in Israel. Even those who hardly speak Hebrew use Hebrew words in their speech? We do not hesitate to appoint a meeting at tahana merkazit (central bus station), buy food at shuk (market), enroll children schools and kindergartens iriya (municipality), go to the doctor to kupat holim (medical insurance institution). And now imagine that it is your first day in Israel. While you are flooded with new impressions and new realities are rocket science, a case manager at the Ministry of Absorption speaks to you in a mixture of Russian and Hebrew. However, it is only a part of the trouble.

Elena K. says:

«During the first months in the country, one has to fill out a number of forms. More often than not, those forms are needed in emergency,, when time is running out. And as that wasn’t bad enough, all the forms are in Hebrew. Asked  how I can fill them out if I cannot speak the language, the official answered, „Ask someone.“ You are lucky if you have that “someone”. My classmate, in whose apartment I stayed for the first few days, was abroad and I felt uneasy with the necessity to look for Russian-speaking neighbors. Moreover, at that time I did not know that the Israelis willingly help strangers.

“I understand that a case manager cannot do the paperwork for every repatriate. People are waiting outside. But why at the Ministry of Absorption is there no volunteers, for example, students, who might help new citizens and save manager’s time for those who need the help of a professional?»

MM’s question:

I remember that many years ago in Jerusalem, namely at the Hebrew university, there was a student NGO helping repatriates with paperwork. Its volunteers went with people who did not speak Hebrew, to the bank, to the post office, to the health insurance company. In the Ministry of Absorption, they gave the NGO’s phone on the first day. What has become of it?

Elena K. says:

«At one of the first meetings at the ministry, I asked where a new repatriate might get acquainted with people and, if lucky, make friends. I got an obvious answer: “At an ulpan (courses of Hebrew)». However, I was able to go to the ulpan only after a year in the country. I arrived with an oncological diagnosis, and spent mornings at the hospital. Only now I managed to find an elementary-level evening ulpan. The case manager said, «Well, go to the matnas, there might be a club for the Russian-speaking there.» It would be nice to know what the “matnas” is and where it is. In the end, I sorted it out and found the matnas (community center) but with only an English-speaking club.

“For a new immigrant, it is vital to create a circle of contacts. Meetings, conversations, a opportunity to ask a question to someone who remembers his recent experience, help with Hebrew all of this is priceless and makes the adaptation in the new life much easier. I think that the Ministry of Absorption should have all the information about such clubs with addresses and phone numbers, with names of those who is responsible for their work, and speaks Russian.”

Wrong number

Elena K. says:

Telephone is a separate issue worth of special mention. 

«The telephone theme deserves a separate mention. To begin with, at the first meeting, a case manager asks you to give your phone number. I received a sim card at the airport. But the case manager did not give me his mobile number. It means than in emergency you cannot contact him. And don’t even try to establish two-way connection with him, you will never succeed. And it is impossible to reach anybody on the phone number they gave you at the ministry.

In addition to the case manager’s phone number, the ministry offers a leaflet with a list of phone numbers you might need in emergency. The most important is the number of the ministry’s information center. The leaflet says that it works around the clock. Don’t hold your breath. After 4 pm nobody will answer. And if you reach them in office hours, you will find out that Russian-speaking employees work only every other day, so you will have to give your phone number and get a promise of a return call. It probably happens in different ways, but I have been waiting for a return call for already a year.”

MM’s piece of advice: If you speak English, you better use that language when contacting the information center. It is usually easy for them to find an employee capable to speak English with you. Don’t forget that until recently English  was one of the state languages in Israel, and any official was obliged to speak it.

Elena K. says:

»There are two more problems. In the ministry’s leaflets and booklets you often see phone numbers without prefixes which are city codes. Trying to reach a phone number from the leaflet on his or her mobile, a repatriate reaches nowhere and instead a mechanical voice explaining something in Hebrew.

“In addition, it seems, no one has checked phone numbers in the ministry’s printed materials for years. More than once, I reached the given number only to find out that the number of organization I needed had changed long go. That inefficacy sometimes results in a lot of stress, and it an understatement. I live not far from Jerusalem City Hall and the alarm siren is just next to my place. I do not have a TV, why should I having a computer, and I rarely open news websites as medical treatment  and everyday problems take a lot of time and effort. Now imagine a day that starts with howl of the siren, and you do not know if it is a drill or a rocket attack. To say that it's scary is to say nothing. There is no protected room in my apartment. Where to run? I had the sense to take the leaflet and punch the phone number of the support service, but it turned out to be the number of the police. Only in the evening, when an acquaintance called me, I found out that in was the drill.

“I just cannot understand why the updating of phone numbers in information materials is a problem in the country where all the data is stored on computers. It feels as if nobody cares. Meanwhile, I am sure that accurate work of phone services and adequate directories would make lives of both repatriates and their case managers much easier.

“And one more thing. Every repatriate should be taught the rules of behavior in emergencies immediately upon arrival. Sitting in the queue at the Ministry of Absorption — and it takes hours — a repatriate watches the same video in four languages. Having reached the coveted door, a person has already learned by heart that he or she should have an «integration plan». Does anyone have it? I don’t. It would make sense to show waiting people video instructions. And, of course, to give phone numbers that a person can simply put down while the number is on the screen. And the case manager should, on the very first day, tell the repatriate where the bomb shelter nearest to his or her home is.

With computer databases, this is not a problem.”

Computer literacy

A bit more about computers and other advanced technologies. It seems that the Ministry of Absorption inefficiently uses the time of its case managers. In many cases people could be replaced with machines.

Elena K. says:

“Sometimes I had to wait for my case manager up to three and a half hours as you make an appointment in advance but, in some cases, need to see the manager urgently. Not more than ten percent of people in that queue really needed the help of an official. The rest came to register so that they could continue receiving benefits. Why cannot they register with a machine like in the employment service? It would save everyone’s time. And the case managers could do their job rather than work instead of a machine.

“By the way, I found myself in a very bad situation with the benefit. It so happened that I had to go to Moscow for a few days. No one at the ministry warned me that I had to inform the case manager about my short-term leave and return. I only learned it when I did not receive the monthly benefit while the day of payment the rent was approaching. The settlement of the benefit issue again took time and nerves. People find themselves in various circumstances and, from the first day, a repatriate must know what he or she should inform the manager about.

“Another question a case manager could easily answer using a computer. In parallel with treatment I wanted to acquire a profession on demand in Israel. The manager advised me to sign up on a course. When asked what courses suitable for me are in Jerusalem, she answered me: «There are a lot of them and they are of all kinds.» I actually got no answer. I think that every manager should have a list of courses with brief descriptions, hours of classes, addresses and phone numbers.

Is manager a sentence?

After getting settled and visiting the Ministry of Absorption several times, the repatriates start comparing notes. It turns out that not all the managers are the same, so some repatriates are more fortunate than others. Managers to whom everyone wants to find the way are probably in every branch of the ministry. But nothing of the kind! It is not so easy to change the manager you initially got.

Elena K. says: 

“There are two wonderful Russian-speaking managers working at the ministry’s Jerusalem branch. One of them, Denis, is a caring young man eager to help everyone. Probably his experience is not that extended but he works with enthusiasm, and ir means that the experience will come. The second curator is a very competent woman, whose name I, unfortunately, do not remember. I, however, got the third one — Khaya, who has no experience and regularly gets ill. When Khaya is not at work, the two other managers divide her burden among themselves and, as a result, they can only spend ten minutes on a visitor.

“I had made many attempts to part with Khaya, but they did not allow me to do it. The director agreed to the change of manager only after Khaya fixed a meeting with me on not-reception day. I came at the fixed time, under shower rain, and did not find her at work. She apparently was sick again, but she did not bother to call me and cancel the meeting."

MM’s comment. Khaya has probably been already fired, but the question of how she got this job remains. People like her are a reputational risk for the Ministry of Absorption. We would like to know what criteria does the ministry apply hiring people to a position where they become the face of this country for new repatriates? Work at the ministry is a civil service, and logic suggests that the recruitment process include a competition. The competition with maximum transparency. Where does the ministry publish information about the hiring of new case managers?

It is also difficult to understand why a repatriate cannot change a manager if, for some reason, he or she feels more comfortable with another one. Why does the ministry apply the principle “beggars can’t be choosers” offering a new citizen of the country relationship with a person who should ensure his or her the smooth entree in the new life? A new repatriate faces a lot of difficulties, and the change of one manager to another should not become another problem.

Natalya Hmelik


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