After seeing countless olim come and go during my nine months in Israel, I felt I had to do something. I’ve always been a planner, and making aliyah (immigrating to Israel, for the uninitiated) is the craziest thing I have done to date and also the best thing. Out of all my friends who are recent olim I feel like I’m among the happiest and most well-adjusted, and as I speak to many of them I am beginning to see a pattern of common mistakes new olim make. None of the solutions I am about to propose are mandatory and they might vary from person to person, but these are the things that worked for me.
Problem #4: I feel so isolated, how do I make friends?
So you made aliyah alone, like I did. Wow, you’re super brave, you deserve a serious pat on the back, honestly. Now you landed at Ben Gurion Airport and expect a hero’s welcome – well, you might have gotten one by Nefesh B’Nefesh’s welcoming committee, but that stops once you get into your cab and enter the Great Beyond.
Solution: Upon making aliyah, if you are single, make sure you get communal housing. If you’re a family, join a welcoming community.
I strongly suggest you get communal housing of some sort. If you’re a young and single oleh, absorption centers and live-in ulpans are great places to start. The IDF is also a great way to integrate into Israeli society, so if you can serve, serve! The work you do might not be the most high-brow, but the connections you make and the improvement to your Hebrew will be priceless. I didn’t serve because I’m too old, nearing 27, and my Master’s Degree meant the IDF determined I was better off using my skills in other ways. However, I really wish I had moved here earlier and served.
I started out with an internship program with the IAC (Israeli American Council) called Onward Israel, where I lived and worked with Israeli-Americans, helping me ease my way into the water instead of diving headfirst. I worked with FireWall Israel, a job that led to a student internship that paid me just enough to support myself, where I still work to this day.
I then decided I wanted to go back to school, and although many advised me to move into my own place, I decided to choose student housing. Not only was it cheaper, it also matched me with four other roommates who are students as well, and, coupled with my the foundation of Hebrew I had built, gave me a chance to socially integrate. Communal housing also often has events, like joint Shabbat dinners, parties, game nights, and the like, which greatly help you feel like you are part of a community, which is of crucial importance as a new, lonely, single oleh.
I know a single oleh who is moving back because his one-bedroom apartment in a quiet Jerusalem neighborhood simply didn’t provide him with the social stimulation and connectedness he craved. He probably would have been much better off in some sort of communal housing, or at least with a roommate or two.
If you are married and/or have a family, move to a neighborhood that is known to be friendly and get involved with your child’s school. Israeli parents love to get involved with their kids’ school, whether as volunteers or field trip chaperones. It’s a great way to meet other like-minded Israeli parents, many of whom might find your foreign-ness fascinating and be eager to help you integrate.
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