Friday, July 27, 2012

Pounding the Pavement and Knocking on Doors

Shalom, chaverim! Well, our Ulpan exam results are in and we have received our official diploma/certificates from the State of Israel. I got a 100% in level Aleph, which is the highest you can go in that particular level. However, Elul did even better, getting a 89% in level Bet, which is an entire level higher than the level Aleph goal set by our Ulpan teachers. I am very proud of Elul, and he earned every single point through sweat and grit. I'm not so proud of my own score, but I am satisfied that I did the best I could. I am more proud that I didn't quit the class altogether, since there were a number of dark days when I really wanted to bail. We plan to attend Level Bet Ulpan classes when they start up in the fall, provided that we don't have work schedules that would prevent us from doing so.

As far as work goes, we're still looking. Once you finish Ulpan, the financial assistance you receive from the government drops precipitously--in our case, by about 50%. You first go to meet with your Absorption counselor and discuss your options. We met with ours just before completing Ulpan, and she told us to return shortly afterwards, with our resumes prepared in Hebrew.

The first order of business, however, was to get my English resume down to a manageable size, and in a format that, when translated, would make sense to an Israeli employer. I did this with the help of Tamara Klinger-Levy, a Nefesh B'Nefesh staffer who helps new olim find work in Northern Israel. She sent me a template to use, and I wrangled my life into even tinier, punchier bits of text. After Tamara made it even more concise, managing to get it all on one page, it was ready for translation.

Our Absorption counselor had given me the details of a wonderful woman who works at the Nahariya public library, who does free translations of English language resumes into Hebrew. A few phone calls and emails later, and bingo! It was done, and I now have a shiny new Hebrew resume.

However, the realities of being middle aged, car-free, living in the North, and not having fluent Hebrew are showing up in our job hunt results. Even though it has recently become illegal to ask this question in an interview, Elul and other friends have often called about jobs only to be asked, right off the bat, "how old are you?" One friend, who is in his fifties, stopped into an ice cream parlor that was about to open for business. When he asked if they were hiring, he was bluntly told "you are too old to scoop ice cream." We scan the job postings daily, and are steadily applying for work. We use LinkedIn, the Nefesh B'Nefesh Facebook job postings, the Jewish Agency jobsite for olim, and good old word-of-mouth networking. However, there just isn't a lot of work available in Nahariya for anyone, much less middle-aged olim with shaky Hebrew. So we have set our sites further afield, and are looking into as many telecommuting positions as we can find.

Other friends here, who have been here longer, are having mixed results with their careers. One, a former university professor with a PhD in education, but who for some baffling reason is not being allowed to teach in Israeli schools, is doing telephone fundraising work. Another, a former attorney and mortgage broker, is doing telephone sales for a foreign exchange trading company. A third friend has found part-time work as a fundraiser for another cause, which he hopes will lead to a full time job. Another friend, a nurse with more than twenty years' experience, finally found work in a nursing home. However, she left the job after her first day of orientation, when she discovered that she would only be paid 30 NIS (about $7.50 USD) an hour, which is barely above the Israeli minimum wage.

My own professional field, teaching English as a Foreign Language to Adults, is one of those niche jobs that lends itself best to doing private tutoring. My teaching qualifications are from England, and since the curriculum was geared to teaching adults, not children, do not allow me to teach in the Israeli public school system. However, I have learned that even the private language schools here pay exceedingly low wages and do not offer full time contracts or guaranteed hours of work. With this kind of instability and low wage, it doesn't make sense for me to spend money commuting back and forth to the schools. So that's out, at least for now.

However, Israel is a place where you can reinvent yourself. Sometimes you can do this by choice, and sometimes you have to do it through necessity. Whether we like it or not, the entire North American/European job force is undergoing seismic shifts in the way business is done and how "career" is defined. I was never particularly orderly in my own "career," as it was something I rarely put in first place as a life priority. So I will tell my Absorption counselor, when I meet her in August, that I am interested in looking at opportunities to re-train for another field entirely. I want to find something that cannot be outsourced, and provides full time work in a "real" Israeli company.

In order to earn the rights to a full Israeli retirement pension, like the American Social Security system offers, you need to work for at least ten years for an Israeli company. (Either that, or your can be self-employed and pay into your own fund, but at a very high rate of tax.) What I have seen, in many of the jobs advertised for English speakers in Israel, is that the work is being offered by overseas companies. The worker is paid by PayPal or by bank draft in a foreign currency, and the employer does not have to abide by any Israeli employment laws. Likewise, these employers know that a foreign worker is highly unlikely to pursue the employer in the courts, so the worker is at a great disadvantage. There is a new class of highly educated and yet highly vulnerable worker, and these workers are being sought by an enormous number of overseas firms. The workers are vulnerable for a number of reasons: age, geographic location, physical limitations, lack of unionization or legal oversight, and the simple economic principle of supply versus demand.

Prospective olim need to consider their careers very carefully when thinking about making Aliyah. If you can arrive debt-free, enjoy living simply, and don't mind being flexible about your job and its wage, then you will probably be all right. But you need to know that there is a definite ageist bias in the workplace, and that's not likely to change anytime soon. Fair or not fair, it's the way it is right now. You will also need to look at the geographical availability of work in Israel, which is still centered around Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. However, the cost of living in these areas is extremely high, almost prohibitively so. Finding work in and of itself may not be so hard, but finding work that is lucrative enough to maintain a lifestyle in these places might be very difficult indeed.

We're still glad we chose Nahariya, even though our location is working against us at the moment in our job search. Neither of us is particularly interested in a high-powered, high-stress career lifestyle, nor do we care that much about "stuff" or impressing anyone with it. We even like being car-free, as it keeps our overhead very low. But we are both going to need to be very creative and open-minded when it comes to building our work lives here. As one of our former Ulpan teachers said at the end of the course, we "are now like babies leaving the incubator!" Yes, we're out of the incubator, but we're not yet out on the cold, cold streets. Not yet, anyway!

Shabbat shalom!

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