French Israel

Monday, August 02, 2004

Since beginning Ulpan Etsion a couple of weeks ago, a few things have become clear about my aliyah, in August of last year. I would like to mention a few of these experiences, as it may be of some help to those who are in the process. I'm also helping that someone who is more experienced, and can see the mistakes I'm making, will perhaps enlighten me so that I can avoid future trouble.

This is not intended as a blanket criticism of Israeli bureaucracy -- I have seen it operate quite efficiently sometimes. Despite the strikes and the horrible lines at the Misrad HaPnim [Interior Ministry], I have been able to do most of what I needed to do. I could outdo many tales of woe from fellow Olim with similar anecdotes from my experience in France, just to give an example, from when I moved there a few years ago.

When I first decided to consider aliyah seriously -- and by that I mean within the year -- someone gave me the contact info of the shaliach in Miami (I was living in Atlanta at the time). I called his office; they sent me some information, and within a month or so he made a two-day visit to Atlanta to interview candidates. That was in the spring of 2003.

I must wonder now, in retrospect, if this is way conspiracies are perpetuated. Left to my own devices, would I perhaps have walked into the offices of the Israeli consulate in Atlanta first, and discovered the blinding light of clarity? Would they have helped me immigrate to their country, or would they have told me (more likely) that immigration was not their job, and directed me to the Sochnut [Jewish Agency]?

If I were immigrating to a different country, one which didn't have an Ethno-Religious Agency, how would I have done it? I guess I did not study civics well enough; I do not know whether that is the job of a Consulate or of an Embassy. Or of some third party, which has a history of confiscating and losing some 12,000 passports of North-African immigrants.... [Revised: I heard 12,000 on the news; the linked article says 20,000.]

Back to what really happened. I brought all the requested documents and photos to my meeting with the shaliach. He was kind and professional, and gave me a rundown of information about things such as the Sal Klita and the ulpan, the one-way flight on El Al, a taxi ride to my destination (whatever that might be), and the like. He told me his objections to the shipping loan, which he expected to be cancelled any day (it was, as I understand it from the Merkaz HaKlita). One thing I remember him mentioning in particular was that if I lived across the city from where the ulpan was located, the state would pay for my transportation. He was about to retire in a few months, and was happy that my target date was within his regime, so that I could be added to his statistics.

I had a few hang-ups: I was about to make a pilot trip to Israel (first ever), so would be needing to have my passport with me for that. That could make it tough for his office to get my passport at the time needed to put a visa in it. And what's more, my passport was about to expire, since it dated from 1993. In retrospect, again, I wonder if I could have renewed the passport during my six weeks here, and obtained the visa then. Probably not.

At the opportune moment (after my pilot trip), I was visiting some friends in Washington, D.C. We were close to the neighbourhood with all the Embassies, and I had a bright idea: since time is of the essence, why not take my new passport to the Israeli Embassy for the visa? I called the shaliach's office, who told me that would do no good. They really needed for me to send it to Miami, so they could take it to the consulate there, and send it back to Atlanta.

They were efficient, though. I had the passport-cum-visa back in my hands a few days before the flight.

I had exactly three questions for the shaliach's office during the filing process:

  1. Could I import a firearm? I realised that obtaining a permit to carry one would be more difficult (yes, I know I do not live in the shta'him [settlements] at this moment, and that it would be easier to obtain one if I did) but since I was moving to Israel for good, with everything, would I at least be allowed to bring it into the country for storage?

  2. Could I import a motorcycle? Though not much of a biker, I had been without a car for a while and was borrowing a motorcycle from a friend. It was old and third-hand, although in excellent repair, and would take up much less room on a lift than a car. Perhaps I would buy it from him and bring it with me. Besides, there was little chance I could afford a car here.

  3. Could I use my Hebrew (rather than English) family name in the immigration? After all, all documents from this point on would be in Hebrew, not English, and so many immigrants had done so before. (Many Europeans did so, often just choosing a Hebrew name for their family, and all politicians are required to do so, as I understand the story.)

His answers were:
  1. Don't know. Try to find out after you get there.

  2. Don't know. Try to find out after you get there.

  3. Don't know. Try to find out after you get there.


Obviously, all three questions needed to be answered before I got there, even if the first two were a bit bizarre. But they were not answered, leading to some measure of inconvenience. (And I dropped the motorcycle idea altogether.)

Regarding the ulpan, I have now discovered that there are some Olim moving directly into the dormitory facilities of the ulpan. Sure, they're paying, but it is much cheaper than typical apartment rent.

And even though the free ulpan credit lasts the first eighteen months of one's Aliyah, it should be stressed that the first six months is the best time to do it. I discovered the hard way that the Sal Klita runs out at six months, and that any continued payments after five months are based on weekly visits to the Lishkat HaAvodah [Bureau of Employment]. This is in conflict with the ulpan, but the Misrad HaKlitah [Ministry of Absorption] just chastises me for not going to ulpan in the first six months. At least the Lishkat HaAvodah does not chastise me for not finding a job, as they say I should not even bother until finishing ulpan.

No one told me about the option of living at the ulpan. And since it is better to do this at the beginning of one's aliyah, I think I should have been told about it while still in the U.S. Like, before I was frantically calling distant acquaintances, looking for a halfway house.

And you can forget about transportation across to the ulpan, if you are receiving Sal Klitah or unemployment money... Which you are, if you are studying at the ulpan when you are supposed to.

As a result of these experiences (which I am only skimming now, leaving out the real salient details), I am simply wondering: what exactly was I doing with the Sochnut?

But how else can it be done?
PinḼas Ivri 18:12


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