As an Aliyah professional, I am often asked what is the most important skill to integrating – or “making it” – in Israeli society. Before I can usually answer, the person suggests Hebrew.
Almost as if coming to an Aliyah planning meeting is a confessional, people immediately fess up about their struggles with Hebrew, their hatred of Hebrew School, their struggles to master the Cheet and other guttural sounds, or try to flaunt their imitation accent and Israeli hand gestures (show fist).
Hebrew is a tough language, and as we often forget, isn’t that popularly taught, but cool enough that Rosetta Stone invested in preparing information (this is not an endorsement). Hebrew is a difference-maker for many people in their search for jobs or choice of communities. While it is tough to learn, especially outside of Israel, I fear that it isn’t quite the most important skill to integrating into Israeli society.
Interestingly you can learn a lot about how people learn languages, and I believe that this can be a good predictor about an oleh or olah’s ability to adjust to the different cultural norms in the Middle East. Language instructors have noted that tolerance of ambiguity has shown a strong positive correlation with successful second language learning. This means that a person encounters contradictory information but does not hold them back from pursuing speck or exploration of the language. A perfectionist will get very frustrated digesting all the grammar rules before they have ability to order food at Burger’s Bar. Research suggest that learners who play with the language, understanding that they aren’t masters yet (although their LinkedIn profile may indicate fluency) will increase their overall long-term success.
There are a lot of cultural and language ambiguities in Israel – heck, שלום means hello, goodbye and peace. My observation is that successful Olim have a determination to succeed with a great awareness that they have accents when they speak, may make grammar mistakes, or are overly aware of personal space compared to their Israeli counterparts.
In your search for information to build your personal Aliyah plans, take this tip to heart and comfortably wade through the ambiguities out there. Be sure to ask our Aliyah advisors and NBN olim for assistance to get real-time answers in order to help find the proper recipe for you. בהצלחה – That’s Hebrew for Cheers!