Most Anglo Olim follow this path: They arrive in Israel. They network. They land a job. They use Nefesh B’Nefesh’s employment services from workshops on resume writing to finding jobs on the NBN job board, we really can help you with the job shidduch.
However, some Olim follow a totally different path. They decide to skip the job search entirely. Instead, they make it their business to start their own businesses in Israel.
I know that that might sound like a whole other challenge. After making Aliyah, perhaps you’re looking for something stable, or you’d like to get a feel for the Israeli work world. That’s definitely reasonable. However, for some Olim, owning their own businesses actually gives them the stability and autonomy that they’re looking for in their new country.
Take Michael Sklar, for example, a 55-year-old accountant from Los Angeles. When he made Aliyah with his wife and kids in 2005, he planned to work in his profession remotely for a little while and then to look for other opportunities in Israel. But, it turned out that he was able to keep his old clients in the US and gain new clients both in the US and in Israel, who also needed to file their US taxes.
He told me that having his own business in Israel made his transition, work-wise, very smooth. The hardest part, actually, was just getting his US-based clients over the psychological hump that he wasn’t going to be close by. So, what did he do? He told them that before he left, he’d personally install video cameras into their computers for free. Only about five of them took him up on the offer, and only three have ever even used them.
Of course, Michael didn’t realize that he’d be capable of running his business in Israel until he arrived and felt more settled. Other people actually come feeling like they have one option — and that’s self-employment.
Marci and Harold Rapp, Olim from Toronto, came to Israel in their mid-50s in 2008 because their three sons had made Aliyah and their daughter wanted to be in Israel too. They had owned a cheese business for a while in Canada, and believed they’d have a hard time easing into the job market in Israel because they were middle aged. They were set on cooking up a business idea, and after their first year of Aliyah, they did.
After living in a country where summer was only two months long, Marci found herself enjoying the much longer Israeli beach weather. She loves the water, but couldn’t find anything suitable to wear. Existing companies that made modest swimwear didn’t have offerings for curvier women. So, as they say, necessity is the mother of invention, and from there, grew their business idea.
First, Marci and Harold took an English-language course at MATI, the small business development center in Israel, to learn about launching a company in Israel. Then, in 2010, they started MarSea Modest Swim & Casualwear, and have since grown to have over ten distributors in Israel, and another ten distributors worldwide.
In today’s global economy, where so much can be done with just a laptop and a cell phone, it often doesn’t matter where a business owner is located. People dream of making Aliyah, but they worry about finding their place professionally in Israel. When you own your own business, it’s possible that you can do what you’re good at—from the place where you want to live.
Of course, there are other Olim who launch Israel-based businesses, and many of them do that only after years of first getting their feet wet in the Israeli marketplace. Shlomo Benzaquen, 49, who made Aliyah from Brooklyn in 2003, came to Israel after long careers in both graphic design and Birthright Israel recruitment. Because of his work with different Birthright organizers, he found employment in Israel at different companies that rented cell phones to tourists. He did well at those companies, but found himself out of work unexpectedly a few times.
He realized that sometimes there is actually a lot less stability in being an employee, but he still wasn’t ready to launch his own gig. Because he was great at sales, he started working as a real estate agent at RE/MAX Hazon. When he joined the gold club after a record number of sales, he and a business partner decided to open up a new RE/MAX franchise in Jerusalem, called RE/MAX Momentum. They have since hired 15 agents, who they train to build their own real estate businesses.
In his market, Shlomo told me that having English is an advantage, because so many Israelis want to sell to their property to Americans. But, he also stressed the fact that what was most important to him was being able to live in Israel and support himself here. For him, at this point in his life, it means owning his own business–and helping other agents build their own businesses. (By the way, they’re looking for go-getter Olim!)
Finding a job is one way to make it in Israel. But, if you’ve got that entrepreneurial spirit, why not give it a shot? You are, after all, moving to the start-up nation itself.