Under the best of circumstances, making Aliyah is a complicated and emotional matter, fraught with the challenges of uprooting from one’s home, integrating into a new society, finding work and making new friends. The Aliyah of “mature Olim”, those roughly between the ages of 50-65, carries with it unique concerns and pressures that are important to be aware of.
Common Characteristics: Although every Oleh is unique and our circumstances different, there are characteristics in common for this age demographic. Typically, all or most of our children are grown and out of the house and we have passed the point of having to bear major childrearing expenses. By this stage, we have accumulated extensive career experience that in theory, should be of value to prospective employers. Hopefully, we are still healthy and most of us are very willing to work and may still need to work. Most have accumulated some degree of financial assets, frequently including a home. Importantly, we are an ideologically motivated group, and on an emotional level feel that we still have it within us to make a major life move to a new country. We are very desirous of, and more than capable of, coming to Israel to make a contribution to the growth of the Jewish homeland. In addition to being ready to take on a change in country and culture, this desire often intersects with a point in life where we feel we are ready for a change of job or career path.
What’s on Our Mind: Juxtaposed against these positive considerations one needs to look at what most prospective Olim in this age demographic are thinking: “Can I really make it in Israel at this age?” Where are, or will, my kids and grandkids be living and where exactly am I going to start this next stage of my life?” Three of the biggest concerns common to all Olim are certainly relevant here:
- Overcoming language barriers
- Finding affordable housing in Anglo and other communities
- Managing to be financially viable if assets back home have weakened or will not yet be available and if job prospects are unclear in Israel’s youth-oriented culture.
From a social perspective, Olim in this group are concerned about finding a place where they will fit in, finding a Chevrah, perhaps even finding a mate. Many, especially those that have already experienced some degree of health concerns by this stage of life, are thinking about how they will be able to deal with the Israeli medical establishment in order to assure that they find the right doctors and the kind of care they are accustomed to in their country of origin. Frequently, Olim in this group are quite interested in understanding more about Israel’s tax structure and the best way to transfer financial assets here. For those that are not going to actively need to look for work, they may be very interested in figuring out how to identify meaningful volunteer opportunities and ways of offering of themselves from their life experience.
What to Expect: At this point it is time for a serious reality check. What should a mature Oleh realistically expect upon arrival? For one thing, our likely weaker language skills are going to put us at a disadvantage in many settings, particularly in the job market. Given our lack of a ‘network’ here, we may feel that we are not ‘hooked up’ anymore the way we once were professionally and socially. Compounding this is the issue of age discrimination, which exists here without the legal protections common in the U.S. The general lack of knowledge as to ‘how things get done’ in Israel may be very unsettling and compound general lack of familiarity with surroundings and culture. It is not uncommon for some of us to reach the conclusion that we will always be one of those immigrants with a bad accent, and not really a fully integrated part of Israeli society.
A Tough Employment Scene: Have you ever heard that line from the song in the movie ‘Crazy Heart’: “I used to be somebody but now I am somebody else; who I’ll be tomorrow is anybody’s guess “. The employment scene here is difficult, at best, for most mature Olim. Be prepared not only for age-discriminatory behavior. Finding work in your field of expertise may take a long time, may require considerable concessions on your part or may not happen at all. It is unlikely that you will be building a career here at this stage of the game, but rather, your focus will be on finding a job. Prospective employers may try to take advantage of you, salaries offered will be lower than anticipated and callbacks after an interview may not occur. Compound this with the lack of a familiar employment network and you can understand how frustration levels can run high. It is also not uncommon for Olim to have to hold more than one job to make ends meet.
Counter-Strategies: First and foremost, the need for realistic and moderating expectations is essential when coming to this country at this stage of life!! As wonderful and fulfilling as life in Israel is, the challenges posed necessitate confidence, open-mindedness and a willingness to adapt to the conditions of life here. Flexibility is the name of the game! While some percentage of us will actually succeed in finding work in our fields of expertise, the reinvention of yourself that you may only have dreamed about in North America is really possible here and probably required for a large percentage of Olim in this demographic. If handled with the right spirit, it can be a unique opportunity to find out what makes you happy and fulfilled. Despite it all, the absolute truth of the matter is that one can make a contribution here because Israel really does need every one of us.
From a practical point of view, it would make sense to bring work with you from North America if at all possible. Telecommuting arrangements have grown tremendously and are highly desirable as is the offering of consulting services. Regularly travelling back for work gets harder at this stage, but may be necessary for some. Others have come with the desire to start something new and this is a wonderful thing. After all, Israel is the ‘Start-up Nation’.
Be prepared to spend a lot of time upon arrival getting into the networking game. This is absolutely essential to your success here. There are so many ways to go about this in Israel, but it has to include some combination of the following: via internet job sites, the Beit Knesset, Oleh organizations, newspaper ads and articles, networking events, employment agencies, attendance at conferences and seminars and of course conversations with your family, friends and neighbors.
Is It Worth It?: Of course it is. What is it worth to realize your dreams? When people reach our age bracket they have special challenges to overcome particularly in the area of employment, which are only magnified when moving to a new country. The fundamental questions mature Olim have to ask themselves are: “Am I prepared to disengage? Can I separate the person who I am inside, who still hopes and dreams to accomplish this incredible step in life, from the person who I’ve been all these years in the Galut? Am I flexible enough and do I believe enough in myself to step into an entirely new arena that is going to be unfamiliar and constantly challenging? Every oleh’s circumstances are unique—there is no one way to do this. It is clear that you have to piece together a plan and reach a solution that works for you. But the rewards will be numerous and Nefesh B’Nefesh will be there each step of the way to assist in any way we can.
Howie Mischel spent 32 years working in New York and Boston as a financial analyst and banker before making Aliyah in 2009 at age 57. He has done financial services consulting in Israel.