Government “Help”

As newbies to Israel, job hunting can be a bit of a challenge.  So my husband and I went to a job fair in Haifa sponsored by the Ministry of Aliyah and Absorption.  While this particular fair wasn’t so useful (it concentrated mostly on manufacturing jobs), we did meet with a representative from the Ministry who suggested we take advantage of free career counseling, free resume writing/translation, and recruiting with job leads.  My husband made an appointment for the following day in Karmiel.  Shortly after arriving he called.  “They just informed me that I don’t qualify,” he said.   (He was not discouraged.  In Israel, rules are meant to be broken and “no” never means “no.”  This is important to remember when you are feeling disheartened by Israeli bureaucracy, outdated policies and practices.)  In Israel, retirement is mandatory at age 67 for men (it’s 62 for women, but they have just changed the law to 64).  He was told that the only way to extend one’s work life as an employee is to strike out on one’s own and work as a freelancer or consultant.  My husband suggested that I go to Karmiel to meet with the Ministry job office since I’m 60 and still in the running for employment.

There I was greeted by a vivacious young woman who is a job counselor, and her counterpart, a dour, older Russian immigrant who is a psychologist.  The purpose of the psychologist was supposedly to assess the personality of the applicant, and to ensure that he is a viable and realistic candidate for employment.  The psychologist seemed to suffer from narcolepsy, as she practically fell asleep in front of her laptop.  The job counselor took one look at my resume and told me, “You don’t want to be an employee, you need to be a freelancer.”  I told her I was fine with that, but then she added, “We don’t help freelancers. That’s a different government job office.  But to get there, you will need a referral from the Ministry. ”  Because I didn’t fit into her framework, she told me, she also could not offer the free resume translation service.  Perhaps they would help me at the freelance job office.

So I got back into my car and went to the Ministry of Aliyah and Absorption.  I spoke to the same lady who recommended that I go to the first employment office.  She called the freelancer job office who said that no, they couldn’t offer to translate my resume because I wasn’t a resident of Karmiel, even though Karmiel is the closest city to where I live and the only place near me that has a government office of this nature.

The Ministry of Aliyah and Absorption lady said she was very sorry, but she couldn’t help me.  Her hands were tied, since the various agencies were funded in a very specific manner and if I was outside the perimeter, the budget would not allow them to make an exception.

I remarked – – while smiling and being totally non-threatening, calm and polite, yet firmly and with conviction – – that it seemed ironic that the entire purpose of the Ministry of Aliyah and Absorption was to help new immigrants and returning residents, yet there were stumbling blocks created by the very same office that were counterproductive.  I told her I wasn’t really helpless, that I am a resourceful person and can do pretty well on my own, but that I lacked certain tools because I was new and just needed to know what those tools were so I could access them on my own.  I told her about my job plan and how I had done lots of cold calling and reached out to companies and academic institutions, sparking interest in my services.  I could tell she was impressed and immediately her tone changed.

“I really would love to help you with your resume myself,” she said sincerely, “but I just don’t know any English.”

Aha!  I had my “in.”  I quickly scanned the hall through the open door, making note that there was no one else waiting for assistance.

“That’s so kind of you to offer to help,” I said politely, “because now we can sit and work on my resume together!”

She was trapped.

A very kind friend had offered to translate my resume into Hebrew, but there were some tricky spots that needed a bit of polishing.  So together the Ministry of Aliyah and Absorption lady and I sat over the resume, and to her credit, she did help me a lot.  When she finished editing it, she told me about a free online resume service whereby you send them the text, and they produce a finished copy with select fonts and formatting.

I thanked her profusely and went on my way, stopping to say hi to a friend who works in the same office building.

“She was nice to you?” my friend said, shocked and surprised.  Apparently this woman has quite the reputation of being a short-tempered, burned out bureaucrat.  I never saw that side of her, she even encouraged me to stop in to say hello the next time I’m in town.

I still have to go the the government office that counsels freelancers and provides them with job leads, but that can wait for another day.  Fortunately do to extensive and ceaseless networking I have some promising possibilities within my field.

I have an Israeli friend who is rather anti-religious and barely agnostic.  “The only reason I believe in God,” he tells me, “is that the very existence of Israel is a miracle.  With all the bureaucratic foibles, it’s amazing that anything gets accomplished. How else, if not for God?”

Once we figured out how to navigate the system, my husband found work immediately. (Hint #1: never ever send a resume as a pdf; it will automatically be tossed.  They want CVs sent as a Word document.  Hint #2: in the field of hi-tech, the preferred language for your CV is English, not Hebrew. We wasted countless hours working on bilingual resumes).  Although the naysayers said my husband would never find work at age 69 in Israel, even though he was an experienced and expert programmer and systems engineer, within a week he had 3 interviews and 3 job offers in the private sector.  It turns out that Israel is experiencing a severe shortage of people qualified to work in the hi-tech industry.  While the pay isn’t what it was in the States, the benefits are attractive (including a new leased Kia Niro hybrid car and free gas in a country where gas is nearly $8/gallon) and the work is technically exciting.  My husband is actually happier working in Israel than he was working in America.  Who would’ve believed that now, at age 70, he’s doing his part contributing to the Start-Up Nation!

It took a several months and a long bout of disappointing, infuriating and absurd interviews that were worthy of a soap opera, but I did finally find work as a freelance writer and editor, and at a decent wage, too.  I’m currently working with a college in the North translating scientific research from Hebrew to English and writing popular science articles for their donor newsletters. My triumph wasn’t thanks to any referrals by government employment service agencies.  I simply picked up the phone and cold-called my current gig, and the job came seemingly out of nowhere (thank you, God).

I wish this was worthy of congratulations, but I’m now over my head registering with government offices as an independent contractor. I’ve hired an accountant to help me slog through the paperwork and long lines at government offices, including the tax authority and social security (bituach leumi).  The accountant has already warned me that I will likely be subject to an audit and they’ll want to know everything, including a list of the appliances I own (which make no sense).

It may actually cost me to work, but oh! the stories I can tell…

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It’s All About the “Poh”

dredielpoh

Chanuka is about miracles, and the very fact of our being here in Israel and that things are going well seems pretty miraculous in and of itself.  It seems hard to believe that we’ve been here for 9 months.  The time has flown so quickly. First I want to say:  Thank you, HaShem: we’ve settled in quickly and made many new and wonderful friends; I can daven at the Kotel and other holy sites whenever the mood strikes; we’ve learned all kinds of new skills and our Hebrew continues to improve; our house construction has still not started but at least we have a very nice rental apartment in the meantime; we have great medical care and it’s actually affordable; the fruits and vegetables are bountiful, delicious and reasonably priced; we live in a place with gorgeous views of mountains, the city, villages, and the Mediterranean; and my husband found work at age 69 only 30 minutes away, in a job that is technically challenging, pays decently, has good benefits, with a great boss and wonderful coworkers.

There is an interesting difference between dreidels sold in in the Diaspora versus dreidels sold in Israel :  the letters on the dreidels are different.  In the Diaspora the letters are nun, gimel, hey, shin. These letters stand for Nes Gadol Haya Sham – – “a great miracle happened there” which refers to the miracle of the oil and the victory over the Greeks.  In Israel the letters on the dreidel are nun, gimel, hey, peh – – Nes Gadol Haya Poh – – “a great miracle happened here.”  For us that just about sums it up:  it’s all about the “Poh.”