October 21, 2009
Jewish Blog-Con: The Happy Olim
Last I spoke with Jolene Ilkay and Micky Jolles in September as part of this blog series, they were on the El Al charter flight of Nefesh B’Nefesh, above the Atlantic, literally on their ascent to Israel.
But in Israel, life doesn’t really begin until “after the chagim” (after the High Holidays) when everyone recovers from their Sukkot vacation and festivities. So I caught up with the new olim once the sukkahs were dismantled to find out how routine life as an official Israeli was progressing.
Both overcame what they believed would be their two major obstacles: for Ilkay, finding a job; for Jolles, finding a place to live in Haifa, where he’s enrolled at Ulpan Etzion (a Hebrew language course.)
Ilkay, who lives in an apartment in Herziliyah with her Israeli boyfriend, Dor, got a job working as an administrator for Oranim, an organization that operates various Israel programs. “Everything is going great,” said Ilkay over Skype. “I’m working, doing ulpan, and I’m starting school in a week in a half.” She plans to get her MSc in management through a joint Oranim/NYU-Poly program.
Jolles is sharing a dorm room at the ulpan, studying full-time. “It all worked out,” he said. Now he’s focusing on learning Hebrew and befriending his international group of classmates.
Their biggest struggles involved dealing with notorious Israeli bureacracy.
“Everything is that much more difficult here,” Ilkay said, referring to issuing government documents and dealing with banks. “It’s not like the States where, if there is a rule, that’s the way it goes for everybody.”
Jolles went through similar hassles. ‘There were some difficult times just getting a hold of people you need to talk to, or you call someone to get information and they tell you one thing and the next person tells you something else. You’re running back and forth to get things done.”
Ilkay also commented on the high cost of living in Israel, from groceries to furniture to electronics. “Everything is more expensive here, but you get paid less,” she said. “I’m figuring out how people survive here. I’m getting by with what I have…it’s definitely a harder life, but it’s worth it for me, by far.”
Their highlights were spending time with friends and family—or their significant others’ families. Ilkay spent the chagim mostly with her boyfriend’s family near Jerusalem while Jolles spent chagim with his girlfriend’s family in Israel and also with his sister’s family, who made aliyah several years ago.
“We had dinners in the sukkah, which I haven’t had in like 15 years,” Jolles said. “It was awesome.”
Ilkay helped build a sukkah for the first time. “And to see all the sukkahs in Jerusalem was amazing. I loved it,” she said.
Both of them reveled in the Yom Kippur atmosphere, in which the entire country shuts down and it’s illegal for Jews to drive.
“We walked on the freeway,” Ilkay said. “All the kids in the neighborhood were in the square. Everyone was out and about walking. There were no cars. It was beautiful.”
“I never experienced anything like that before,” Jolles said.
As life in Israel begins to unfold for them, they don’t look back. “Everything’s amazing,” Ilkay said. “Thank God I have a job. I’m going to school. I’m learning Hebrew. I’m keeping myself busy. Initially it was kind of upsetting trying to get my bank account and all the forms needed. When that was finished, everything was great. Now I’m just starting my life. I couldn’t be happier.”
Jolles is just as overjoyed. “There were definitely times when I have to reflect and say, wow, I made aliyah and am in Israel—what was I thinking? But at the same time I would never thinking about changing my mind or what it would be like if I hadn’t made this decision. I’m so happy to be in Israel.”
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