Work and Human Dignity

A few months ago I read an article by Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks at titled Work and Human Dignity that discusses why the highest form of tzedakah is helping someone find a job. I was touched by Rabbi Sacks’ words because Michael and I had been unemployed since June 2008 and were beginning to experience some of what the wise Rabbi details in his article.

So rather than wallow in self-pity, I decided it best to share what we’ve learned about job hunting in Israel in hopes that it might help some of you who find yourselves in a similar position – as well as people who may mean well, but whose attempts to “help” others only backfire.

Out of desperation during month eleven of our unemployment, I posted a plea for help in securing employment to 12 e-mail lists and was overwhelmed by the number of responses I received – more than 200 people wrote back! There were three types of responses:

  1. Accusations that I was a loser to consider leaving the Holy Land and that I should throw off my American mentality of what I really needed and learn to live with less.
    This was not a productive response since the subject of my e-mail was “We don’t want to leave, but we haven’t found work!” It was written like any other business marketing piece – to evoke a response, hopefully one that would lead to employment.

    I found it upsetting to be chastised by total strangers who consider themselves righteous and obviously view all Americans as spoiled rich people. The authors of those half dozen or so messages had no idea that we had already given up the majority of our material possessions moving from a 2100 sq. ft American house with a brand new gourmet kitchen (that we had to sell for less than we owed on the mortgage), in a religious neighborhood with a great school, 3 vehicles and good jobs – to a small apartment with folding table and chairs, no cars, no jobs, and an entirely different type of school system. I wondered how much more they expected me to live without. And even if I could cut something from my budget, I had no income to fuel any budget in the first place. And then there was the complication of my husband’s ex-wife who wasn’t interested in reducing her standard of living [i.e., child support + college tuition for the teenagers, etc.])

    The only positive about this response was that I took pleasure in hitting the delete key. But now that I think of it, maybe it was those angry vibes that caused the motherboard in my laptop to fry!

  2. Well-meaning people providing a couple links to job sites I had already been scouring for months – many of whom were also unemployed. Most recommended IsraEmploy, an online job board that had recently begun charging a monthly fee. Since I had no extra money to work with and my trial period had ended, I didn’t follow through on that one.
  3. Valuable contacts – about 15 people provided names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses of people we should contact for ADVICE. We were told – wisely – not to ask the contact people if they know of a job, but instead ask them for advice on HOW to secure employment in Israel. This turned out to be the most valuable advice we received. The concept is that if you contact Mr. A and tell him you need a job, and he doesn’t know of one, that’s the end of the line. If, on the other hand, you tell Mr. A that NBN suggested that he might be able to give you some advice on how to secure employment in your field – or in another field where your exceptional skills could benefit someone – even though Mr. A doesn’t have a job in mind, he may connect you to Mrs. B and Mr. C, through whom you may eventually connect to Mrs. Z who actually has a job to offer you.

Lesson #1: Job searching in Israel is all about networking with people – being a writer, and not much of a schmoozer this presented a challenge for me. Out of the 200+ responses, about three dozen people (the initial contacts snowballed) provided productive information and contacts – a few even submitted our CVs to their HR departments and managers. Some of those submissions resulted in phone interviews with employers and eventually six in-person interviews.

Lesson #2: During this process we learned that even though the work we do (database administration, chemical engineering, technical writing, Web content management, etc.) is accomplished in English, we still need to have good Hebrew skills to get through most (but not all) interviews. And that good Hebrew skills will land you a higher paying job.

Lesson #3: We had to accept the possibility that we might have to move away from the Jerusalem area and into the center of the country where most Hi-tech jobs are – and possibly even as far away as Haifa. But being ANYWHERE in Israel sure beats living in exile.

So I pulled out the map, checked some communities on the NBN Web site, and signed up for their Yahoo groups. I spent some time reading the posts in order to get a feel for what goes on and whether or not people were open to helping us with information. Initially I decided that Rehovot and Ariel were potential candidates if we would have to move (I later added Petach Tikva, Kfar Saba, Netanya and Ma’alot to the list). Then I contacted the hospitality committee at one of Rehovot’s synagogues (via their Web site) and we received an invitation to spend a Shabbat there. That weekend produced dozens of contact people! And it encouraged us to know that so many people who didn’t know us were willing to go out of their way to help us. My husband had a few telephone interviews and one in-person interview as a result of that weekend – in Rehovot, Kiryat Malakhai and Be’er Sheva.

Next was a pilot trip to Ariel. With the help of Ariel’s Aliyah Coordinator, my husband got an interview at the college there. That interview produced lots of advice regarding the potential career paths he could pursue in the engineering arena. It also produced an interview in Tel Aviv the next day with another professor from that college who is involved in a business start up that might be able to hire my husband in the Fall(which unfortunately didn’t fit into our financial plan). His interviews in Tel Aviv were the result of an NBN contact and our Ariel networking.

I know how difficult it is to remain positive and fight discouragement, I hope you’ll be more successful than I was in that area. Most of this article was written three months ago, I can only share it with you now because my husband secured employment at the end of July and we have completed our move into an apartment in Ra’anana. We traded our beautiful Ma’ale Adumim view (the banner above of which I haven’t been able to bring myself to change) for a cityscape that provides better work and ulpan opportunities for us. It was emotionally difficult to move away from the wonderful friends we made during our year in the West Bank and giving up our “settler” status was a huge struggle, but that’s for another post in the future.

If you are one of the many job seekers in Israel looking for work, please feel free to send me your CV and I’ll try to circulate it for you. If there is anything else you can think of that I can do to help you, please don’t hesitate to ask.


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