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Israeli start-up to recruit blue-collar Jews abroad

דצמבר 17, 2010. Haaretz: Raphael Ahren

A recently founded private recruitment company is trying to attract potential immigrants to Israel by offering them a one-year work contract, free housing, trips and Hebrew classes. Starting early 2011, the "Fund for Encouragement of Israeli Labor, Ltd." will offer blue-collar jobs to people eligible to immigrate according to the Law of Return. Professionals dealing with Western immigration generally welcome the initiative, but some say they doubt unskilled labor and low wages will attract great masses, as most potential immigrants have or seek to attain high-level careers.

"This is a venture founded by two business men with the Zionist idea," Avihay Dori, the company's Israeli-born CEO, told Anglo File yesterday. "The idea is to let people to get to know Israel from the bottom-up, not as a tourist. You don't have to decide about aliyah before you come. You can decide when you are here and working and we're happy if you stay after you see it."

Currently, the company offers jobs for people between 20 and 55 years of age interested in working in hotels, restaurants or as nannies, as well as in the fields of construction or agriculture. In the future, it will add openings in hi-tech, biotechnology and other fields, according to the company. "The company combines the values of free initiative, Hebrew labor and practical Zionism," states its website, israelfor-u.com.

Absorption before immigration

"I see my initiative as an opportunity for people in the Diaspora who struggle with the economic situation and want to come to Israel to advance themselves here, and also for young people who want experience Israel a little bit after college," says Dori, who co-founded the firm with Itzhak Reitmann.

This "absorption before immigration" approach, as Dori calls it, has the company provide participants for one year with free housing, medical insurance as well as Hebrew classes, as well as "travel across Israel, commuting from home to work and back, national insurance payments, subsidies for return flight tickets at the end of the work year [and] guidance from our social worker, who shall listen and direct you if necessary," according to the site.

"After a person receives confirmation that he or she is eligible for aliyah, he signs a work contract in his native language," Deri explains. "Before he arrives he already knows where he is going to live, where and in what position he will work and how much he will earn. He doesn't come here only to be placed in some temporary housing and then we see what happens with him."

The Herzliya-based company, which is currently working on establishing an official partnership with the Jewish Agency, sees its initiative as a contribution to both the Israeli economy and Zionism. "Coming here for a year will strengthen the connection between those who come and the state of Israel, even if people don't make aliyah at end of the day. It's also meant for people who would otherwise not be able to come, or would never think about coming to Israel," Dori said. He expects "at least 1,000" people to participate in the project in its first year, the businessman added. Dori says he and his partner are currently paying out of pocket to run the company. Their firm is partnering with companies such as Isrotel, which will pay it fees for bringing in employees. Dori says a number of companies are already on board, but he and Reitmann won't begin recruitment abroad until all the infrastructure is in place.

Few unskilled clientele

"The company has an admirable goal: giving people a taste of Israel," said Kim Ephrat, associate director of employment at private Anglo immigration assistance group Nefesh B'Nefesh. She added, however, that the majority of potential newcomers from North America and the U.K. do not fit the company's profile.

"Most of the people we deal with at NBN are already professionals or academics and are looking to continue their professional careers here, or they're students who are looking to go to university and get an education and profession here," Ephrat said. "We don't have that many who are interested in unskilled labor. But if there are people who are interested in that kind of work and want to check it out, it's a great option."

Chaim Waxman, a leading American-Israeli sociologist who specializes in aliyah research, said the initiative could prove worthwhile. "It's an interesting idea which may contribute to the aliyah of some American Jews, especially young ones," he told Anglo File. He added, however, that he does not think it will be able to significantly increase immigration numbers. "But I applaud all efforts that make aliyah more appealing and easier, especially when they do not appear to have any negative consequences on Israeli society."

Josie Arbel, the director of absorption services at the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel, said she is curious to see who in the English speaking world will be interested in the new program. "It seems to me likely that it will appeal to an older population or to people without good careers, because young people could make aliyah and then study and try to get a good career going," she told Anglo File. "What I find interesting about this initiative is that it's trying to fill these jobs with people who are eligible to make aliyah, instead of foreign workers who are not going to be able to stay and become citizens."

The deputy director of Telfed - South African Zionist Federation (Israel ), Dorron Kline, also expressed support for the idea. "A program that organizes work, Hebrew lessons and field trips provides an answer to a growing market of South African youth who wish to travel overseas for a year and work," he told Anglo File.

"Although jobs that only pay minimum wage are not an attractive solution for the masses, if even 10 or 20 South Africans join such a scheme, this will be a success. Telfed is in touch with such a number of potential immigrants who are unable to find work in South Africa and are looking to overseas markets to provide them with employment. With the shekel twice as strong as the Rand, Israel is certainly a viable option for them."

A number of immigration professionals commented on the fact that the new company calls itself a "fund" ("keren" in Hebrew ), a word they said most people associate with a nonprofit. "Though they're called a fund, they're a for-profit recruitment company," said NBN's Ephrat. "I think it's important that people realize that and don't get misled by that."

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