I cannot prevent you from getting into trouble in Israel, as I am not able to predict every difficulty you may have in Israel, but if you really want to succeed in your mission, in your Aliyah, you will need to learn how to adapt well – and fast.
Those of you who are coming here with no money and no marketable skills expecting the Israeli government (i.e., the taxes we all pay from our hard work) to provide you with never-ending financial support will be extremely disappointed to find out a very different reality.
You will find yourself without any support at all.
A Few Challenges Most Olim Face
1. Hebrew: Without a doubt, the inability to understand, speak and read Hebrew is the number one challenge that many olim face. Could you survive in the US if you arrived from Italy without any knowledge of English? Learn Hebrew, there are many, many resources at your disposal. It is important to understand that most Israeli companies – from government to healthcare, utilities and retail – that you will need to communicate with in person or over the phone do not require employees to have fluency in English. In addition to Hebrew, the most common language options you’ll find when conducting business are Arabic and Russian. Presenting the attitude that you should be entitled to an English speaker is not productive. You may find employees who try to practice their English skills on you, but despite the fact that English is one of the languages taught in public schools, the vocabulary and comprehension level is often quite low. This can lead to you receiving misinformation.
2. Forms: Filling out forms without being able to read Hebrew and understand what is expected of them – and the consequences of errors.
For example, Mr. Doe followed the format his Israeli accountant gave him to fill out the Ma’am form (for VAT; value added tax, known as sales tax in the US). He didn’t really owe any VAT because he had bought a computer during that time period and already paid more VAT than he owed for his income. Following his accountant’s instructions, Mr. Doe received 5 penalties/late notices from Ma’am (none of which he could understand). He went to a new accountant recommended by a friend and this new accountant finally showed Mr. Doe what was wrong with the form – the previous CPA had Mr. Doe entering the data in the wrong fields.
3. Customs penalties and VAT charges on Imports: It never ceases to amaze me just how far customs will go to irritate and inconvenience citizens who receive packages from overseas. If there was a way to let them know ahead of time that you have placed an order and are expecting delivery from the US, Hong Kong, etc. and provide them with the explanation and invoice electronically in advance so you wouldn’t have to lose a day’s pay going to their office and being accused of importing for business purposes (especially if you are self-employed) – that sure would be nice. But in our real world such efficiency doesn’t exist.
My advice to olim on this topic – aside from never import anything – is that when you purchase the merchandise from the store (online), if possible have it delivered to family or a friend abroad. Let them send it to you and rather than having it sent directly from the seller.
I wish I could enlighten people regarding the way this all works and why, but I doubt if anyone really knows the “why” aside from the tax authority people and the politicians who passed the regulations regarding these laws.
4. Driver’s License: People are constantly asking me for the procedure; where to go, what it will cost, etc. I’ve written articles about this, but things keep changing and I’m not able to revisit those offices regularly in order to provide updated information. I suggest you write me if you have any questions and please remember that the way to receive current information is by calling the Israeli DMV directly.
In Israel, call *5678. From abroad, call +972-3-508-6905. Service is offered in Arabic, Russian and Hebrew. English is a problem because it’s not a job requirement for them, so being able to communicate in English all depends on whether or not the person who answers the phone is able to clearly speak and understand English.
5. “Fighting” City Hall / the Iriah: New Immigrants have a tendency (because they’re used to a very different system where their rights are more respected than in Israel) to fight city hall whenever they don’t like what they are told. This doesn’t seem to go over so well in Israel. Instead of fighting the system, I would advise you to bombard the system with letters and requests until you receive a response. I am not promising that you will receive the response you want to hear, but at least you will have a response to start working with.
When I say a response, I mean a written one. In Israel whatever is not written doesn’t exist and it was never said or agreed or ever promised! Not only that, if you move and don’t bother to update your new address with the Ministry of Interior (Misrad HaPnim) and a notice is sent to your old address, it will still be considered as received. You can’t get away by trying to be “smart” or pleading ignorance.
6. Debts not paid on time or ignored: This is certainly the most acute and painful problem many Olim are facing in Israel. There is a tremendous gap between the Israeli legal system and all others. If you are sued by the Hotza’a La’poal (a most effective governmental legal vehicle to collect debts) you have no right to respond/defend. One can ask for special permission to do so if s/he can present a reasonable cause of defense. If some defense can be presented, the request for a defense will be granted. The problem is that fulfilling such a request comes with a substantial fee; it is not something we can provide for free. If in the end you lose, the Judge will decide how much compensation you will pay to the other side for his losses in defending his case.
When you receive a lawyer’s letter regarding any debt, it is already costing you more money because this lawyer is not working for free. If you keep ignoring or postponing, as unfortunately too many people do, you will end up receiving a “green notice” (or “Azaara” in Hebrew) from the Hotza’a La’poal and from this stage on, things are much more difficult. From the day you receive it, you have 21 days to pay.
There is a catch here. If you don’t even bother to receive it (i.e., sign for it in the post office that you have accepted the notice), and this notice was sent to your address, it doesn’t matter if you sign or not. By law it is considered as if received by you. Watch out.
A Positive and More Effective Approach
Instead of being depressed, upset and fighting the system, try getting professional advice, because in order to navigate the system in Israel you have to know the Israeli system very well or you will get lost very fast.
Be proactive: listen, learn from the answers the authorities give you, try to understand and if you cannot agree with, or cannot understand, the response or the decision you are being given, only then consider seeking legal assistance and advice.
Don’t try to bend or modify the system. Work with the existing tools to get what you want and do not ever compare the Israeli system with the system you know from the country you came from because Israel isn’t that old country. Those who insist on clinging to the attitude that Israel should change for them will end up frustrated, angry and disappointed. Israel is a country full of immigrants from all over the world – imagine Jews from dozens of countries insisting that Israel change to accommodate the laws and practices of their countries of origin (that could explain the demeanor of service personnel who immigrants have a tendency to complain about)!