Family & Education

A new home in Israel - but, oy, it wasn’t easy

In 2020 Ida Symons emigrated to Israel. Covid caused some problems...but the bureaucrats were even worse


I am an Israel activist and have risked life and limb and near arrest on the streets of London defending the beautiful state of Israel. A more proud and committed Zionist you will not find. But making aliyah in 2020 wasn’t easy. And the problem was not Covid-19.


Day one, Thursday :

Ben Gurion airport. We’re met by a representative for new olim, who is so grumpy that if you ever had doubts about making aliyah he would certainly confirm those doubts for you.

Because of Covid, there are no longer planes full of olim, but just a few people arriving independently. Mr Grumpy leads us to the empty passport control and tells us to wait for our instructions as new immigrants.

So we wait, and we wait and we wait. Our immigrant representative is hanging on for a flight from France to arrive with a few more new immigrants but they are elderly and extremely slow.

We are told to collect our olim starter pack, which includes cash, a phone Sim card and our temporary ID numbers. The temporary IDs, we are told, will open all the doors for us when applying for various benefits. We believe this at the time.

More waiting: for the French to be given their starter packs, and for the Jewish Agency representative to realise the French are holding everyone else up.

Two hours after our arrival we are eventually led out to our waiting taxis towards our new home.


Day Two: Friday.

We were told by the Jewish Agency representative at the airport that we need to phone certain governmental offices in order to make appointments for the smooth running of our aliyah process. What he failed to tell us is that not only should our first call be to the Ministry of Health, in order to cancel our two week quarantine as we came from a “green” country at time of entry —but that particular office is only open between 8 am and 10 am. We call at 12:15 and hang on for 45 minutes, not realising why no one is answering.


Day four: Sunday

The automated messages on governmental office phones are in Hebrew, Arabic and Russian. Almost none have messages in English.

Our Israeli friend spends three hours calling all the various offices/department to make appointments for us or to give us the correct information for the next steps.

There are some departments where you can book appointments online but too often the messages start in English and then continue in Hebrew. Finally, we manage to get our first appointment for the next day at the Aliyah and Integration Offices.


Day five: Monday

The first and most important appointment in this whole process is with the ministry of the interior to get our biometric Israeli ID. Since we have an appointment, we think that this will be straightforward. No. One has to queue to get a ticket to be called for the appointment.

We have made our appointment online and naively think we have booked for us both. No again. You need two appointments.

Cue my first (of many) meltdowns when I see the clerk only processing one ID application, for me, and not my husband. I tell her that the whole thing is ridiculous —“meshuggah”. Big mistake. She throws down her papers, saying how dare I call her crazy. I have to backtrack and grovel, explaining that I wasn’t saying that she is crazy but that the system is crazy.

Eventually we both calm down.

She gives me a new number for my husband and we continue. Fingerprints and photos are taken and we are told that we will get a text with a special code in order for our Israeli biometric ID cards to be delivered within 10 days by registered mail.


Day six:Tuesday

We already have a bank account as we have had a holiday home in Israel since 2006 but need to open a new Israeli account rather than an “overseas” account.

We are told that we need to make an appointment to see someone at the bank.

We try to do this while we are actually in the bank, only to be told that we need to phone the bank to make an appointment.

Seriously? We go home, call the bank and make an appointment for three days’ time, or so we think. We ask the bank clerk for a text while on the phone to confirm our appointment but she says that it is in the system and not to worry if we don’t get a text.


Day seven:Wednesday

We have eye tests and ask the optician to help us fill in the form to apply for our driving licences (as everything is in Hebrew). She fills in the form for us but we need a photo to complete the application, so she sends us elsewhere to get our photos taken.

In the photo shop we are asked for our Israeli ID number. But they can’t (or won’t) enter our temporary ID as they need the real biometric ID. Even though we say that the official number will be the same as the temporary number …not sufficient. We need our real biometric ID before they can take a photo. We leave.


Day eight:Thursday

Back to the bank for our 10:30 appointment. Apparently there is no appointment anywhere on the system — and in any case we can’t open the account without our official biometric Israeli ID card/number.


Days 12 & 13

Send email to aliyah representative from the Jewish Agency) requesting ulpan (language school) addresses. I receive a list, with an apology saying that the list is only available in Hebrew.

I email all 10 names on the ulpan list. Most addresses bounce back. When I mention this during my aliyah appointment, I am told to call. I do: most have ceased operating or, on one of my calls I am told (by a Russian “teacher”) that there is no one who currently speaks English and if I speak Hebrew he can transfer me to someone. No, the reason I am calling is because I DO NOT speak Hebrew.


Day 14

We get a text telling us that the post office has tried to deliver our biometric ID cards but we weren’t in. That is a lie as the message comes at 9:30 am and we are home, waiting for an electrician. So we go to the local post office to see if it holds the cards. Inevitably, we are told to return the next day to check.


Day 15

We get the cards. We go on to the government website to activate them but you can’t activate the card without an activated card.


Day 16

Finally, our cards are activated via an early morning phone call.

To the bank with activated card to open new bank account and to get paper signed for the aliyah agency, in order for the Jewish Agency to start monthly payments/benefits.

We have to change from our international current account to our new Israeli account. But the bank won’t transfer our standing orders/direct debits from our old account. Every utility company has to be contacted separately.


Day 16-18

The Israeli government announces a semi lockdown.

Our children and grandchild are in the UK, with two more grandchildren expected. So we need to be able to travel between Israel and Britain.

We are told that you cannot leave Israel without an Israeli passport — and you can’t apply for that until you have been in Israel for 90 days.

We are advised to waive our right to opt out of Israeli citizenship in less than 90 days, so that we can have our Israeli passports issued earlier.

My husband says this is not necessary; he has been told that we have been given a blue form which allows us to leave the country. However, what we don’t know was that it doesn’t allow us back into the country. He is told that we will need to contact the embassy, and thinks this means that we need a letter from the British embassy in Israel to leave the country. Wrong.

In fact the blue permit allows you to leave Israel. You then need to go to the Israeli embassy in the UK for them to issue you with another permit allowing you back into Israel. You will need a return date before the Israeli embassy will issue you with the permit as it is a one time permit.


Day 22

Due to total frustration I send a SHOUTING email to the Jewish Agency demanding that they call me, following several unsuccessful attempts at calling and emailing them. I get a call and a next day appointment.


Day 23

We visit the Aliyah Agency in Tel Aviv. We ask again about getting our Israeli passport and leaving the country without one and are told to go online, where everything is in Hebrew.

The driving licence office don’t have any record of our application form, so this process needs to be restarted.


Seven weeks later:

At Ben Gurion Airport heading back to the UK for the arrival of second grandchild.

Because of Covid, we are advised to get to the airport four hours ahead of the scheduled departure time. I don’t want to but my husband insists we do as suggested. Surprise, no check in desks are open! Surprise, there are just 20 people booked on our flight!

We are also told by different people that we won’t be allowed into the airport without producing a negative Covid test. We can’t find confirmation of this but my husband insists, just in case. One thousand shekels later our tests come back negative — and no-one at the airport asks us for any such proof.


Back in the UK

Several calls from the bank asking me to pop in to confirm the transfer of funds between accounts. I tell them: “Sorry, but I am now in the UK and anyway I already did that both in person and in an email”. I am then told that they need another email with both our signatures and new copies of our passports. I duly send them. I then get another call saying that they can’t transfer the money as we haven’t been in to the bank.

At the same time I get an email asking me to fill out a tax form as a non-Israeli. New immigrants don’t pay tax. How incompetent are you? Another SHOUTING email is required to transfer the funds between accounts.

No one at the Jewish Agency tells us we are entitled to a pension at the age of 67 and to make sure that we are on the system once we return to Israel, otherwise we will be “forgotten about” and will not be able to claim anything.

I discover this from a taxi driver who used to work in the immigration offices

I am a proud Israeli citizen. It is such a wonderful feeling when you tell Israelis, be it in the supermarket or the coffee shop that you are an olah chadasha. The endless mazeltovs are worth everything.

It may not be for everyone, but I believe life in our Jewish homeland is where we belong.

But, oh God, the bureaucracy.


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