Aliyah hearing - Michal Fattal - February 2012
Grynbaum, second to left, and Roman, right, at a Knesset committee hearing in Jerusalem this week. Photo by Michal Fattal
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Gregg Roman had the floor for only several minutes, but some of the legislators at the special Knesset committee hearing that he addressed this week still found time to correct his Hebrew.

"It's okay, female is always the better one," MK Yulia Shamalov Berkovich (Kadima) joked, referring to Roman's incorrect usage of genders - mistakes that dotted his presentation with the subtlety of a minefield.

Though Roman's Hebrew was rusty - he immigrated from Yardley, Pennsylvania, in 2006 - it did not obfuscate his emphatic message regarding the experience that many immigrants have in Israel, and the political gap he claims separates them from the government.

"After [immigrants] arrive, [when they are] drafted into the army and choose vocations, expectations are high," the 26-year-old researcher, political activist and adviser told a special hearing of the Knesset's Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs. "There is no warm embrace for these people. There's nobody to talk to."

Roman's presentation was one of scores delivered by representatives of Israel's immigrant community, on a day when the Knesset devoted a series of hearings to elicit views of Israel's contentious legislative body and the efficacy of its parliamentary system.

"In the five years I have been here I never had the opportunity to meet anyone from the government who took the time to explain to me that I come from a non-democratic country and what my democratic rights are as an Israeli citizen," said Tamara Grynbaum, a 26-year-old immigrant from Caracas, Venezuela.

"Before we talk about change we first need to talk about the root causes," insisted Roman, looking straight at Shamalov Berkovich, the substitute chair, and at the only two other legislators seated at her side: fellow Kadima MK Marina Solodkin, and Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon (Yisrael Beiteinu ), whom the Foreign Ministry credited with initiating the day's events.

"The discussion about changing Israel's system of government is both urgent and critical to Israel and its future," declared Ayalon, who called for change on a number of fronts and said input from immigrants was vital.

Roman noted Ayalon's prior position as co-chairman of Nefesh B'Nefesh, the North American aliyah organization, and praised its efforts and those of similar organizations in assisting immigrants. But without government support, he said, the organizations can only go so far. "There is no government system. There is no outreach to English speakers from government. We don't even know what their [party] platforms are," Roman said.

Roman motioned to several non-Anglo immigrants seated at his side who did not receive the personalized services and coordinators that he received during his aliyah.

"They were tossed after [their arrival to] Ben-Gurion [airport], and feel that after they leave the absorption centers after five months, that's the end of the assistance they will receive," he charged.

Shamalov Berkovich, listening intently and often interjecting her own candid observations, suggested that some immigrants are being misled. "To what extent are we telling the truth, and what are our expectations of these remarkable people present here?" Shamalov Berkovich asked, noting efforts to "brand" Israel to potential immigrants. "But when they come here they get the sense that all may be fine and good, but in essence, this is not what they were promised," she said.

Shamalov Berkovich called upon the Foreign Ministry and international Jewish Federations to conduct a "very serious dialogue" with the immigrant community. She went as far as proposing the establishment of an "Integration Authority," which in her view would fill the void left by immigration and absorption services that expire at staged intervals into an immigrant's tenure. She said a new authority could provide assistance until such time immigrants "will tell the government they no longer need their services and can function independently in this country."