Olim expo draws thousands of new immigrants, but leaves many wondering if they can even afford to live in Israel
For second consecutive year, the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption refuses to attend what it called a "completely commercial event." Because of that assessment, no other government ministries were permitted to participate either.
There was probably a good reason why the soda refreshment stand and the "Anglo-Protekzia" booth were placed on opposite ends of Jerusalem's International Convention Center on Tuesday. The man selling soda was charging NIS 12 for a 500 ml. bottle of Sprite, just about double the normal price. And the man at the helm of Anglo-Protekzia was promising new immigrants that he could help them avoid overpaying.
Both were taking part in Expo Klita 2012, a seven hour event designed, according to its organizers, "to address the various needs of new and veteran olim from all over the globe." And in one sense, with a slate of how-to lectures, with scores of booths and with English-speaking vendors representing Israeli phone companies, health organizations and private legal and mortgage services, it may have done just that for the thousands of participants.
"From the sheer amount of businesses, charities and organizations present at Expo Klita 2012, and the high quality lectures given, it is clear that there is a wealth of information and continuing help for olim regardless of their length of time in Israel," said the event's organizer - a private Jerusalem-based company called International Media Placement - in a statement released after the Expo.
Not everyone, however, saw the fair as purely for the benefit of immigrants. For the second consecutive year, the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption refused to attend what it called a "completely commercial event." Because of that assessment, no other government ministries were permitted to participate either.
And, in fact, it did seem like "commercial" was the name of the game at the Expo, which had the look of a convention center event with the feel of the flea market outside the Roman Forum. Though entrance was free of charge, Judaica vendors and craftsmen hawked their wares at gallery prices.
Moshe Fuld was at the Expo to introduce his new business, launched that day. He stepped out from his booth and held court, making his pitch and gesturing with his hands to anybody who would listen.
"I can offer you the best deals, the best prices, and the best service," Fuld, a litigation lawyer originally from New York's tri-state area, told a cluster of people. His company, "Anglo-Protekzia," is offering "personal Israeli life concierge" service for new immigrants. Fuld promised he would save immigrants money and hassles by negotiating their bills with Israeli suppliers and service providers. The cost to clients would be 50 percent of what he saves them during their first year with him.
With booths touting such luxury rental properties as Jerusalem's Mishkenot Haumah - where the price of a 64-meter, two-room apartment with a terrace begins at NIS 1.76 million - and other vendors touting investment and financial opportunities, the message resonating through the smell of burnt crepes permeating the outer hall was clear: Immigrants - particularly the estimated 2,000 French and American immigrants who attended - have money to spend.
The immigrants themselves took issue with that mindset. "What's with the prices?" complained a woman in her forties who arrived last week on a Nefesh B'Nefesh flight and was just told that a combined technical writing and marketing program would cost her as much as NIS 15,000. "Are they serious?" asked the woman, who preferred not to be identified.
"Hey, you just make aliyah?" a bearded twenty-something with a kippa asked, approaching this reporter from the rear and identifying himself as someone from "Start Up Israel," which was not actually named on the Expo's official list of participating vendors.
"If you need anything - I mean anything - go to this web site," he said, flashing a website address he wrote on the back of another vendor's business card. His company purports to offer "free services to immigrants" and even "referrals to psychologists and counselors who can help your family with the transition." But the website listed neither an address, nor telephone number, nor the names of any of its management. There were only several blank contact fields for immigrants to provide their personal information.
David Weitz, a 45 year-old immigrant from London who has lived in Israel for 20 years, was hoping to find employment opportunities both for himself and for his American fiancee at the fair.
“I’m looking for a position in computers and marketing, and to see what opportunities are available to my fiancee,” said Weitz, 55, who is now freelancing. But he said the advice he received at the various “job” tables “wasn’t very concrete.”
Others had more positive observations about the event. “There are a lot of vendors and everything’s in one place,” said a forty-something husband-wife couple that asked not to be identified. They arrived from New York on the previous week’s Nefesh B’Nefesh flight, and the husband is looking for a job as a baker.
Fifty-five year-old Bernard Ferber immigrated to Israel from Geneva, Switzerland, in March. After attending the Expo with the hope of obtaining information about investments and taxation, he gave the fair a “medium” rating. “I’m not convinced that they have the answers,” said Ferber of the vendors, most of whom he said asked for his contact information and were there “more to sell than to help.”
“Half of the exposition tells you how great it is to come to Israel,” said Ferber, “and the other tells you ‘We’re here to help you because there is really a mess.’”
Expo Klita says it plans to return in 2013, and that with Israel “being the ‘start-up nation,’ the amount of new services available to olim is expected to continue to grow.”