For New Immigrants to Israel, a Safe Place to Kvetch Online

Fragile and frustrated new immigrants can share their woes and get a communal 'amen' on the new blog Oleh Problems.

“I would yell at the people who always cut me in line at the supermarket, but I don’t know how to in Hebrew,” reads a typical post on the blog.

Another reads: “You are home alone when the air raid siren goes off, and for some reason you are the only person in the entire country who didn’t get the memo that it was only a drill.”

During the past three months, Brett Rudolph and Judah Guttmann have been soliciting and anonymously publishing complaints like these on their Oleh Problems blog, which they describe as a “rant platform” for new immigrants. (“Oleh” is the Hebrew word for a Jewish immigrant to Israel.)

The friends, both immigrants from Canada and students at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, created the blog for a class project with the goal of entertaining themselves and their friends. But the site has clearly touched a nerve within the larger immigrant community, attracting up to 100 unique visitors per day and topping 5,000 pages views since launching in March.

“As great as making aliyah is, I think people need a platform to complain and have fun with all the craziness,” says Guttmann, 20, who made aliyah in 2011. “This is a great way for people who have issues to work through them and realize they’re not the only ones who have them.”

Young immigrants have been using blogs and other forms of social media for years to document the ups and downs of their new lives in Israel, as well as to commiserate and warn each other about potential pitfalls. (The “Israel Blacklist” Facebook group, for example, has become a popular destination for English-speaking immigrants to publicly censure companies for providing poor service.) The Oleh Problems blog takes a novel approach by using humor to dissect the immigrant experience, according to Dovev Goldstein of the IDC’s Sammy Ofer School of Communications.

“I think this is a great example of how young people found an authentic issue that touches their target audience,” says Goldstein, who taught the cross media class for which Rudolph and Guttmann created their blog. “And they were able to create real world attention without any marketing or budget.”

Like “first world problems”—the kind that Westerners from privileged backgrounds like to tweet about—the majority of the “oleh problems” that have been posted thus far are tongue-in-cheek criticisms of Israeli society. (“My greatest fear is that if I choose to raise my kids in Israel they will turn out to be arsim,” one person wrote, referring to the slang term for someone obnoxious and uncultured.) Each submission ends with the #olehproblems hashtag, which Guttmann thinks he introduced to Twitter in 2011.

Despite the lighthearted tone of most “oleh problems,” the friends behind the blog and the related Facebook and Twitter pages say they have received pushback from people who feel they are encouraging Israel bashing.

“They see us as doing something degrading to the [immigrant] experience, whereas we’re trying to build a community where we can talk about the issues and maybe solve some of them,” explains Rudolph, 24, a citizen since 2008, noting that he and Guttmann are considering adding a page to the blog for readers to propose solutions to the more concrete problems.

Eric Belkoff saw a link to the Oleh Problems page on Facebook and posted recently about his misadventures at the Interior Ministry. “They refuse to give me [an identity card]…simply because the lady behind the counter didn’t like my proof of Judaism,” he wrote in part. “Resubmitted all the paperwork to Jerusalem. It’s been three weeks, still haven’t heard anything back.”

Was venting on the blog a cathartic experience?

“Yes, and I heard from another person who had a similar situation, saying that the office is hard to deal with,” says Belkoff, a native of Las Vegas. “I didn’t feel as alone."

Daniel Tchetchik