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Dealing With Culture Shock: A Guide for Olim 

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There’s no place in the world quite like Israel. That’s why it’s perfectly normal for Olim Chadashim (new immigrants) to experience feelings of culture shock. After all, they’re adapting to the exceptionally distinct culture that is Israel, uniquely shaped by history, religion, geography, and the country’s diverse population.

When the culture shock fully hits, Olim might feel frustrated, anxious, and even homesick. They might get the urge to avoid everything different from what they’re used to or even resist integrating into their new environment. Again, these feelings are perfectly understandable. But luckily, they’re also temporary. 

After the frustration stage of cultural shock comes the adjustment stage, followed by acceptance or adaptation. The good news is you can reach the final stage faster if you know how to deal with the culture shock from the getgo. That’s precisely what this guide will help you with.

What Are Common Cultural Challenges Faced by Olim in Israel?

Research, research, research. Ideally, this should be done before considering moving to Israel or making Aliyah. Knowing which challenges might come your way before, during, and after making Aliyah, is the first step in dealing with each challenge effectively. Here are the primary challenges posed by Israeli culture for expats.

The Language Barrier 

The Language Barrier

Hebrew is the primary language in Israel. It’s also one of the most challenging global languages to master. That’s why many Olim struggle with the language barrier, especially during the early stages of their integration. Though Hebrew proficiency isn’t necessary for mere participation in Israeli society, it undoubtedly is for full integration. 

Master Hebrew and you’ll be able to unlock a deeper level of connection with the society and culture in Israel. You’ll be able to enjoy the theatre, take various lectures, watch Hebrew films, meet new people more effortlessly, and much more. 

So, take full advantage of all the learning resources at your disposal, attend ulpan courses, and force yourself to speak Hebrew as much as possible. All the perks will make the effort well worth it! 

How Can Language Barriers Affect the Adjustment Process for Olim in Israel?

If you only stick to your native language, you’ll likely have issues finding a job, navigating the bureaucratic system, and forming meaningful relationships with locals. And without these aspects, you can bid farewell to a successful adjustment to life in Israel.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you should put too much pressure on yourself. Start by surrounding yourself with some familiarity and comfort and gradually increase the use of Hebrew in your daily life. For instance, if you’re an Anglo, start by joining expat groups, attending English-friendly events, and hiring English-speaking services. This should help alleviate the feeling of shock and help you pick up the language faster.  

Bureaucracy and Red Tape

Bureaucracy and Red Tape

It might strike you as odd to see red tape so high on this list, but navigating the bureaucratic maze in Israel can be a significant challenge to a successful life in the country. Sure, the bureaucratic situation has somewhat improved in recent years, but it’s still very daunting, especially for Olim.

Fortunately, the frustration of dealing with bureaucracy can be mitigated (and even avoided) by careful planning and preparation. In other words, you should do your “homework” before making any official arrangements and applications, and you should manage just fine. Of course, being prepared for potential delays and complications will also help you avoid frustration. They’re simply part of the process!

The Cultural Differences 

As mentioned, the culture in Israel is quite different from that of most countries in the world. So, whether you’re making Aliyah from the U.K., South Africa, or Australia, you’ll probably have to adjust to quite a few cultural differences.

Here are some of the differences that might confound Olim:

  • Israel is known for its fast pace of life to the point that everything appears urgent.
  • The Israeli workweek starts on Sunday, while the weekend starts on Friday. 
  • Most businesses and transportation shut down on Friday in observance of the Sabbath. 
  • Haggling is not only common but expected in many situations.

What Role Do Cultural Differences Play in the Workplace for Olim in Israel?

The Israeli workplace is multicultural. However, there are still some norms, expectations, and unwritten rules you should be aware of to succeed and progress faster.

  • Israeli society is relationship-oriented, putting honest emotions and feelings above hard plans and objective facts. 
  • Bluntness is appreciated and often encouraged.
  • Staying up late or working overtime is common in Israeli companies. 
  • Problem-solving on the go is a highly appreciated skill.
  • The Israeli workplace is communal above all else, so expect lots of gatherings “after hours.”
  • Teamwork always trumps individualism.

Social Norms

Social Norms

Building a social network in a new country is no easy task, especially for new Olim who might feel isolated and homesick. However, it’s also instrumental to truly making Israel your home. A great way to go about building relationships in the country is to get familiar with its social norms before you arrive.

Here’s a quick rundown of Israeli social norms that can help you make new friends and connections easier:

  • Israelis are known for their direct communication style, which can sometimes be perceived as rude or aggressive. They also tend to be quite informal in their interactions.
  • It’s not uncommon for a discussion to turn personal quite quickly. Don’t be surprised by questions about topics like your salary.
  • It’s perfectly OK to strike up a conversation with strangers, while waiting for the bus or standing in line, for example. 
  • There’s a strong sense of community support in Israel. Even extended family members are often closely involved in each other’s lives.
  • Family values are exceptionally important, and children are often prioritized above all else.

Traditions and Customs

Given how rich the country’s religious and cultural heritage is, Israeli traditions and customs can also take some time to get used to. However, getting used to them is a must, as Jewish traditions and holidays can influence every aspect of your life in Israel, from social interactions to daily routines.

Here are some key traditions and customs to be aware of:

  • Israel has its own calendar, which is lunar-based. This means that major Jewish holidays like Rosh Hashanah occur on different dates every year.
  • The observance of the Sabbath, from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday, is a central part of Jewish life in Israel.
  • Kosher dietary laws are an important part of Jewish tradition and observance.
  • Modesty, or tzniut, influences the clothing choices and behaviors of Orthodox Jews in public settings.
  • Military service is mandatory for most Israelis and is seen as a rite of passage for young people.

How Long Does It Typically Take for Olim to Adjust to Life in Israel?

Ask any Olim in Israel this question, and you’ll get a vastly different answer. Some will say that they felt Israeli from the moment they set foot in the country, making the adjustment to their new life virtually seamless. Others will share that they still struggle with certain aspects of Israeli life even after living in the country for many years.

The truth is that the adjustment period for Olim in Israel can vary greatly depending on a variety of factors, including your personality, your attachment to your former country, and your support network within Israel. If you’re fully willing to adapt, it should take you no more than a year to adjust to life in Israel.

What Tips Can Help Olim Integrate More Smoothly Into Israeli Society?

Successfully making Aliyah is half the battle. The second half, arguably the more important one, starts after arriving in Israel. There’s no doubt about it – you’ll need some time, effort, and patience to successfully integrate into Israeli society. Here are some social tips for new immigrants to Israel that can help along the way:

  • Apply for the Sal Klita (Absorbtion Basket) financial assistance to help with your initial expenses.
  • Start learning Hebrew early on to help navigate your daily life in Israel better.
  •  Get yourself fully prepared for the realities of life in Israel.
  • Learn about the Israeli culture daily.
  • Stay positive and open-minded and nurture a strong desire to live in Israel at all times.
  • Build a strong social network and a support system within the country.

Are There Support Groups for Olim Experiencing Culture Shock in Israel?

Given how welcoming Israel is to new immigrants, it shouldn’t be surprising that there are many organizations and groups offering support for Olim. 

The KeepOlim non-profit organization particularly excels in this field, offering numerous programs and services geared to Olim struggling with their new life. No Oleh Alone and the Tikva Mental Health Program are just two of them.

There’s also an extensive list of organizations that can help you with all things Aliyah, as well as some helpful Facebook groups.  

You’ll also find that the Israeli people are generally quite supportive, even to strangers. They’ll bring you the medicine you need, drive your child to school, and make a meal for you. The communal spirit is simply embedded in the Israeli way of life. 

How Can Olim Build a Social Network in Israel?

How Can Olim Build a Social Network in Israel?

As friendly as the Israeli people are, it takes more to build a social network than just relying on chance encounters. Here are some proactive steps you can take to build the ever-so-important social network in Israel:

  • Join a community group (e.g., a sports team or a religious organization).
  • Use social media to connect with other Olim and locals.
  • Attend social events in your area (e.g., cultural festivals).
  • Reach out to colleagues and try to socialize outside work.

What Resources Are Available to Help Olim Understand and Adapt to Israeli Culture?

The Israeli culture is undoubtedly complex. The bad thing about this is that you’ll need some time to understand it fully. But the good thing is that the Israeli people are fully aware of this complexity, which is why there are many resources available to help Olim get the hang of this culture.

Organizations like The Jewish Agency for Israel and Nefesh B'Nefesh offer a treasure trove of useful information. The same goes for government websites like the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration. You can also learn a whole host of valuable information on local blogs, such as the one from TCS Telecom.

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