A young rabbi (my oldest son Judah) recently reminded me of a saying that “you come to Israel to make a life, not a living”. My wife and I arrived on aliyah last August and aside from completing a five-month, full-time ulpan, my primary preoccupation until recently has been to find full-time work to support us.
On the face of it, the average person would interpret this saying as a judgmental statement about one’s economic prospects in coming to live in Israel: Don’t expect too much economic success here; salaries are problematic; the job market is difficult, at best. The truth is, it’s not simple and it’s not easy for many olim chadashim (new immigrants), especially if they arrive here later in life. During the course of my job search, I have been in meetings with prospective employers who didn’t hesitate to tell me that “your age is going to be a problem” (I recently turned 58) or that “you are very overqualified”, a code for we don’t want you and we don’t trust that you will stay with us. An experienced headhunter bluntly told me that it was unlikely that I would find work here. I went down many paths during the last nine months, working part-time as a consultant for someone in New York, trying to help at least three failed start-ups and interviewing for a job back in New York which would have required my presence there 10 or more days per month.
Along the way I felt frustrated, scared and at times depressed. So many friends and relatives told me to have ‘savlanut’ (patience) and how many times did I hear the old standby “kol hatchalot kashot” (all beginnings are hard)? Although I have always tended to think of myself as a competent and energized person, and a person who came to this country with emunah (belief), lately I’d been thinking that maybe my time had passed, my expectations should be dramatically lowered—my confidence was eroding.
When I left New York last summer, I was at the top of my game professionally. As a managing director of a global financial services firm, I was riding atop a successful 32-year career as an analyst and banker, had enjoyed a wonderful career path that had some bumps along the way, but that thankfully enabled me to provide for all my family’s needs and desires.
But having a Wall Street-based career was not easy. The Street is a rough place. It can extract a price in stress and aggravation. It daily presents many challenges to those pursuing a career. Conflicts, demands, complications, pressures, the never-ending competitiveness and desire to get ahead— there are countless challenges to one’s personal values and one’s desire to live a life that is ‘yashar’.
Making a new life in Israel isn’t easy – the rules of the game are different. But with G-d’s help, this oleh (new immigrant) has found fulfillment.
For a long time there was an empty feeling inside me at work, but you try to rise above the feeling that you’re only doing it for the paycheck. So much of one’s life is spent in the workplace. Certainly, we can seek personal satisfaction through a job well done or in using opportunities that present themselves at work to preserve one’s humanity and elevate, by behaving and acting for Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of G-d’s name). This is especially so when facing situations that raise ethical conflicts or that test the way one conducts one’s interpersonal relationships. But sometimes it’s just not enough.
As I prepared for aliyah, I thought a lot about what work I might be doing when I arrived. The logical path most of us follow is to pursue opportunities in areas where our experience lies. And as I said, I spent nine months going to numerous banks, investment funds and insurance companies and found myself frustrated. Throughout this period I kept thinking about the moves I was making. I wasn’t happy. I came to feel that I wanted to do more than just earn a living and pay the bills. The Lubavitcher Rebbe taught that work is a natural expression of human life. He spoke of the need to remain productive; we need to surpass previous achievements in each phase of our life. But it is certainly possible to have a successful career and still feel empty. Work needs to lead you to a higher purpose—we need to find a way to elevate the entire work experience. If we were, in fact, created to transform the material world, become more refined and grow spiritually and if it is true that our deepest pleasure comes from our own efforts, then maybe the answer is to find a way to elevate the entire work experience. Maybe I could commit my experience and energies to a higher purpose.
So I started thinking about where I might work outside the financial world. I switched gears and considered the public sector and the not-for-profit world. And here is where my story quickly progressed to a happy ending. Yes- the entire journey of making Aliyah has been a progression for me and my family over many years. There was a lot of discussion and effort and emunah needed to make it happen. And it is not over, as a few more of our family are still working their way over here.
Recently, as I pursued my revamped job search, an incredible opportunity opened for me. Something wonderful that answered my tefillot (prayers) and is a dream come true for me. Two weeks ago I began a new life as a pre-aliyah advisor for the Nefesh B’Nefesh organization. I am working for one of the most energized and motivated organizations in the Jewish World today. Their mission, and now mine: facilitating aliyah from the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Today I have a new client— Am Yisrael (the People of Israel)! I work every day for the Jewish People and I couldn’t be happier. My work has been elevated, I’ve progressed and Baruch Hashem (thank G-d), I feel that I have now moved to a higher plane.
Is this making a life? I’m pretty sure it is.