An Inside Window on AACI

I have been a part of AACI since making aliyah to Israel in 1977. When working full time and raising a family, I didn’t have time to take advantage of many of the programs offered. But a notice in a recent AACI e-report caught my eye. I read that AACI is looking for people interested in writing for its blog. I decided that perhaps this is a way for me to finally give back and contribute to this vital organization.

There is plenty of information available in AACI newsletters, e-reports and on the website about the breadth of activities taking place weekly. My goal in this blog is to go behind the scenes and take a peek at the people who make the organization what it is: members, volunteers, participants and professional staff. I want to find out who and what makes the organization so successful in helping English-speaking immigrants and veterans acclimate to Israeli life.

So where does one begin when the menu of people and activities is so extensive? I chose to start at the very beginning—finding out who is involved in helping those who have just made aliyah or are thinking of doing so. This week I had the pleasure of meeting Sheila Bauman, AACI’s Jerusalem counselor for Aliyah and Klitah.

If I had to describe Sheila in one phrase, I’d say “a live Google aliyah and klitah search engine”. Just ask Sheila a question and she’ll come up with the answer within minutes (if not seconds) using her impressive memory, extensive data base of up-to-date information found in binders on shelves in her office, or by checking her personal telephone book, filled with important names and numbers. Sheila has her “special friends” in the Ministry of Absorption, Ministry of the Interior, US Consulate, Bituach Leumi offices, every health fund organization…you name it! She knows just where to turn to get the precise information needed.

Sheila’s approach is pragmatic and rational. She never tells a client what to do, but instead chooses to guide them by explaining the facts and the consequences of each choice. Sheila runs a daily “Hot Line” where anyone can call and ask a question or seek her guidance. When asked what topics people inquire about the most, I was bombarded with a list that includes everything from US social security clarification, driving in Israel, legal advice, status and citizenship issues, recommended retirement homes, kids at risk programs, loans, mortgage information, finding schools, bringing pets to Israel and has even been asked to recommend a dog walker and to supply names of shadchanim (matchmakers). You can make an appointment to see Sheila during drop-in hours in Jerusalem or by telephone on her “Hot Line”, Sunday to Thursday from 12:15-1:15 pm (tel.: 02-566-1181).

Sheila also organizes AACI’s pre-aliyah and post-aliyah information sessions. Pre-aliyah seminars provide potential olim with information in advance to help make their aliyah a success. Topics include immigrant rights, Israeli health care, education, housing, shipping, job-hunting and more. In Post-Aliyah sessions, Sheila provides both new and seasoned immigrants with up to date information on Bituach Leumi, Israeli tax laws, choosing the most appropriate health fund to fit one’s needs, finding a suitable neighborhood, rental contracts, information on buying homes, employment, banking, etc. I have been told that Sheila possesses the uncanny ability to answer questions that people didn’t even know they needed to ask. (The next Pre-aliyah sessions will take place on Oct. 4 and 11 from 2:00-3:45 pm, a Pre-aliyah session specially for seniors on Oct. 12 from 10:00-11:45 am) and a Post aliyah session on Oct. 27 from 2:00-3:45 pm. Call 02-566-1181 to sign up.)

Sheila works closely with Yanina Musnikow in the AACI Tel Aviv office (tel: 03-6960389) and Miriam Green in the southern branch in Beer Sheva (08-643-3953). Sheila describes Yanina and Miriam as “fantastic colleagues”. The three counselors work as a team and are committed to making the aliyah and klitah process go as smoothly as possible.

Now for an exciting announcement: Beginning October 7, Sheila will be a regular guest on the Netty Feldman “Afternoon Shmooze” show on Rusty Mike Radio, aired every Thursday at 2:30 pm. Sheila’s segment, entitled “Makin’ It”, will discuss a variety of issues relating to aliyah and klitah. I’m sure even seasoned veterans will learn new, helpful information from listening to Sheila. I know I did.

By Judy Dvorak Gray

The new AACI Advocacy Initiative – putting your hours where your mouth is

I recently spoke to Asa Cohen, the president of the AACI since April, 2010. This article is based on what he told me in that conversation.

The AACI has a 60-year history of watching English speaking olim move to Israel, deal with all the changes and, in many instances, take action to try to make Israel a more friendly place to live (aka, a little less aggravating).

It was AACI members who first brought assisted living facilities to Israel. The AACI also later worked with the members of the Knesset Finance Committee on a tax commission that modified the tax laws in Israel in order to encourage North Americas to make aliya. In the past, if you made aliya after the age of 60, you didn’t qualify for health insurance. AACI members helped facilitate changing that law which affects not only North American olim but olim from anywhere in the world.

Now, Asa Cohen, in his new presidency, has started a new initiative. He explained that the pattern was always that the action started with a few individual AACI members. But now Cohen wants to start initiatives that begin at the level of the whole organization.

And we thought the lines for Bituach Leumi were long!

The way it will work is that there will be three groups working together. The steering committee will be made up of some AACI board members and AACI members. They’ll decide which non-political issues that come up in Israeli life should be tackled. The corps of advisors will consist of volunteer professionals with expertise in a wide range of fields like economics, taxes, law, medicine and social work. They will decide what the best way is to approach the issues at hand. The project committees will be the foot soldiers getting the work done on the ground.

Probably every one of us who has moved here from an English speaking country has had experiences where we say, “This is not how it should be!” Now we have a chance to not just talk about it but actually make a difference as part of a group, all working towards common goals to make Israel an even more wonderful place to live than it is already.

What issues would you want to be involved with? Please don’t hesitate to write your ideas here on the blog and/or you can email Asa Cohen at acohen@aaci.org.il to get involved.

Photo by tiarescott on flickr. It is taken at Tian’anmen Square – China in 1988. It is a line-up to see Mao’s tomb.

Some info for Jerusalem residents from Sheila’s Klitah Corner

Sheila’s Klitah Corner is available in full in the printed AACI The Voice magazine, issued every two months. Members of the AACI can also make an appointment to see her, can come in during drop-in hours or reach her by phone during “Hot Line,” Sun.-Thurs. 12:15-1:15pm. 02-566-1181.

Sheila Bauman says:

The Jerusalem Municipality comlex is an attraction in itself (photo by Deena)

Have you checked out the Jerusalem Municipality website? www.jerusalem.muni.il

Yes, you can view it in English, and there is an enormous amount of great information pertaining to Jerusalem – including events, community information, history, arnona, parking, elderly services and contact information for offices within the municipality –  the list seems endless! Definitely worth a look!

Also, have you received your Jerusalem Card? It offers holders great discounts for museums, theatre, and special events.  To obtain yours please contact: www.yerushalmi.org.il or 1 700 53 00 02.

The cabbie from the airport by Ruth Cohn

Ruth and Moshe jeeping it up, down in Eilat

Ruth Cohn, a life member of the AACI, shared this touching story about the day her and her husband Moshe landed in Israel after making aliyah. The story, told by Ruth, and their aliyah, takes place in March of 1997.

As is usual when making aliyah, we were offered a free taxi ride to our destination (in our case, Jerusalem). We had loads of luggage and the long haired young taxi driver didn’t mind all the pekelech [packages] we had brought. We were worried about how we would get all our belongings up into the flat at our destination (there was no elevator). We agreed a price with him for him to help us with our luggage.

When we arrived at our destination, true to his word, our taxi driver helped us carry up our belongings to the apartment.  We relaxed as he brought up the cases and pekelech. Moshe handed him an envelope – the price we had agreed on.  He firmly returned it.

“Did you think I would take money for doing this Mitzvah, helping a couple who have just made aliyah?  Wishing you an easy klitah [absorption],” and with that he firmly closed the door and left, our young secular taxi driver.

What an amazing start to life in Israel.

(Although this is not strictly an AACI aliyah story – going on AACI Study Tours certainly helped us get to know our wonderful country. These tours were very well planned giving us the opportunity to meet such wonderful people.)

Sheila’s Klitah Corner

Sheila’s Klitah Corner is available in full in the printed AACI The Voice magazine, issued every two months. Members of the AACI can also make an appointment to see her, can come in during drop-in hours or reach her by phone during “Hot Line,” Sun.-Thurs. 12:15-1:15pm. 02-566-1181.

Image by CoD_fsfe on openclipart

American passports in New York

Will you be in NY at some point? Now you can apply for/renew your American passport at almost any post office. Just find out about the specific office and give six weeks for the process.

Distribution of gas masks has begun

The Home Front Command (Pikud Ha’oref) is offering to deliver your gas masks via the Israel Postal Courier Service. Delivery will cost 25NIS per household.

To order, dial 171 on Sun.-Thurs. between 7:00-22:00 and on Fri. 7:00-14:00. You can also go to http://magen.israelpost.co.il/abach/contactpage.aspx. Leave your contact information and someone will get back to you.

Gas masks are free for residents. When your new gas masks are delivered, you need to return old ones if you haven’t already (or pay for them if they are lost). There is a special program for people who are homebound or in certain living situations.

Note: This should not be taken as a sign of imminent danger. It is only a service notice.

Do you want to vote in this year’s USA midterm election?

If you are American and want to vote in the upcoming midterm elections, go to http://overseasvotefoundation.org. Voting is based on your last address in the USA. General election for all states will be held on Tuesday, November 2, 2010. All seats for Congress and 36 seats for Senate are up for election. For more information, email Andee Goldman at andeegold@gmail.com.

Transportation information

Traffic rules through the Old City have changed. The entrance to the Old City of Jerusalem via Jaffa Gate will be prohibited to private cars during the day, announced the Jerusalem Municipality and the Ministry of Transportation.

Between 9:00am-6:00pm, entrance of private cars into the Old City will be permitted to residents of the Old City or disabled/handicapped people. Between 6:00pm-9:00am all cars are allowed to travel through.

If you are a supplier or service provider, call *2180 to issue a special entrance permit.