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Igor Teller Photo: Igor Teller
Igor Teller Photo: Igor Teller
 
 

Why my friends are leaving Israel

Op-ed: Emigration of well-educated, motivated Russian-speaking Israelis endangers country

Igor Teller
Published: 01.20.13, 10:58 / Israel Opinion

I miss my friends very much. It's not what you think - they are all healthy and doing great. But they had to leave Israel. Pavel worked as a driver and had an old CBR600 motorcycle. Today he is in Canada. My cousin Anna lives in Germany (I must say that I'm not crazy about the choice). Mishke, a biologist with a master's degree, the snob of the group who loves jazz, lives in New York. Yuri, my good friend, moved to Australia.

 

Regretfully, the list is long, and it keeps getting longer. The names of more than five people who are dear to me are added to the list each year. My friends are scattered all over the globe. And it's not as if you can say, "Those bastards; who cares if they leave." They were all the salt of the earth, good citizens. They all went to the army, and many of them served in combat units. But after their service they faced a difficult reality: They studied while working, made a living and performed IDF reserves duty. At a certain point they just couldn't take it anymore.

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Only those who have felt the wrath of anti-Semitism and whose families suffered in the Holocaust can truly appreciate the meaning of "To be free people in our land." My friends belong to this group of people. So try to imagine how painful it was for them to leave "our land," in which we are supposed to be "free people." So why did they leave?

 

Today, the social agenda is being exploited by each and every party. I recently attended a meeting with a politician whom I respect, and he too made the usual comments about the middle class and the immigrants from the former Soviet Union. "Today, you are no longer a sector, but a 'regular' social class," he said. But the Russian-speaking public is not just "part of the middle class"; it is the driving force of the middle class.

 

Very few countries have to deal with the challenge of absorbing a million educated, motivated people who have a great work ethic. Today, more than 20 years after the big aliyah wave, we can measure the country's success in dealing with this challenge.

 

For the State, it was a huge success. There is no argument that the aliyah from the former Soviet Union was one of the main causes of the economic prosperity over the last two decades. As for the olim themselves, well, the wave of young, educated people who are leaving Israel is a reflection of how the country absorbed this aliyah. How is this public any different from the other segments of the population that are part of the middle class?

 

Real estate: Due to the fact that we immigrated from a communist country without any money, at best we purchased one apartment after taking out a mortgage. Unlike the olim who preceded us, we were not eligible to receive free housing from the State, so we have to pay every shekel.

 

Pension: Income support in Israel is given to the many parasites in the country, but those who made aliyah when they were in their 40s and 50s could not open a pension fund. They worked in Israel for about 20 years, usually taking jobs far beneath their level of education and training, and now they are retiring. These people barely made ends meet and moved down to a lower social class only to be "free people in our land." Do they not deserve to grow old with dignity rather than have to get by on NIS 3000 a month per couple from the National Insurance Institute of Israel?

 

Glass ceiling: Many professionals made aliyah 20 or more years ago. One would expect that people with a good work ethic and a very high level of perfectionism would achieve great things during this time, and they did – professionally. But financially, they were left behind. There are dozens of companies whose development and engineering are based on Russian-speaking experts, but only a few of these experts own companies or share the profits. There are many explanations for this phenomenon, but the fact is that the only businesses owned by Russian-speaking Israelis are stores that sell Russian food, garages and small workshops.

 

I admit that this situation has a lot to do with Russian education, which teaches people to overcome and not complain. I am an engineer, not a sociologist, but I want to warn the powers that be that if the emigration from Israel is not stopped, we will all lose. We may even lose the country itself. Because it is not wars or the army or having to learn a new language that breaks these people, it is the absence of the opportunity to live with dignity, start a family or own a home. What breaks these people is the fact that there is no horizon, no hope that something will change.

 

Igor Teller, 33, is a graduate of the Technion and is an entrepreneur in the field of technology

 

 

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