Liam Lawrence from California got off the plane at Ben Gurion Airport in 2014. Two years later, he's at the forefront of the fight by new immigrants to Israel who are under economic or psychological pressure and thus considering returning to their lands of origin.
The Facebook group he moderates, Keep Olim in Israel, is the release valve for the steam rising from the heads of 20,000 new immigrants to Israel, who don't hesitate sharing their experiences, frustrations, difficulties, and (mis)adventures in the holy land.
The group was established about seven months ago, and for the first few days it consisted of nothing but angry posts by frustrated olim. Then, Lawrence decided to relaunch the group. He deleted the old posts and began trying to channel the vast energy of the group towards a positive cause: helping olim who are experiencing hardship.
It's easy to ignore you
Reading the posts reveals a grim reality: Many of the olim struggle to find their place in Israel's bureaucratic maze, some fall victim to unfair rent contracts or outright fraud, and there are even those who write that they barely eat, since they were unable to find work for several months.
"When you don't speak Hebrew, it's very easy for others, for the government, for doctors to ignore you", Lawrence said. "It's very frustrating. I know it also happens to Israeli-born people, but they at least understand what they're being told, and what they're signing when they rent an apartment or communicate with a cell carrier.
"Many Israelis think we're spoiled," he continued, "but you need to understand – most olim came here to fulfill a dream, and there's nothing worse than having that dream become a nightmare. It's very nice to wave flags and cheer olim who kiss the ground at the airport, but what happens the day after that?"
Lawrence remarked that organizations like Nefesh B'nefesh and the Jewish Agency invest a lot of money in bringing olim over but that little is put into supporting and helping those who arrive. He said that some may need a little mental support, someone to host them for a Shabbat here and there, or a chance to enter the job market.
Lawrence, along with other members, opened a non-profit organization, also called Keep Olim in Israel, which has begun to act on behalf of olim. He has set a target of $100,000 in order to finance a large project whose aim is to help olim.
Among the NGO's goals are to provide free legal advice, launch a psychological support hotline in various languages, match immigrants to relevant support groups and to go on a national campaign of "adopt an oleh", so that every newcomer has a "big brother" or Israeli "foster family", to give them a sense of home and support.
The NGO put the project up on the crowdsourcing platform jewcer.com and hope that within two months to raise the necessary money.
"The aliyah from Western countries has been a failure for Israel," Lawrence contends. "People come here with a romantic dream, but there is now a rupture. We do not want more money and are not asking for a bigger absorption package, but rather programs that support olim. Be easier on us. I'm actually waiting for my phone to ring, and for a large organization or donors to take part in our project. We have waited long enough for the government. When they tell me 'it'll be OK', that's when I start to worry."