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High tech, low tech and no tech

Employment opportunities in the Start-Up Nation

New immigrants to Israel through Nefesh B'Nefesh: (left to right) Carmel Trachtenberg, Gabrielle Donati, Avi Abelow
New immigrants to Israel through Nefesh B'Nefesh: (left to right) Carmel Trachtenberg, Gabrielle Donati, Avi Abelow

“We got three people jobs today,” the woman on the other end of the line enthused. “One of them is a father of six kids who’ll be able to support his family. To me, that’s a very big deal.” An even bigger deal is that this seemingly corporate recruiter actually represents a nonprofit and neither she nor her team makes any commissions. Meet a 1991 olah from New York with a degree in Economics and a talent for identifying talent in others: Rachel Berger, director of Employment Services for Nefesh B’Nefesh.

Having worked as a recruiter before coming to NBN, Berger knows what employers are looking for and how to build job-seekers into desirable candidates.

Over 80% of all Nefesh B’Nefesh Olim find employment within eight months of their arrival to Israel. That’s enough to earn Berger some bragging rights, but she prefers to stick to the facts. In 2012 Berger and staff helped 1,500 job seekers with: CV assistance, career counseling, information about how to work in their particular professions in Israel, networking connections, employment seminars and an online job board. The Nefesh B’Nefesh LinkedIn Job Board has over 7,000 members and posts 215-240 new jobs every week. These services have been an integral part of NBN’s package of aliyah services since the organization was founded in 2002. 

In an enterprising young country, filled primarily with human resources, rather than natural resources, it’s not surprising that so many high tech start-ups get their start in Israel. Fittingly dubbed the start-up nation by a 2009 book of the same name, Israel is fertile soil for research and development, but where does that leave job seekers who aren’t scientists or programmers? “There is work in almost every industry,” Berger reports, “but especially for English-speakers in fields such as: Content Writing, Marketing, Sales and SEO (Search Engine Optimization.) All of these are areas where we see growth.” Although those professions are hot now, NBN job seekers find work across the entire employment spectrum from high tech to low tech to no tech. The approximate breakdown Berger has observed is: 20% writing, content writing, translation, marketing positions / 15% high tech & programming / 20% sales positions / 5% engineering and miscellaneous technical professions / 10% entrepreneurship / 15% teaching and 15% medical. Not surprisingly, most NBN Olim stick with the professions they trained for and they generally take positions where fluent English is a crucial component of the job. “I encourage olim to take advantage of their natural resources, which are their English language skills,” Berger explains. “Nefesh B’Nefesh has created a unique place in the local employment market as a recruiter for English language professionals. And we don’t charge for this service, so companies are very happy to work with us.” 

Finding a job is great, and it’s certainly not something that can be taken for granted, even in the U.S., but how are people doing financially? Are they able to make a living? “Nobody’s coming for the high salaries,” Berger concedes. “Wages are very different in Israel. But when you consider that every person who comes on aliya automatically has medical coverage, and when you consider that there won’t be hefty school tuition bills to pay, that really eases the decision for a lot of people.” Other unique pluses she points out include: Mandatory pension plans, 14 week paid maternity or paternity leaves (compared to 2-4 weeks in the States) and having all Jewish holidays off without a struggle.

Another advantage is that you’ll be in small country where word travels fast. As one oleh shared with Berger, “When I was working on my alternative energy project in the States nobody cared. But here, suddenly the Ministry of Energy is calling me and asking about what I’m doing.” This grapevine network can also help job seekers, as they quickly discover that their money changer’s sister-in-law’s uncle is looking to fill a position they’re qualified for.

Berger’s bottom line: “There are lots of opportunities for people to find careers that they will be successful at and that suit their natural skill set.” Apparently that can be true even if the job seekers aren’t yet aware of their own skills. “A young woman came in to me with a B.A. in history,” Berger relates. “Her only work experience was as a waitress during college. She told me, ‘I don’t have job experience. All I did was go to college and then I came to Israel.’ I told her to keep talking. Eventually it came out that she did volunteer work for a nonprofit and that a Facebook page she created for the organization had gotten 70,000 Likes. I said, ‘Oh, so you’re really a social media marketer.’ Israel is a skill-based economy. More than what degree you have, an employer wants to know what skills you have that can help their business grow. By focusing in on a skill she developed as a volunteer, we were able to generate a whole career for her. Today this woman runs her own social media marketing company.”

Heading in the opposite lane from the student-waitress turned social media marketer is Nachum Eilberg who transitioned from high tech to hands-on work. Eilberg worked as a computer programmer for 19 years in Baltimore before making aliya in 2004. He was versed in the latest technology, earned a comfortable $100,000 a year salary and even had a new job waiting for him, at his employer’s Israel branch. But there were two catches: 1) He didn’t enjoy the work and 2) He saw a pattern of 40-50 year olds being fired from high tech jobs and replaced by new college graduates who only knew the very latest technology, were extremely enthusiastic about it, and were willing to work for half his salary. At the time Eilberg was 40 years old and he didn’t want to wait to become a statistic. He had a dream of making a new start when he made aliya. His employer was willing to give him a leave of absence before he even began — time that Eilberg used to learn Hebrew, and to give his dreams a trial run. A handyman hobbyist, Eilberg had often spent his Sundays and free time renovating and repairing his Baltimore home and the local shul. He wondered if he could do that for a living in Israel. At a NBN conference not long after his arrival, Eilberg bumped into Berger and shared his ideas with her. That informal conversation lead to a brainstorming meeting in Berger’s office. “She gave me the encouragement that if this is what I love, I should go do it.” Beyond verbal encouragement, Berger made sure to put Eilberg in touch with English-speaking repairmen in a range of specialties who all gave him very helpful advice. Eilberg started doing small repair jobs in the afternoons. At NBN, Eilberg also attended a nine-week course in English run by MATI, the Israel Small and Medium Business Development Center.

Armed with the information he needed to launch his own business, Eilberg soon discovered that he didn’t have to start from scratch after all. An American immigrant who needed to move back to the States was selling a painting business that catered to English-speakers and Berger became the matchmaker between the two. Eilberg became the delighted owner of Walls R Us Painting Company where he works alongside his four full-time employees. Now, nearly eight years into the game, how does Eilberg feel about this major career change? “I love it. This is what I used to do for fun and here I get to do it every day. Every time we leave an apartment clean and looking amazing, it gives me so much satisfaction.” Does Eilberg wish he’d made a switch even sooner? “In the States I could have never earned enough as a painter to pay tuition for four kids. Here it doesn’t work that way. You might not make big money but you can certainly find something to do that you love and make it work.”An echo of Berger’s main message, offered by one of Nefesh B’Nefesh’s many gainfully employed olim.

Land your dream job in Israel

Nefesh B’Nefesh recently launched the ‘Best Job Contest’ where contestants compete to win one of ten jobs in various high-profile companies in Israel, all of which are secured for a one year contract, including KPMG, ISCAR, IBM, SODA STREAM, GOLAN TELECOM, JCPA and THE TIMES OF ISRAEL. These jobs are but a small sample of the opportunities that are available in Israel. To enter the contest, visit: