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Monday, December 17, 2018

Many people, upon returning to the States from a trip to Israel, find themselves dreaming of the day when they will make aliyah. Oftentimes, several weeks later, reality sets in. Of course there are those who follow through on this dream but, for many, it is merely a pipedream. The question is why.

The language barrier is often cited as a major deterrent, with Americans fearful that they will feel lost in a country where they do not speak the language. Other reasons given are the difficulty in finding work or a community in which they will feel comfortable and, often, simple inertia.

Olim Advisors, headed by founder Lara Itzhaki, is there to eliminate the deterrents and make aliyah possible for anyone who has a serious desire to move to Israel.

“Although it’s an exciting time, the process of making aliyah was also filled with uncertainty and anxiety,” said Mark Shinar, who lives in Modiin with his wife, Lauren, and their four children. “There’s a lot to do, and it was difficult to keep all the balls in the air, especially because we were far away and didn’t have complete mastery of the language.”

Prior to the family’s August 2017 aliyah, Shinar was the director of general studies at SAR High School in Riverdale, and moved to Israel to be the founding principal of Zarkor, a new bilingual school in Beit Hanan.

Shinar continued, “From the moment we began working with Lara, we were thrilled. She kept us focused and organized and was an incredible support. Olim Advisors kept their fingers on the pulse of the rental market on our behalf, and thanks to them, we secured a home. They also connected us to the right people in Modiin so that we could register our children for school, and they guided us towards making informed decisions about moving companies and what we should bring on our lift.”

Itzhaki was born in Israel, moved to the US at age 10 and officially made aliyah at 18. After marrying an Israeli, she and her husband returned to the States, moving back to Israel for good in 2010. Several years later, her brother and his family made aliyah from America, with step-by-step assistance from Itzhaki.

After settling in Israel, her brother noted that he and his family had everything set up for them by Itzhaki to ease the transition, and could not imagine making aliyah without that assistance. From that simple statement, Olim Advisors was born.

Itzhaki recognized the gap between the “amazing” work that Nefesh B’Nefesh does and what prospective and new olim need prior to and after their aliyah. She decided to “open a hand-holding service for people who were making aliyah.”

“I sat with Rabbi Fass at Nefesh B’Nefesh. I asked ‘What do you do?’ and ‘What do you think is still needed?’,” Itzhaki said.

“I truly admire Lara for what she is building. What is missing, and Nefesh would say this, is personalized, western-style levels of customer service to help American olim. Lara is Nordstrom for aliyah. No job too big or small. No question too dumb or challenging. And there are no problems, only opportunities to make your aliyah easier/better,” said Dan Cohen, who made aliyah in August with his wife, Aimee Fisher, and their three children. The family lives in Ra’anana.

Olim Advisors opened its doors in 2016, and works to provide any and all services that new olim need. “We had 17 clients that first summer, and more are joining all the time,” noted Itzhaki. “We have different packages. The hand holding can go on for a long period of time.”

Prospective olim can sign up at any time prior to their aliyah and, for the same cost, will get services for three, six or 12 months after settling in Israel. “Someone signed up now who is making aliyah next fall, so they get a full two years of service,” she said.

“Lara helped us every step of the way. Before we even landed in Israel, she had arranged to have our internet set up. She came with us to the bank, which allowed us to open an account, [as it] normally doesn’t deal with new olim because they are only Hebrew speakers. We have had a smooth transition into Israel. She also is helping me with all the emails I am getting from my kids’ schools (that are all in Hebrew),” commented Selena Treister, who made aliyah at the beginning of August with her husband, Daniel, and their five children. “Before we moved she found us people to talk to about our jobs, bringing a van from the US versus buying here, about the education system and about housing. She gave us great advice about what cities to look at and found people for us to talk to in all of them.” The family lives in Efrat.

After people sign up with Olim Advisors, Itzhaki schedules a conference call immediately to ascertain their needs, and meets with them upon their arrival in Israel.

“I love that I get to use my social work training,” she commented. Itzhaki got her social work degree after her army service. “I am a true Zionist and a social worker all in one.”

Olim Advisors helps newcomers buy or rent a car, obtain medical insurance and find physicians, register children for school and attend school meetings if needed, buy or rent a home/apartment and find realtors, set up internet, navigate the supermarket, find a bank and set up accounts and more.

“Lara helped us solve problems. She was right there, next to us, as we worked with the schools to ensure our children got what they needed to succeed in Ulpan and in regular class. She made it happen when it came to dealing with government agencies. She has built a powerful network of allies across government and business that help solve problems for her clients. She even got a ministry to see us in an hurry when all appointments were booked for weeks,” commented Cohen.

“Lara was always available to answer questions, both big and small, and she always did it happily, graciously and competently.
When we finally arrived in Israel, Olim Advisors was an incredible support to us as we chose health care providers, set up bank accounts and utilities and established our new lives here,” Shinar enthused.

Often new olim are concerned that they will be taken advantage of because they don’t know the language or culture. Itzhaki helps eliminate that worry.

“Even if people have family or friends already in Israel they still need assistance,” she said. “I take them to people and institutions that I have or would use myself.”

“I tell all my friends that the upfront expense is totally worth it. Could you do it alone? For sure. But if you don’t want to cry every day, it is great to have Lara. Additionally, it is so nice to have someone to ask all my questions to that I don’t feel like I am bothering. Because we have a business relationship, it removes that guilty feeling you might have when you ask a friend or relative to come with you to a government office for the 10th time. Also, since she does this as a job, she has connections that your aunt or your sister-in-law or your friend might not have. I can recommend Lara and Olim Advisors 100 percent,” said Treister.

“I become very close with each family. At first, they are often dazed, and a year later I get pleasure from seeing where they are, what they’ve accomplished and how they’ve adjusted,” stated Itzhaki.

“Lara is warm, compassionate and always there as a thought partner on issues big and small. Aliyah is amazing and Lara helped us see around the corners to figure out what we didn’t know. Frankly, looking back, the pre-aliyah anxiety really wasn’t worth it. It is totally doable and Lara made it that much easier,” concluded Cohen.

“It’s the difference between coming here and being overwhelmed and a smoother, more fluid transition,” Itzhaki commented. “We provide the comfort of having someone next to you, which makes such a difference. We really are there for you for all of your needs, every step of the way.”

By Jill Kirsch