Originally published on Haaretz.com

When thrill-seekers turn job-seekers, Tel Aviv is the place

Many of the post-Birthright crowd who want to come back to Israel first need a job. There is help at hand.

By Judy Maltz | Mar.23, 2013 | 5:40 AM

Dusk is settling on Tel Aviv, as a group of newcomers to the city, many of them just finishing up a day of ulpan ‏(Hebrew-language immersion classes‏), make their way up the steps to a nondescript Jewish Agency office. They sit themselves in a circle and go around introducing themselves.

Jordan immigrated here a month ago from Vancouver, where he studied human kinetics ‏(physical education, with emphasis on physiology and sports management‏), and is looking for work in biotechnology. Amy, whose parents are Israeli-born, was a radio producer in London, and is prepared to do anything related to broadcasting or film production. Daniela arrived here six weeks ago from Cape Town, where she studied business, and is looking for work in marketing. Sam, dressed in army fatigues, hails from upstate New York, and wants to restart his career in international sales and business development once he completes his military service. Dutch-born Rinat, who holds a master’s degree in psychology, is looking for an apprenticeship that will help her get licensed to work in Israel. And Tamar, fresh off the boat from Sydney, wants to put her grant-writing skills to use.

All in their 20s and 30s, the group’s members are here to take part in a four-hour employment workshop sponsored by ConnecTLV, a Jewish Agency organization that reaches out to young single immigrants starting their lives in Tel Aviv. Although they come from diverse stretches of the Diaspora, it’s no coincidence that the participants in this workshop have all somehow ended up in the White City: The word is out that this is where the jobs are.

This was not always the case, however. In fact, up until about five years ago, it was rare to find English-speaking immigrants in the country’s business and cultural capital, certainly not flocking to its shores in droves as they are today. The country’s high-tech boom, with Tel Aviv at its center, has been one of the factors that’s changed all that, creating an array of new jobs that require high-level English skills. College graduates in the United States, confronted by a weak job market at home, suddenly discovered that interning for a year in the “Start-up Nation” was a good way to build up their resumes. And many, after working for free at various local start-ups just to gain hands-on experience, ended up getting hired for pay after the internships concluded.

Each year, Masa, a joint venture of the Israeli government and the Agency, brings about 300 post-college-age Jews from abroad to this country − mostly to Tel Aviv − as part of its Career Israel internship program. Most are Taglit-Birthright alumni interested in longer-term experiences in the country, says Rachel Sales, who runs the program. “After each five-month session, about 35-40 percent of the participants stay for at least another few months in Israel, and about 15 percent end up making aliyah,” she says.

Take Masha Arbisman, who interned at the Tel Aviv startup All My Faves ‏(an Internet company that helps users navigate the Web‏), and was hired, after that program ended, by BootCamp Ventures, a venture capital firm in the city. Or Adam Olstein, who worked as a marketing intern at 365scores, a high-tech sports start-up in Tel Aviv, who just landed a job at another small business as a content writer. And then there’s Jeff Capilouto, who interned at Valueshine, where he did market research and business development, and later accepted a full-time position at Inforeal Network, where he does the same sort of work.

Gvahim, a nonprofit set up two years ago to help new and potential immigrants find jobs in the country, focuses its efforts mainly on the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, says executive director Mickael Bensadoun, because that’s where most of these young professionals are coming. Since it was established, he notes, Gvahim has already placed 650 members of the city’s rapidly growing international community in jobs − more than 50 percent of them in high-tech − and it has accumulated 7,200 names in its database.

“Most of the high-tech jobs these people are getting are in sales, marketing and business development,” Bensadoun explains.

But it’s not only high-tech. With Tel Aviv emerging in recent years as an international cultural center as well, some young English-speaking professionals have found in its theaters, museums and opera houses an opportunity to brush up on and develop their artistic skills − often settling for less-glamorous, menial jobs than they may have been anticipating, just to get their feet in the door. And not everyone has to settle: Deb Guest, for example, who worked for a few years as an orchestra manager in England, did an internship through another Masa program at the Tel Aviv Opera House, and after she finished, was hired full-time as a stage manager. Daniella Theresia, a former Birthright participant and aspiring opera singer, is now studying with a private voice teacher in Jaffa ahead of her audition for an M.A. in the opera performance program at Tel Aviv University, which she hopes will pave the way to her breakthrough.

The expanding world of nonprofits, much of it also based in the White City, has also been a draw for newcomers, particularly for more idealistic types eager to engage in work involving tikkun olam ‏(social action‏). English-language skills are, for example, in particularly high demand in jobs that require finesse in grant writing and social media.

“These are people who are coming from a completely different political and civic culture,” notes Michael Vole, head of the young adults department at the Tel Aviv municipality. “Civil engagement is part of their DNA, and for this reason, they bring much ‘added value’ to our city.”

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