555043_flying_geese_3Perhaps only migrating birds know–
Suspended between earth and sky–
The heartache of two homelands.
—Leah Goldberg, 1970
 Leah Goldberg’s
poem ‘Pine’ poignantly captures the ambivalent position of many Olim caught between two countries and two identities. For many, negotiation of a more complex, integrated identity that sits between two cultures is realisable. For others, finding a comfortable way to be is more difficult.

 Research shows that when we are able to create a multi-faceted identity, which integrates the original and new identities, we are more likely to feel well both mentally and physically (e.g. Berry & Kim[1]). Living in a new culture is always a challenge. It brings with it the exhilarating and the exasperating. Garza-Guerrero[2], says that one of the main difficulties is that the continuity, confirmation, and consistency of our sense of self become threatened. In other words, without the feedback we were used to in our old cultures, we can become less sure of who we are and feel less good about ourselves.

  So how can we try to create a healthy, multi-faceted identity? Walsh and Shulman’s research[3]with young Russian immigrants in Israel gives us some interesting ideas. After interviewing each participant twice, with a year interval in between, about their Aliyah experience, they found that immigrants who tried to form a complex identity early on were less comfortable, functioning and satisfied one year later.

  What does this mean? Perhaps we can hypothesise that although trying to integrate ambivalence between two cultures is helpful in the long-term, in the short-term it seems to be important to hold on to ambivalence. It seems important to experience the conflict of leaving home and settling into a new culture. As Pianta and colleagues note[4], we need to give ourselves the space to mourn the losses and learn a new reality in order to allow an integrated and coherent story to emerge. Despite the rich and often wonderful culture, heritage and opportunities that Israel offers, each Oleh will have lost: people, language, music, food, cultural norms and so on.

  We can probably all think of the days when we have had enough of ‘using our elbows’ or dealing with the humidity; the days when we miss our loved ones, a favourite TV show, or a bar of Dairy Milk. There are also the days when we are relieved we don’t have to bear our own culture’s annoying habits; or we are moved to tears by a national ‘tekes’ or by our bravery for simply doing this. At the start these, often quite dramatic, splits and even shifts between the old or new culture being ‘all good’ or ‘all bad’ are normal, even healthy, according to the research. Then, as time goes on, we can more easily accept that neither our old home nor our new one is perfect. We then somehow find a way to join the culture more fully and re-create ourselves as an Anglo Israeli – or is it an Israeli Anglo?

[1]Berry, J. W., & Kim, U. (1988). Acculturation and mental health. In P. R. Dasen, J. W. Berry, & N. Sartorius (Eds.). Health and cross-cultural psychology: Toward applications (pp. 207–236).Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
[2] Garza-Guerrero, A. C. (1974). Culture shock: It’s mourning and the vicissitudes of identity. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 22, 408–429.
[3] Walsh, S. D. & Shulman, S. (2007) Splits in the Self following Immigration: An Adaptive Defense or a Pathological Reaction? Psychoanalytic Psychology, 24, 2, 355–372
[4]Pianta, R., Marvin, R., Britner, P., & Borowitz, K. (1996). Mothers’ resolution of their children’s diagnosis: Organized patterns of caregiving representations. Infant Mental Health Journal, 17, 239–256.


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1157590_punica The chagim can be a wonderful break from routine; an opportunity to spend time with family, eat good food, take a look back at the year gone past and look forward to the year to come. 

 Of course, it is not always and for everyone the celebratory experience we would hope for.  Dr Darnel, a Psychiatrist at the Asaf Harofeh hospital, comments on the many families in Israel who find the chagim particularly difficult. In addition to the stress and balagan of preparation and entertaining and the sometimes overwhelming combination of personalities at the dinner table, for families who have experienced difficulties, the chagim can be extremely challenging. How do you react to your recently divorced cousin? Do you sit in the empty chair of your lost family member? Do you ask your long-term looking-for-work brother-in-law if he has any leads? How do you cope with the difficulties you experience with your family in this concentrated environment?

 Dr Darnel writes that it is important in these situations we remember that such intense family get-togethers are rare and temporary. He encourages the reader to come to the chag with empathy, respect and patience and, very importantly, to think before speaking.

 But what about those without family in Israel? Chagim can be an especially difficult time for olim and other foreigners living here. Even if family occasions weren’t always perfect back home, suddenly being far away from them and with new traditions and new ways of doing things, they can seem very nostalgic or ‘right’. A chag can become a very lonely time, particularly when you look around and everyone else seems so busy and happy.

 If the chagim are tough for you there are a few things that may help. Firstly, try not to be alone as much as possible. Take advantage of the famous Israeli hospitality and if you have been offered a dinner invitation, try to accept. If this is not an option, you could try to arrange to be with other people who are alone for chag, perhaps seeing friends who are olim chadashim, or going to something organised for the community through one of the olim organisations or religious groups.

 It is important to make sure you have plans, even if they are simply to finish that book you keep meaning to, and to be in touch with those that you miss. If you find yourself extremely upset over the chagim and you become concerned about yourself, then give Eran (the hotline for emotional support) a call.

 However you spend your chag I hope it is a chag sameach and a shana tova!


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 As an English speaker living in Israel life can be exciting and exhilarating! But sometimes the pressure of living within a new culture can become a little too much and we can become overwhelmed by the ‘Aliyah rollercoaster’! In any case finding help and locating resources in a foreign language and culture is difficult, but during these times of distress especially, it can become almost impossible to find the help we need.

712793_you_are_here For this reason I wanted to concentrate in one page links to useful information for the English speaker in Israel. I also list these resources on my links page, but here I will go into a little detail about what each site offers.

 I would say for those who are classed as ‘olim chadashim’ or ‘toshavim chozrim’, the first port of call is to turn to one of the olim support organisations. They provide varied and excellent services, including help with finding employment and managing beaurocracy. The Ministry of Absorption will provide essential information and assistance to olim from any country as will The Jewish Agency.

 Esra is a social and community organisation in the central Sharon area of Israel that was set up to help English speakers integrate into Israeli society through social, cultural, educational and civic activities. Members are also able to volunteer in its community projects.

 There are a number of very helpful organisations developed specifically for immigrants from particular countries. North American and British olim can be in touch with Nefesh B’Nefesh. More specifically, Americans and Canadians can gain support from the AACI and British olim from the UJIA . South Africans can contact Telfed and Australians the ZFA .

 Of course any English speaker, oleh or not, can be in touch with their embassy of consulate. 

  If you feel that your difficulties are more of an emotional nature than it may be important to speak with a psychologist. When looking for a psychologist you should check that they are licensed and qualified. You can check that the psychologist’s license with the Register of Israeli Psychologists. Every psychologist will be registered on this site if they are licensed. You can also check out their credentials further if they have a website or, for example, if they have a profile on the networking site: LinkedIn

  It is also important to be aware of the national support organisations. Eran provides a confidential 24-hour, 365 day a year emotional support hotline for people feeling alone, depressed or in crisis. The hotline number is 1201. There are also special departments for senior citizens, soldiers, Russian and Arabic speakers and an internet hotline for youth. 

 Enosh is non-profit association for Mental Health which aims to promote mental health issues, provide rehabilitation services and support during recovery from mental health problems, encourage independent living within the community and fight stigma. It offers to its members: supported housing, vocational rehabilitation, social rehabilitation, holidays in Israel and abroad, mentoring, family counseling and support and continuing education programmes. 

 Na’amat provides support services to women, children and families in Israel. It offers educational programmes, legal counselling, domestic violence intervention, single parent family support groups and cultural enrichment programmes. Emunah promotes religious and zionist ideals through volunteering in community projects and provides spiritual and emotional support for religious women.

 The ‘Agudah’ provides individual, social and community support and information services to the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (youth and adult) community and their families.

 The Association of Rape Crisis Centers provides confidential, crisis-oriented assistance to victims of sexual assault and those close to them. The 24 hour crisis line number is 1202 for women and 1203 for men.

 If you are having difficulty managing alcohol or drug misuse you can turn to Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.


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 Making Aliyah and the years that follow bring with it a rollercoaster of different emotions and experiences, some liberating and exhilarating and some more complex and stressful. So how can we better acclimatise to a new culture? What predicts a softer landing and an easier ‘settling in’? When are we more likely to adapt in a relatively straightforward way and when are the changes necessary too much for us?

 What does the research say?

 Moving to a new country can potentially be a positive experience; an opportunity for personal growth and self-development [i]. In fact in 2006, Berry and his colleagues found that in the thirteen countries they studied, immigrant adolescents were just as well adapted as their peers and even reported slightly fewer psychological and behavioural difficulties.

 However, as a result of the sudden loss of the “average expectable environment [ii]”, immigration can also potentially be a negative experience, with harmful effects on one’s identity and self-esteem. For example, Berry writes that the loss of one’s own culture (‘culture shedding’) can result in heightened levels of depression and that uncertainties about how to live within the new culture (‘culture learning’) can result in heightened levels of anxiety. Walsh and Horenczyk [iii]found that English-speaking olim, often lose their sense of feeling competent and belonging. Ben-David (1996) found that Russian Olim were less confident in their external environment and their own internal resources. Walsh and her colleagues [iv]found that the stress of Aliyah impacted significantly on the ability of young Russian olim to make independent decisions.

 What is acculturative stress?

 In the past, the term ‘culture shock [v]’ was used to describe the process of moving to a new society. Shock, however, implies that only difficulties arise from contact with a new culture. These days the term ‘acculturative stress’ is preferred (e.g. Berry [vi]). ‘Stress’, as opposed to ‘shock’, is a term that is likely to generate coping strategies rather than helplessness. The term ‘acculturative’ takes into account that stressful experiences lie in the interaction between cultures rather in one culture or the other.

 Furnham [vii]describes six common aspects of acculturative stress:

  1. The strain of making necessary psychological adaptations
  2. A sense of loss of friends, status, profession and possessions
  3. Being rejected by and rejecting members of the new culture
  4. Confusion of roles, values, feelings and self-identity
  5. Surprise, anxiety, disgust and indignation after becoming aware of cultural differences
  6. Feelings of impotence due to not being able to cope with the new environment.

 Stress is worsened when there is a culture clash, in particular when there is a scarcity of resources, such as jobs or education. Just as stressful, however, can be a clash of values or cultural behaviours. Which, when very different, may lead to uncomfortable internal, psychological conflict. For example, ways of interacting, conceptions of courtesy, expressing points of view, getting needs met and so on may not fit in the new society – so waiting in an orderly queue for help may be culturally appropriate in the UK or the States, but may not get you very far at an Israeli shuk!

 What factors affect acculturative stress?

 Berry explains that the level of experienced stress depends upon an interaction between: the society of origin, the society of settlement and personal characteristics – in a sense the balance between ‘push and pull factors’. So, for example, the political, economic and demographic situation of the society of origin relative to the society of settlement will shape experience and affect motivation to migrate and settle. If the society left was perceived to be in a worse situation this is a ‘push factor’ to migrate. If the new society values multi-culturalism and provides social support this may be seen as a ‘pull factor’.

 This makes an interesting situation for the typical English-speaking oleh/olah. On the one hand the political and economic situation is easier and status higher in the country of origin; on the other, Israel, its Ministry of Absorption and the various olim agencies offer Jewish immigrants wide-ranging support and a ‘Kibbutz Galyuot’.

 When it comes to individual characteristics, the most successful immigrant is flexible in personality, somewhat of an extravert [viii] and has a sense of self efficacy and competence [ix]. Perhaps unsurprisingly, younger immigrants, particularly children, make a smoother transition to a new culture (Beiser [x]). Perhaps this is because earlier on there is less embedded culture to ‘shed’, or perhaps we are simply more able to be flexible and adaptable in our younger years. Immigration later in life, after many years of living in one cultural setting, may be more difficult (Beiser [x]). Of note, acculturation can be somewhat problematic during adolescence, perhaps due to the compounding pressure of ordinary developmental identity formation with cultural transition. 

 High status in the country of origin coupled with devaluation of credentials in the country of settlement has a big impact on wellbeing, often leading to depression [xi]. Interestingly, Kim [xii] found that Koreans who emigrated to Canada with high ‘push’ factors tended to have problems with psychological adaptation to the new environment. Immigrants with high ‘pull’ factors, however, tended to have just as many difficulties settling in, but were more able to adapt psychologically. Perhaps this was related to unrealistic expectations of the country of settlement.

 Cultural distance between the old and new societies impacts on acclimatisation, as it leads to a greater culture conflict and ‘shedding’, both resulting in poorer adaptation. For Jewish immigrants cultural distance may be bridged by shared religious and Zionist ideologies, values and perhaps even language. For non-Jewish immigrants, however, the cultural distance may be vast.

 How can we cope with stress?

 One of the most important processes in settling into any new culture is ‘cultural learning’. That is, learning a new behavioural repertoire appropriate for the new cultural context. Learning about the culture even before arriving, the language, history, norms and values can act as a kind of ‘pre-acculturation’. In fact, education in general is a protective factor against Aliyah stress, in that it promotes problem analysis and solving skills. In addition, keeping physically healthy also positively correlates with successful acculturation.

 It is important to try to be flexible in your thinking and behaving and to try and ‘get out there’ and be sociable. Social support is an excellent way of coping with stress. Some find support from those of the original culture the most beneficial [xiii]. Others find relationships with members of the new society most important [xiv]. Supportive relationships with both cultures, however, is most predictive of psychological adaptation [xv].

 What can I do if I am finding it difficult to cope?

 If you are finding it difficult to cope with the process of acculturation there are a number of things you can do. Your focus may be on problem-solving in which case the Ministry of Absorption  or any of the support organisations for olim may be able to help you. If your focus is more on coping with the emotional aspects of Aliyah then it may be helpful to speak to a psychologist or attend one of the support organisations’ Aliyah support groups. If you would like more information please feel free to contact me here.

 Concluding thought 

 This article highlights the inevitable ‘bumps’ of any big transition. I began by comparing Aliyah to a rollercoaster. Perhaps, having made this cultural leap, we can take some wisdom from the grandmother character in the 1989 film Parenthood:

    “when I was nineteen, Grandpa took me on a roller coaster…Up, down, up, down. Oh, what a ride!…It was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn’t like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around…I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it. 

    [i] Sam, D. L. & Berry, J. W. (Eds.) The Cambridge handbook of acculturation psychology (pp. 452–468). New York, NY
    [ii] Hartmann, H. (1950). Comments on the psychoanalytic theory of the ego. The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 5, 74–96
    [iii] Walsh, S., & Horenczyk, G. (2001). Gendered patterns of experience in social and cultural transition: The case of English speaking immigrants in Israel. Sex Roles, 45, 501–528.
    [iv] Walsh, S. D., Shulman, S., Feldman, B., & Maurer, O. (2005). The impact of immigration on the internal processes and developmental tasks of emerging adulthood. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 34, 413–426.
    [v]Oberg, K. (1960). Culture shock: Adjustment to new cultural environments. Practical Anthropology, 7, 177–182.
    [vi] Sam, D. L. & Berry, J. W. (Eds.) The Cambridge handbook of acculturation psychology (pp. 452–468). New York, NY
    [vii] Furnham, A. (1990). Expatriate stress: The problems of living abroad. In S. Fisher & C. L. Cooper (Eds.), On the move: The psychology of change and transition (pp. 275–301). London: John Wiley & Sons Ltd
    [viii] Ward, C. & and Kennedy, A. (1993) Where is culture in cross-cultural transition? Comparative studies of sojourner adjustment. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 24, 221-249.
    [ix] Schwarzer, R., Hahn, A. & Schroder, H. (1994) Social integration and social support in a life crisis. American Journal of Community Psychology. 22, 685-706.
    [x]Beiser, M., Barwick, C., Berry, J. W., et al (1988) After the door has been opened: mental health issues affecting immigrants and refugees. Ottawa: Departments of Multiculturalism and Health and Welfare.
    [xi]Beiser, M., Johnson, P. & Turner, J. (1993) Unemployment, underemployment and depressive affect among South East Asian refugees. Psychological Medicine, 23, 731-743.
    [xii] Kim, U. (1988) Acculturation of Korean immigrants to Canada. Unpublished doctoral thesis: Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario.
    [xiii] Vega, W., Kolody, B., Valle, R. & Weir, J. (1991) Social networks, social support and depression among immigrant Mexican women. Human Organization, 50, 154-162.
    [xiv]  Berry, J. W. & Kostovcik, N. (1990) Psychological adaptation of Malaysian students in Canada. Bangi: Penerbit Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.
    [xv]  Kealy, D. (1989) A study of cross-cultural effectiveness: theoretical issues, practical applications. International Journal of Intercultural Relations. 13, 387-428

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