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Behind the Headlines: Israelis Living Abroad Wooed to Return by Government, Firms

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When Dalia Oud and her husband moved to the United States in 1989, they did not expect to stay forever.

Even so, their decision to return to Israel did not come easily.

“We went to the States seven years ago because my husband, a physician, needed to study critical care and there were no programs here at the time. Life was good there,” says the computer applications engineer.

While Oud says her family planned to return eventually, it was only after her daughter was touched by anti-Semitism that she and her husband put the plan into action.

“Six months ago, my 16-year-old daughter came back from school one day and said she had a problem. She told me there was only one other Jewish kid in school and that the students and teachers weren’t being very nice. Then she told me that her best friend was preaching to her about Jesus.”

When confronted with the question of what to do, says Oud, “the answer was quite obvious.”

“We decided to move back to Israel, the place where there is no anti-Semitism and where my children can be proud to be Jews.”

Although Israelis living abroad move back for a variety of reasons, it is clear that many view Israel as an increasingly attractive place to call home.

According to the Ministry of Absorption, about 12,000 citizens returned in 1996.

This number has remained fairly constant since 1993, when, say experts, the peace process and the economic boom that accompanied it first got under way.

Nadia Prigat, the ministry’s expert on returning Israelis, says that “there is a significant correlation between the peace process and the number of returnees.”

“Peace jump-started the economy at the very time when the U.S. — the place where the vast majority of Israelis settle — was experiencing economic problems,” she says.

Israelis are still returning, Prigat says, “despite the fact that the American economy has largely recovered.”

“We’re working hard to ensure that they keep coming,” she adds.

Once viewed as traitors for leaving the country, the estimated 500,000 Israelis who now live overseas are being wooed to return both by the government and the private sector.

“There’s been a real change in perception over the past few years,” says David Harman, director general of the Jewish Agency/World Zionist Organization’s Authority on Zionist Jewish Education.

“Ex-Israelis used to be called `yoredim’ and considered traitors. Society no longer sees them as `trefe,'” or unkosher, he adds. “Yored” is a derogatory term meaning to “go down.”

To strengthen the expatriate Israelis’ connection with their homeland, the government runs a program called “Israel House” that provides practical information, as well as cultural programming, from 10 of Israel’s 13 consulates in the United States.

Acknowledging that Israeli youngsters living abroad are as prone to assimilation as other Diaspora youths, the consulates also encourage teens to join a Hebrew-language club called the Scouts and to spend a summer in Israel.

“In some instances, it’s the children who return to serve in the army, and their parents often follow,” says Prigat. “When Israelis do return, in most cases it’s for the sake of the children.”

While no one can say how many citizens really intend to return to Israel, “it’s clearly much simpler to make the choice when you have a secure job waiting for you,” says Prigat.

To lure both Israelis and potential immigrants, the consulates, with assistance from the Jewish Agency and the Absorption Ministry, match job-seekers with Israeli companies in need of employees.

The overwhelming majority of slots are currently in the high-tech field.

“There is a real shortage of high-tech people in the country, and there are hundreds of positions available,” says Prigat. “Unlike most other companies, the larger high-tech firms can afford to send representatives abroad for recruitment purposes.”

During the six years that the job recruitment program has been in existence, dozens of people have been hired by Intel, Motorola and several other high-tech giants.

Alerted to job fairs and upcoming visits by company representatives through ads in the local press, applicants are encouraged to submit their resumes to their local consulate, which then pass them on to Israeli firms.

This was how Oud landed her job at Tower Semiconductor, a large high-tech firm in Migdal Ha’emek, southeast of Haifa.

“I heard that a job fair was coming up, so I submitted my resume to the consulate,” she says. “Within a short time, I had more than one offer. It’s a very professional and efficient way to do business.”

Yisrael Kashat, general manager of Motorola Semiconductor/Israel agrees.

“There are several hundred openings for electronic and software engineers right now, and that number could increase as more overseas companies set up subsidiaries here in Israel,” he says.

Kashat says Motorola, which employs 3,500 people here, actively recruits Israelis living abroad “because they are experienced and very creative.”

“Most left Israel to find new opportunities, and those who are ready to return have a lot to offer,” Kashat says.

“They are familiar with both [Israeli and Western] cultures, and can act as mediators. Sometimes Israelis can be very pushy and aggressive, so someone who knows how they operate in the U.S. is valuable to us.”

Arnon Mordoh, a Motorola software engineer who just returned from a four-year stay in the United States, says that “having a job to come home to definitely made the thought of returning more attractive.”

“My wife and I never intended to stay in the States forever, but we might have stayed longer if the opportunity at Motorola hadn’t come up.”

Stressing that he has no regrets about leaving Israel in the first place, Mordoh says, “I think working abroad teaches Israelis how to be more professional and businesslike.

“Now that we’re back, though, it feels good to be home.”

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