By Larry Luxner
When Portuguese-speaking Gabriel Jarovsky and his wife, Marcela, arrived in Israel nearly a year ago from their native Brazil, neither knew much Hebrew at all — but they wanted to learn as quickly as possible. So the young couple chose Jerusalem’s Ulpan Etzion, took an intensive five-month crash course and ultimately fell love with the city.
Yet without job connections or fluent Hebrew language skills, finding employment in their fields was tough. Gabriel, 33, a graphic designer who had his own software design company back in São Paulo, took a job at Café Landwer; Marcela, 30, a licensing and trademark specialist, began working at an ice-cream shop.
One day, Pini Glinkewitz — director of the Municipality of Jerusalem’s aliyah and integration branch — walked into the café, and Gabriel struck up a conversation.
“I had seen him a few times at Ulpan Etzion, so I approached him and told him I wanted to stay here in Jerusalem, but it wasn’t easy to find a job, especially with my low-level Hebrew,” he said. “Pini gave me his card and told me to go talk to Gvahim.”
That turned out to be sound advice. The Gvahim program — which cost 700 shekels and consisted of four one-on-one meetings of half a day each with a personal consultant — taught the Jarovskys how to “repackage” themselves, develop a job search strategy, adapt their resumes to the Israeli market and provide local networking opportunities.
“They helped us sell ourselves here in Israel, which is very different from Brazil, and how to produce a CV,” he said. “Less than a month later, I got a really good position.”
Gabriel is now a graphic designer at Jerusalem-based Quickode Ltd. His wife works at Yvel, a jewelry manufacturer. They continue to live in Jerusalem’s Armon Hanatziv neighborhood and have no intention of leaving.
“Without the people from Gvahim, it would have been really hard,” said Gabriel. “They created shortcuts and connected the dots. In my opinion, it’s completely worth it.”
Gvahim’s 92% success rate
That’s the kind of success story Glinkewitz loves to share. The Haifa-born social worker — a Jerusalem resident for more than half his 56 years — was former head of the municipality’s community work department before assuming his current job.
“It was a dream to bring Gvahim to Jerusalem,” said Glinkewitz, who approached Gvahim three years ago with the idea of jointly establishing a career program to help Israel’s capital city retain its young, skilled professionals.
“We saw that many young olim with academic degrees were taking Gvahim’s courses in Tel Aviv, because we didn’t have any in Jerusalem,” he said, estimating that 25 percent of those taking Gvahim’s courses at Tel Aviv University commuted from Jerusalem. Many left the capital city altogether once they got jobs in the Tel Aviv area.
“Tel Aviv got opportunities, but Jerusalem lost, because we didn’t have Gvahim here. So we began negotiating with Gvahim in order to bring them to Jerusalem,” said Glinkewitz.
By all accounts, that partnership has been a resounding success, with 92 percent of the participants in the program eventually finding professional-level jobs in the city.
“We’re not talking about working at a coffee shop or as a security guard,” he explained. “This means finding a suitable person for a suitable job at a suitable company.”
Jerusalem attracts more olim than Tel Aviv
Interestingly, Jerusalem is the only municipality in the country that helps pay for Gvahim. At present, every session has about 25 participants and takes place at Tzeirim BaMerkaz on Shivtei Israel Street. Courses run in English; the program manager is Danish-born Jonni Niemann.
“This was my baby and it’s still my baby — and it’s grown very nicely,” he said, noting proudly that Jerusalem today ranks as Israel’s leading city for new immigrants. During the first 11 months of 2017, the city attracted 2,475 olim, just ahead of Tel Aviv (2,404). New immigrants also flocked to Netanya (2,008), Haifa (1,888) and Bat Yam (1,124).
And they’re a diverse group, too. In 2016, roughly 1,200 olim who settled in Jerusalem were English speakers from the United States, Canada, Great Britain, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. The city also attracted 900 French speakers, 500 Russian speakers and 200 Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking Latin Americans like the Jarovskys.
“We’re doing this because we realize the importance of bringing Gvahim here,” said Glinkewitz. “Jerusalem has a kind of difficult image, that it’s expensive, that job opportunities are only in government or social work, that things are closed on Saturday, that it’s not high-tech. Its image is that it’s a hard place to live. But the cost of living in Jerusalem is actually lower than in Tel Aviv.”
Israel’s capital is also home to many biomedical giants including Teva Pharmaceuticals. It also has a 4,000-acre business park near the light rail, and in six months a high-speed train will be inaugurated — with three more light rail lines in the next five years — further sparking economic development in Jerusalem.
Asked what he’d like to see more of, Glinkewitz didn’t hesitate. “More career programs in Jerusalem, especially a medical program,” he replied. “We want anything that will lead olim to Jerusalem and get them to stay here.”