In Belarus, Alesya studied at the Academy of Arts, then dreamed of creating her own video production, but the events after the elections changed her plans. Now she lives in Israel and works in a drugstore chain.
Alesya, 29 years old
I lived in Kiev until I was 16, but then I moved to Belarus. I took the move very hard: I was torn away from Kiev, from my turbulent teenage life, from a big and bright city. In 2010 Minsk was boring, as if I was placed in a black-and-white movie, and not very successful. Besides, the dispersal of Ploshchy 2010 added to the mood. I got used to it gradually, but every year I felt my connection with this city more and more deeply. Now my roots and heart are definitely given to Minsk.
In Belarus, I have been a video producer for the last two years. At first I worked in a small production house where we shot commercial content. After that, I thought about creating my own company. Basically, any producer who knows how to work with a team and has a number of contractors is his own production company. And then, just as I was getting into the swing of things, I had to abruptly change my plans….
My husband is a doctor. The prospects of a career as a doctor in Belarus did not suit him, so sooner or later we would have left. I wanted to stay in Belarus and even despite all the conditions try to do useful things. To create projects for Belarusians, perhaps even to create jobs, etc. The final trigger for the move was mobilization in Russia. Most likely, Belarus will follow the same path as Russia after some time. So we did not try our fate with the closure of borders, conscription and left for Israel.
Israel is an emigrant country, there are many nationalities here, but at the same time migration issues here are very strict. There are two ways to get here. The first is that you have the right to repatriation if you have Jewish roots. The second option is that you get a work visa, but as a rule, this is a rare case, because there is a lot of hassle involved. Of course, if you are an IT guy, a scientist or a very rare specialist, you may be employed on a work visa. If you’re just an ordinary mere mortal, it will be more difficult. There is such an option, I know, many people come from Eastern Europe to look after elderly people and they get a work visa.
Of course, it’s easiest for repatriates. Then you come here and have no problems. The procedure for citizenship in Israel is fast, you get it almost immediately after you prove that you have roots. And after that, you can officially work and have all the benefits from the state. My case was just like that.
When you come here on the right of repatriation, for six months you get money from the state. For a family it’s about 1500$, plus free Hebrew courses that last 5 months. These six months are given to you to learn the language, more or less become on your feet. Of course, it’s cool to combine the courses and work, you immediately have the opportunity to practice Hebrew. In this regard, my language is better than that of my classmates who communicate in the Russian-speaking circle.
If you plan to emigrate to Israel, it is better, of course, to learn Hebrew beforehand. But my husband and I left quickly, with two suitcases. So we came here with some very, very minimal set of words. But we knew English. If, of course, you work in IT, English – yes, you’ll have enough. You’ll be executive searched and you’ll probably work for the workforce, and speak it, and you’ll need Hebrew because – insofar as. But if you are a mere mortal like me, a humanitarian, without a cool speciality, it will be more difficult.
I found the job quite quickly. I’ll be honest, it was just recommended to me. I asked the girl who works with me, “How did you do it?”. She answered that she went to the stores in the city and asked, “Do you need an employee?”. There’s a very good chance that the store will most likely hire you. There is a very high turnover of people in this field and, as a rule, there are always open positions in stores for merchandising, you don’t need a high level of language there. I work in a well-known chain of pharmacies “Superpharm” on merchandising. I think it was a good decision. Although it is not easy for me to work at this job, I had no such experience in Belarus.
A big plus of my work here is integration into the Israeli society. Now 70% of employees here are Arabs and 30% are Israelis. This is due to the fact that it is Ramadan and soon it will be Pesach, and it is fun to see the fusion of different cultures and traditions. This is another benefit of my work – integration into Israeli society.
I also teach the Arabs Belarusian, and they teach me Arabic… I’m glad that I’m the only Belarusian friend they have. I tell them about our beautiful and miserable country, about Ukraine and the role of Belarus in recent events.
About the attitude of Arabs and Israelis….. Personally, we don’t have many Israelis working in our store, and those who do – have normal relations with Arabs, nobody separates at all, the main thing is to work well… Or, most importantly, just work!
People from post-Soviet countries work fu***** great, the rest – spinning everything in one place.
My colleague is a Georgian who spent most of her life in Russia. She and I noticed that everybody works relaxed, nobody cares: “Do you want to fire me? No problem! I’ll find another job!” She and I are super responsible, if we’re told to work 8 hours, we’ll work 8. It’s just that these jobs have a very high turnover and people are not afraid of losing their jobs. I don’t want to emphasize nationality, but Arabs work… Okay, it’s just a common myth that they’re lazy, they just have their own pace, let’s call it that. And when you’re just fu***** up like it’s your store, doing everything for yourself, they just don’t give a fu**, it’s very noticeable. So I’m slowly trying to get rid of that, because really nobody cares. It’s the order of the day to put something in the wrong place. In Belarus, we are probably more blown for order. Here people throw everything around, put things in the wrong places. This is something I’m still getting used to.
In Hebrew there is such a thing as hutzpah. It literally translates to impudence, but it is such, I would say, excessive persistence. In Israelis and Arabs it is present, and in stores nobody, compared to Belarus, will stand in line, because in a second will start yelling: “Open the cash register!”. And it was a revelation to me that it is possible to do that. Our people are more restrained.
In Israel there is a certain minimum wage, below this amount the employer can not pay. At the moment it is 8-9$ per hour. Also by law, after eight hours of work, an hour – you get 150% of the allowance. And on the Sabbath – 125%.
My husband is now working as an orderly at a medical center, but it’s temporary while he waits for confirmation of his doctor’s license. But even though we work at low-paying jobs, our standard of living has increased. We can afford to go to the store and not think about how much we’re going to spend there. Because when we lived the last months in Grodno, I was terrified to go grocery shopping. I didn’t understand why prices were rising so fast and how pensioners survive. Now we have two planned vacations. In Belarus I didn’t even think it was possible to book tickets six months in advance.
Yes, in Israel you have to work hard, but at the same time everyone has cars, mortgages, apartments… Any person from the post-Soviet space will say how hard it is to live here, but they live well.
In the future I would like to get into the movie industry in Israel… Although, probably, the Israelis would laugh at me now. They think there is no movie industry in this country, but I know that’s not true. And serials are filmed here, and many other things, but without the language, without Hebrew, few people are interested in me. And this period – it’s difficult, yes. For at least the last three or four years I’ve been working as a freelancer and as a manager of my own projects, and now I have to work a low-paying job. I realize it’s not what I wanted to do. It also kills me that I’m about to turn 30 and I’m working with boys who are 17… But now I need to learn the language, without Hebrew you can get stuck in these jobs.
In Belarus I had good prospects and it pulls me back: to my apartment, my dog, familiar streets… It was a very warm winter here and I wanted to go to Minsk, to this grayness and dankness. Although it is not quite cozy, but it is melancholy, time to think what to do next… I understand all the advantages of being here, that I am safe and free, but still I am drawn back home.
Before emigrating to Israel, I managed to live in Ukraine again for a while. I went to Kiev just to breathe free air. And when I planned to return to Minsk, they detained a girl and saw something in her phone that they were not supposed to see. I found out that I was on a pencil and for a couple of months I was in the dark about what would happen to me. Then I lived in Vilnius for a while. It was the end of November, the weather was very bad, I got sick and felt the most unhappy in the world. I realized that I really wanted to go to Belarus. I bought a ticket and decided: whatever will be will be. Then I was afraid that I would always be in some status, a refugee, an emigrant and everywhere I would not be myself. And I need to understand who I am and where I am, to be in my place.
I returned to Minsk, to which I am immensely grateful, my return was fateful. I got married: my future husband and I had been friends for a long time, and then we started dating.
I am not really an immigrant in Israel, as I already have citizenship. On the one hand, I already start to feel like my own here, if we talk about socialisation. On the other hand, I realise that I will never become an Israeli and will still feel like a Belarusian in Israel. Sometimes, sometimes, I feel very stormy: I want to go home very much, I am strongly attached to Minsk. I would like to get rid of this weight, but I can’t cope with it so far.
If I fantasise, I would come back to live in Belarus, if all the obstacles are removed. Maybe in six months I will say differently, but for now, I think that the new Belarus will need creatives, so I would be glad to come back.