September 22, 2018

Changing Countries and Careers After 50

When Paul Serkin, now 59, made aliyah from Brooklyn in 2009, he hoped to continue his career as an IT health care expert.

Serkin, who once ran the computer systems at New York’s Montefiore and Bellevue hospitals and served as a consultant to other medical centers, searched for jobs in Jerusalem but couldn’t find anything in his field.

Too young to retire, Serkin decided to start a new career in Israel as an independent computer consultant.

“When I couldn’t find a job, I decided to go out on my own and reinvent myself,” Serkin said. “And it’s worked out really well.”

He started the company PC Guy, which diagnoses, repairs and sells computer systems and peripherals, like printers and networking equipment.

In the United States, “I worked with major hospitals, organizations and integrated their computer systems. I would write the contract and send consultants to the hospitals. I wasn’t the hands-on technical guy.”

In Jerusalem, Serkin makes house calls to his clients’ homes and offices. “I install or fix their computers, get rid of their computer viruses. Baruch HaShem (thank God), the business has taken off.”

Serkin is one of the many middle-aged Israeli immigrants who have launched new careers after making aliyah in their 50s, 60s and older.

Josie Arbel, director of immigrant absorption services at the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel, acknowledges the difficulty in finding work in a new country.

“It’s hard when you’re 30 and it’s even harder when you’re 50,” she said. “That’s why it’s important to arrive with a plan, to research and to network. Know what you’re striving for and then be flexible and open to curves and surprises.”

Arbel said immigrants, regardless of their age, should consider which of their skills might be transferable to Israel, and to balance idealism with realism.

Paul Serkin is one the many middle-aged Israeli immigrants who have launched new careers after making aliyah in their 50s, 60s and older.   

Freelancers, immigrants who can continue working for the company or institution they worked for in their home countries and those with unique skills have the best shot at making a good living in Israel. Top-tier academics, scientists and medical researchers, for example, can often find their niche in Israel thanks to their longstanding professional networks.

But even the most qualified immigrants need to be aware that they may encounter ageism, Arbel said. “So the more networking they can do, the better.”

Taking the time to learn Hebrew also is important, she said, recognizing that some olim (new immigrants) may not be able to do so.

“If people can come and manage with enough savings to get them through the first six months to a year and in the meantime learn Hebrew, network and go on job interviews, it will be an easier absorption than for those who need to start work three weeks after arriving to pay the rent,” Arbel said.

Rivka Lambert Adler, who made aliyah in 2010 at the age of 51, believes middle age was the right time for her and her husband to immigrate to Israel.

“We had more financial resources and fewer expenses than younger families, so we didn’t need to earn what we earned in the States. Our health care costs, tuition and mortgage expenses went way down. This financial flexibility makes it possible for us to survive here, working in a creative career path rather than an ordinary full-time job.”

Adler, who worked as a university administrator while living in Baltimore, became a writer, book reviewer and adult educator specializing in Jewish content when she moved to Israel.

“I knew that to be a university administrator here I would need fluent Hebrew, something I didn’t have. So in our first couple of months here I applied for jobs working with overseas students,” she said. “I was told I was overqualified.”

Other jobs failed to pan out.

Adler, now 58, joined the workforce after a friend offered her a job coordinating the training of technical writers and stayed there almost two years. Since then, she has been a freelancer working on social media projects, a contributor to The Jerusalem Post and is writing a book.

Her advice to middle-aged immigrants is to be flexible.

“I haven’t met a lot of olim who have found a regular job in Israel at my age. Unless you have specific high-tech skills, you need to be creative,” Adler said. “I’ve always written but never thought of myself as someone who would write for a living. But now I do.”

Barak Moore, who made aliyah in 2012 at the age of 45, could have remained in his longtime profession, high-tech management. Instead, he chose to become a full-time tutor who prepares students of all ages for the SATs and other make-or-break exams, and makes a good living in the process.

“I completely changed my career soon after making aliyah, and I did it while raising eight kids, most of them teenagers,” Moore said.

His first job in Israel was at a software company, and although the salary was very good, he felt drawn to teaching.

“As with my other jobs, I’d teach employees how to run a great department. I was also tutoring part time,” he said. “Finally, after so many people told me I should be a full-time teacher, I took this crazy plunge.”

Moore admits that his wife initially freaked out.

“She said, ‘Why are you throwing away this great career to go into something with no security?’ But I just couldn’t hide who I was anymore. Being a teacher is who I really am.”

Had he stayed in the U.S., Moore said, he would have stayed in high tech “because we would have needed more money” to pay for things like day school tuition and health care deductibles.

Both cost far less in Israel.

Serkin, whose company, PC Guy, is now a well-known brand in Jerusalem, advises prospective immigrants to come with a positive attitude.

“Try to learn Hebrew. Get busy. If you sit in your house all day, you’ll be bored. Go on trips. Make friends. Make Israel your home.”

Michele Chabin is an award-winning journalist who reports from Jerusalem.