Voices from the field

A New Immigrant, a New Life (and New Business Hours)

By Emily Berg

In 2016, the Knesset passed a bill to observe יום העלייה‎ (Yom HaAliyah), or Aliyah Day. On October 27, 2017, the first Aliyah Day was observed throughout the country, celebrating Jewish immigration to Israel.

Coinciding with the reading of the Torah portion in which Abraham is told to leave his home to go to the Promised Land (the 7th of Cheshvan), schools infuse Aliyah-related programming, focusing on the contributions of olim - immigrants.

Emily Berg made aliyah from Toronto in 2012, at the age of 25. Through her experiences, she learned first-hand about running a small business and living in Israel:

I am the founder of a business called MATANA, whose mission is to connect Jewish communities from around the world with Israeli artisans. We send a monthly package of Israeli products to subscribers across North America, featuring a variety of handpicked Israeli vendors. In one of our first months, when I started putting the boxes together before packaging, I wasn’t totally satisfied with the quality. The edges were frayed and the cardboard hadn’t been cut symmetrically. I decided to give my box supplier (an ultra-orthodox family in Petach Tikvah) a call:

“Hello – Box Warehouse,” he answers (in Hebrew).

I reply (also in Hebrew), telling him that I’m not happy with the product he sold me and that I want to make an exchange.

Ayn Ba'ayah!" No problem, he replies cheerfully. “But just know that we’re only open today until 2pm – I’ve got a wedding to go to.”

Wait. What? "But I can’t come before 2pm. I thought you were open until 5!”

“We’re open every day until 5. But today until 2.”

"Well, can’t someone else be there to meet me around 4?”

"No, we’re all going to the wedding.”

(sighing) “OK, I’ll try to be there at 2.”

I rearrange my entire schedule and call him at 1pm to let him know I’m on my way and that he should get my order ready. He answers: “Oh, yeah. Hi … sorry, I already left.”


"What, do you want me to go back? I already left! I will be late for the wedding!”

I shouted a lot about the cost of fuel before agreeing to go tomorrow. I hang up the phone, extremely frustrated...and then I realize: I just chewed someone out in Hebrew! Three-years-ago-Emily, fresh off the aliyah plane, would be SO proud! How did I get to this point? I have always wanted to yell at someone in Hebrew. Wow – I am soooo Israeli now! In the end, I guess didn’t get what I wanted from him, but boy did I give that man a piece-of-my-Hebrew-speaking-mind! When you think about it, there’s something kind of nice about closing up shop early to go to a wedding. I mean, why not? It was a bit inconvenient for me and luckily it wasn’t a life-or-death box emergency. But this is the Middle East, after all – it’s NOT North America. There is a totally different mindset, culture and pace of life here in Israel, and that means a different way of doing business, I guess. Sometimes I need to be reminded of that: everything shuts down on Friday afternoon. Banks and post offices have inconvenient working hours. If I’m going to be running a business in this crazy country, I can’t let these things get to me. They will inevitably happen. I had to go back to my subscribers and report that their boxes would arrive a few days later than expected, due to a wedding in Petach Tikvah. 

Years later, this seemingly insignificant story remains a major turning point for me: I decided to ride the waves of both entrepreneurship and life in Israel - to treat these moments as lessons, and to always be amused by them.