Eight AM In the Government Office

Michal Henig-Litani helps Israelis with translations and working with government offices
07.05.2015 an article by Christina Schmidt
for the full article in German

On Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays I arrive at 8 AM at government offices. This time of day, they're relatively empty and I can get a lot of things done relatively quickly. That's why I always tell my clients it is better that we get there as early as possible. I help them fill out the forms correctly. Usually when Israelis come to Berlin, they don’t speak German and require assistance in order to understand the questions on the forms and answer them correctly. I accompany my clients to appointments and advise them on what kind of social assistance they're entitled to, if at all.

The concept of helping newcomers in Berlin with bureaucracy work derived from the fact that I had been qualified for social work. In the meantime I am able to make a living out of it. I would very much like to go on and build my small business, and maybe even hire an employee one day. In any case, I have a website and I am reachable on Facebook. In the afternoon, I'm on the road again and meet people who need help with reading their mail and translating leases for example. Some days, I even have time to do my own clerical work.

Sometimes, I have to remember how I got to Berlin two years ago from Israel along with my partner and our dog. At the time I was 28 years old. When we came, we had spoken no German and had had to work hard in order to learn the language as quickly as possible. For this reason, we had participated in German courses in the Volkshochschule. In my opinion, one has to be prepared for the hard work involved in the integration process.

My grandfather and grandmother from my father's side came from Austria. Other relatives from my father's family were perished in the holocaust. About two years ago, I received letters written by my great-grandmother in the ghetto. She had written it all in her mother tongue and I could read and understand. It had given me a different perspective on things. My mother's family came from Morocco. I was born and raised in Jerusalem, where I had heard English, Italian, German, French, Arabic and of course my mother tongue, Hebrew. There was also a special Moroccan dialect, which came from my mother's family, which one could compare to Yiddish.

Basically, I've gone through training in different fields which I am now uniting into one job. In Israel, I had studied psychology and worked as a social worker. In addition, I had worked as a translator in the Hebrew and English languages. Now I require it all. The social worker in me supports the clients, and my language knowledge allows me to support them. I do not tire of working on my clients' motivation to learn German. I always say – "I am not doing the work for you, we're doing it together".

A lot of information is inaccessible for people who do not speak the language. I'm glad I'm able to go to the movies or to the theater here, since I understand the language. I can also go to lectures or meet people who only speak German. My favorite book right now is "The Rosie Project". It is harder for me to read books in English than it is in German, but right now, I don’t have much time due to my job requirements.

In Israel, I had worked with youth at risk and with people who cope with mental disorders. Work in this field is privatized in Israel, and this entailed for me bad conditions and the fact that I couldn't live of my work. As I left Israel, there had been no promotion opportunities for me, despite the fact that I had works in managerial positions. Another place, another chance, I thought to myself. This is how I've made the decision to leave Israel.

I have met my spouse years ago through friends. We got married in our mid-twenties in a typical wedding. In Berlin, I discovered that one can celebrate also in smaller frameworks, a thing I very much like. Before we left Israel, we lived in Tel-Aviv in a small apartment we could somehow afford. Today the rent there must be higher. The owner must know that they can ask for higher rent due to the high demand for apartments.

Before we left Israel, we went through all of the bureaucracy involved in exporting pets for our dog, a mongrel named Bijo. We left our home in Israel in order to find a new one in Berlin. As we arrived, we sub leased an apartment for two months, until we found the apartment we live in today, and I believe we had much luck with that. Morning routine – I wake up at 6:30, so I could take the dog for a walk before I have to go to the governmental offices. In the afternoons, I sometimes take Bijo with me, since he is a very friendly dog to people. When we go on vacation, he usually stays with friends or a dog-sitter.

I did not expect my immigration experience to be easy, and it wasn't. The first year was compiled from hard work to acquire the language and building a new life. Today, I happily chat with my neighbors, since I'm very friendly and always glad to make connections with people. In the meantime, we've made friends. I go to Israel about once a year to see my family. Nevertheless, I've noticed that we are changing due to the immigration process. At this point, even traveling to our old home becomes different.

I got to know a new culture. I very much like the life in Berlin. Winters here are always grey and seem to have no end. But I find that it's very calm here and I enjoy this calmness very much. You can do whatever want in this city, you can make your dreams come true, you can develop yourself and realize ideas. We've become a part of the public, and I feel that I belong here. In Tel-Aviv life is stressful, and you somehow have to quite the noise. I only miss the sea sometimes, but Berlin has become my and our home.

*The translation is not accurate due to editing errors. The authors permission was given to the changes in the translated version.

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