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| Olim get new Knesset lobby group, headed by KeepOlim

Zev Stub    
Wednesday, 11 July 3:26 PM
New immigrants in Israel officially got a new friend in Knesset Monday, with the launch of KeepOlim's new Knesset lobby. 

More than 100 olim from all over Israel came to an event launching the new lobby, which will be run by KeepOlim heads LiAmi Lawrence and Tzvika Graiver. The lobby is chaired by MK Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Union) and includes as its members Avraham Neguise (Likud), Nachman Shai (Zionist Union), and Elie Elalouf (Kulanu). 

KeepOlim was born three years ago when LiAmi Lawrence, frustrated and on the verge of leaving Israel, created a Facebook group to highlight the struggles immigrants face in Israel. The group struck a nerve, and reached 3,000 members in the first two days. As of this writing, the Facebook group now has more than 41,000 members from more than 100 countries. 

Seeing the need, Lawrence, together with Graiver, built KeepOlim into a non-profit organization. They offer a number of services for olim, including free legal aid, arranging hospitality for immigrants during the holidays, and a number of social programs. But they gained widespread respect last August when they succeeded in pushing through legislation that made it much easier for new olim to convert their drivers licenses in Israel, without the extremely tedious requirements that were in place until then. 

From there, KeepOlim put more of its focus on legislation. "I met MK Svetlova when I heard her speak at Knesset on Yom Haaliya in November, and I started speaking with her," Lawrence told Janglo. "We met a number of times, and worked together to create the new lobby."

In Israel, the word lobby has a different meaning than it does in the United States. According to the Knesset, a lobby (Shtula in Hebrew) is a group of Knesset members enlisting support for certain policies or individuals amongst their colleagues or other government officials. There are hundreds of lobbies for all sorts of interests listed on the Knesset website

Leading up to the new lobby, Lawrence says he has been at Knesset every week recently represents immigrant interests. "Two weeks ago, I was in a Knesset meeting about the needs of Russian small business owners. Last week, there were meetings about Misrad HaKlita (the Absorption Ministry). Yesterday, I got a call about an Ulpan in Raanana closing its dormitory. We are working to represent Olim from all communities and nationalities." 

What is Lawrence's goal? "To make Knesset members aware of the problems olim face and to affect change," he says. "It could be about education, jobs, opening businesses, fixing bureaucracy. Our lobby represents all olim, regardless of politics. We want to make sure that when people make Aliya, they don't end up going back." 
KeepOlim also plans to launch two new projects in the coming months: a series of low-cost mental health therapy groups in different laguages for olim, as well as an "Adopt An Oleh" program together with Taglit Birthright Israel.

For more info or to get involved, contact KeepOlim at their Facebook pagewebsite, or at
Photo by Sharon Marks Altshul 

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