You came on Birthright. You experienced the beauty of this vibrant country, perhaps even fallen in love; scoring the majority of points on your bucket list including Masada, the Dead Sea, the Kotel, the Tel Aviv beach, amazing food and/or an Israeli soldier (whatever rocks your boat, I’m not judging) and now you’re on your flight back home.
Perhaps you even came on a MASA program. You did work experience, volunteered, became part of the community and, in a way, did a “pilot trip”. You’ve already lived in Israel and a small thought has sprung up in your mind…
Before you know it, you’re hooked.
You’ve seen the guns, you’ve seen the roses and you want to experience how exciting the life can be in the land which has always felt like home, even though it’s miles away from your family and, no point denying, in the Middle East. You’re young, fresh, full of ideas about your life; you’re feeling invincible, brave, motivated and you’re thinking to yourself that perhaps the moment has come to step out of your comfort zone especially since every single Israeli you meet during your voyages has spent countless hours trying to convince you to make Aliyah. Until you make Aliyah. Then the only question that escapes them is: Why on earth would you do that?!
You suddenly meet the other group of people who kvetch about how the land of milk and honey, despite having milk and honey, sells it at inflated prices; and how in general things are more expensive than what they were used to, how costs of living are higher and the social scene seems awkward. Suddenly you remember all the most common complaints that you’ve heard about this beautiful land and despite the overbearing heat pouring on you from the sky, you’re bracing yourself for an upcoming storm.
You may have experienced many things in life, depending on your age, but none of them compares to making Aliyah. The cultural shock seems to increase proportionately to the number of miles/kilometres between your home country and the destination you’re looking at – Israel. Thank G-d I was born in Poland.
Here are the most common kvetch lines that I have come across, which often have reflection in reality, but perhaps sometimes they just need some context.
1. “I would make Aliyah, but life is just so [bloody] expensive there”.
This one always hits the top of the list. Most of the olim struggle with the idea that life can be that expensive in this small country of ours. The rent is high and so are the bills. Sometimes you’re asking yourself if, perhaps, you overstretched your budget on unnecessary things. Then you check your bank account and realise that you have just paid your rent and bills.
First things first, life isn’t cheap in Israel. I’m not going to lie, but this is only part of the picture. If you want to live in the centre of Jerusalem or Tel Aviv then, yes, you will kill yourself to pay rent. But isn’t that the case in all major cities in the world? I know, Tel Aviv isn’t New York or London. Well, it is here, so either you will compromise on where you live or you will need to suck it up and redistribute your wealth better.
On the flip side, if you add the costs of fresh (healthier) produce, general household expenses, subsidised education, dirt cheap education for children (if you’re planning to have any), boarding schools, commuting etc. you actually realise that it’s not all pixie dust and pink elephants outside of Israel despite the fact that it appears differently.
It’s important to note that if you are under 30 years old and you’re making Aliyah, the state will actually fund your further education up to the Master’s level. Unfortunately, if you want to do a PhD you need to dig into your own pocket.
You also get a reasonable financial assistance to get you on your feet and let you find a job, settle in the community and take up ulpan (Hebrew language school), because, please let’s not deceive ourselves – you do need Hebrew.
You are exempted from the majority of the taxes for the first year and you can buy a
vehicle or even a property for less than a regular Israeli. So, for a kick-start, you get a welcome pack to take some of the stress of your back. The situation is different for those who made Aliyah from within Israel after a prolonged stay.
2. “But, Hebrew is such a hard language. Do I really have to learn it?”
Yes, and while you’re at it do it pronto.
The thing is that living in a fast-developing country like Israel has certain paradoxes. For example, you will get a much better job, if you speak at least one foreign language (other than Hebrew), which still means that you need to speak Hebrew at least at an intermediate level. This also explains why most Israelis are killing themselves to speak with you in English in order to practice, which in turn doesn’t help you because you need to practice Hebrew. Of course, you can do without it, some people do, managing in the English-only workplaces, but here’s where the paradox comes in.
As a new oleh you want to integrate as fast as you can and you won’t be able to do it if you don’t speak Hebrew. Born and bred Israelis rarely have patience to put up with new olim, who struggle with either speaking, mumbling, humming or even breathing in Hebrew. So in order for you to benefit from the two worlds, i.e. find good employment and not be socially ostracised – learn the language. While you’re at it dig out all the other languages that you have ever learned. Take up more classes. Language is the key here, the currency; you’d be surprised what might come in handy.
3. “The quality of life is much lower”.
That depends at what you consider to be a good quality of life.
If you’re looking at it from purely materialistic standpoint (which I am not saying in a derogatory way) then sometimes it looks like you’re getting the shorter end of the stick. My first impression of a regular Israeli interior was that of Sparta. You only have what you need. That of course is not true on the longer run, but the impression still remained.
My personal difficulty was that, because of the desert dust, everything always looked dirty, so if I was going to survive here my OCD had to go out of the window in no time. In comparison with the Israeli Sparta my parent’s home appeared to a palace with everything cleaned to the highest shine, comfy carpets, double-glazed windows and fireplaces (note also that I hadn’t lived at home for almost 10 years)… but realistically speaking, I have no strength to clean like this, which, with the Israeli weather, is the activity I would have to perform repeatedly every other day. Also, I would curse those carpets like there was no tomorrow if I boiled in my flat for at least 8 months in a year; the double-glazed windows would be a good thing, but at the same time I can survive without them for four months a year and… what would I do with a fireplace? Tan in winter?
The shops that I got used to shopping at do not deliver to Israel. Ann Summers will forever remain in my heart, but I will never again wear anything produced by them. So yes, you may not have the latest 300 dollar worth hair-dryer for 200 NIS, or a load of really on-sale high quality lingerie, but if we just manage to get un-stuck from those little things, there’s so much richness that we can benefit from causing us to forget the things that we thought we couldn’t do without. The first step that everyone needs to make is to stop comparing. Israel isn’t the US, or England, or France or else, which means that things, by definition, will be different.
Can I trade the fireplace, my antique Chesterfield sofa and Ann Summers for living in this gorgeous country, with amazing people, beautiful weather, close-knit community and Middle-Eastern food? I think I’m fine with that.
4. “I’m just afraid that I won’t be able to find a job in my field.”
Unless you’re a doctor or a politician (pun intended) you may struggle with finding the same type of job in Israel as you had elsewhere. If you’re a lawyer for example, then unless you find a job which allows you to work in your country while you’re living in Israel, you’re pretty much screwed unless you take more tests and courses that will allow you to practice law in Israel.
Moving to any country will make you face a work-related problem, but the good thing about Israel is that it has strong economic ties with other countries so often you may be able to continue doing the same thing as you did back home.
Alternatively, if you want to completely change your career path, which was exactly what I wanted, Israel is the best place for it even though the level of risk places itself at either a complete success or an utter failure, with little room for a most balanced outcome. Living in Israel is a bit like sitting on a roller-coaster, unharnessed. While being on the top of the ride you’re enjoying the view and you’re grateful for living here while you feel the rush of the wind brushing though your hair, but when you’re dipping into the gaping emptiness you’re cursing the moment of bravery that made you do it.
But, if you manage to swim while being thrown into the deep end of the pool, you will discover the skills you’ve never thought you possessed and your career will be enriched by those experiences, not the other way around.
5. “The Israeli bureaucracy is just obnoxious”.
Yes, this is not the rosy part. Dealing with any governmental office is like approaching a lion and hoping that it will be reasonable and won’t eat you.
That’s the key, you’re hoping for it to be reasonable. It often isn’t. It’s very dangerous to assume anything, which I personally experienced on more than one occasion, the latest of them while applying for Aliyah from within Israel and assuming that the “/” mark meant an “or”. It turned out that I was an “and” forcing me to assault yet another registrar in London and get documents expedited with an apostille. The costs for that grew exponentially in the matter of days and I felt torn between the desire of creating mayhem at the Ministry of Interior and trying not to be rude to people, who really can’t help that the system isn’t user friendly for people who are making Aliyah unassisted.
Unless you can make Aliyah through a representative at Nefesh B’Nefesh, who will do all the legwork for you, you’re pretty much on your own.
Also, because the bureaucracy will never be on your side, make sure you’re ready for all eventualities and always ask the same question at least five times. Quite often you will get at least two different answers. Then always go with the harder one, always carry the documents with you and even then, if anything can go wrong, it will, but on the nicer side, if you manage to get it done, you will simply feel like the king of the world.
A side note, remember that in Israel no one fixes anything that isn’t broken, which means that the last minute approach to everything is widely exercised. Israelis therefore struggle to understand the concept of acting “in advance” or “prophylactically”, the words upon the Western bureaucracy rests firmly with both feet. In other words, what is fixable in Israel within 10 minutes, will take weeks if you have to coordinate it with your home country.
6. “Customer service is the worst! You can spend an hour trying to get to the representative”.
Yes. There’s no point denying it. Things are changing slowly and people are even a bit nicer when they are dealing with you.
It’s not something that I personally spend much time thinking about. Israelis have a very strong “no bullshit” attitude and hate wasting time. If you’re taking longer than expected they lose their patience in a matter of seconds. I relate to that very strongly, which is perhaps why I’m defending the concept here.
If you’re a new oleh I would suggest asking for help when dealing with any type of customer service representative, ideally from an Israeli. Even more so if you’re dealing with a technician or a mechanic.
Israelis can smell weakness and some of them (luckily not the majority) will make money out of it if they can. Then again, if they find out that you are a new oleh, they are three times as nice as they normally would be so even though it’s a gamble, you are on the winning side.
7. “I don’t think I want to go to the Army”.
Personally, I think it’s a good idea, but I won’t convince anyone. Ok, maybe a little. You end up leaving speaking fluent Hebrew, make friendships and future business connections through your unit and do something really interesting (obviously not all the time you are there).
Even though most of us come from pacifistic countries, Israel is a military democracy (such thing exists?) and going to the Army is just part of life, which means that you will assimilate this much quicker if you go rather than if you don’t.
8. “I’ve never seen so much litter in my life!”
Yes, this is a problem. It’s slowly changing with the general public being more involved in recycling and trying to reduce their waste.
There isn’t much more to say about it.
Simply, if you want change, be the change. Things will follow. The greatest social changes come from within the society, not from above.
9. “It’s just… living in Israel seems to be such a chore! It’s just hard!”
Yes, that is life. Obstacles will be always there and you simply need to choose your battles. Not everything is worth fighting for. The post isn’t as efficient as it is in London, the banks aren’t as swift as they are in the US… all you need to do is just to go with the flow. There’s an actual Hebrew word for it: lizrom.
It works like this. Rivers don’t fight obstacles. They run past them and smooth out the edges as they do so. It’s a huge part of life in Israel. You let it lead you to opportunities and you just grab them. Don’t overthink and just let go.
10. “Israel is full of contradictions.”
Yes, it is and it probably always will be. This country runs on the steady, but constant influx of young Jewish minds from all over the world and the system needs to accommodate hence the ride is bumpy. Sometimes the system can accommodate, sometimes it simply won’t.
What’s important is enjoying the ride. You’re living in the most amazing country in the world (yes, I know, I’m biased. So are the parents of their children and yet everyone is always nodding without exception). It’s an enormous blessing to live in this warm, close-knit community and even though the everyday life can be more guns than roses, you will find that it only makes the smell of the latter much stronger and pleasant when you remember why you’re here.
Has living in Israel destroyed your view of the world?