After posting about the Aliyah Fair last week, I received a great reminder email from Shelley Brinn, Community Aliyah Coordinator in Ma'aleh Adumim. While the things she listed were items that we have been conscious of from the beginning, we needed a reality check after experiencing such an Aliyah high. I think these are all great points that we need to be reminded of throughout the process:
1. Language skills: Unless you are coming with work from the old country...this is probably the number one obstacle to finding employment...anything you can do to seriously learn Hebrew before Aliyah...do it! Whether it is a community ulpan, course at a local college, on-line learning, finding an Israeli to come to your home, etc....this is crucial. Yes, you can do ulpan...but after level 1 (5 months) you may be able to put a sentence together but this does not meet the work demands.
2. Community: Research well the communities and post questions on the chats of the different communities that you are choosing. Considerations should be: employment options, religious breakdown of community, and services available.
3. General services available: Important when considering a small yishuv, middle sized town, city (especially if you don't have a car right away).
4. English speaking population: It is nice to have a lot of English speakers around but many of the places where Olim typically come to are getting very English speaking.
5. Housing availability: Where can you get a good property (rental or purchase) for your money? If you're planning on having a family... where can you afford to have a place with enough space and garden as well for the kids to play in. Some people choose a more expensive location and then are squished into a smaller apartment, often with no outside area.
After thanking her for the reminder, I sent over a few additional questions that many of us have playing on a loop in our heads. While I realize that they are very broad in scope and every person you ask will have a different answer, I think it is important to receive as much feedback as you can from as many people as you can before going home. I am sure that everyone in the Aliyah process has asked the following questions many times:
What is a realistic budget (minus housing costs) for a family of two in the Jerusalem area? Nefesh B'Nefesh has sample budgets on their site but I would like to have a second opinion. What are some of the clear differences in everyday life in Israel in comparison to the US?
Make sure to include:
1. Food is expensive here compared to US except for fruits and veggies, which are cheaper.
2. Arnona, city tax, is calculated by size of your apartment so I would not recommend taking a larger place than you need just because it's nice.
3. Other utilities such as water, gas, phone and electricity. These are important when you decide to take a place with a big garden which needs watering, or if you take a place without central a/c and heating which will require electric space heaters which are not economical.
4. Apartment insurance, car insurance, health insurance (basic coverage is free for olim for the first year but most people get additional coverage as well which is not free).
5. Transportation costs: whether you purchase a car or depend on buses and taxis (this is important to remember when choosing a community). How far are all of the services that you will need? Can you walk to them, need a bus, car?
6. Apartment Building Committee Fee, Vaad Bayit, for cleaning halls shared by all tenants and electricity in halls.
8. Cell phones: most people buy cell phones with program package and pay them off over three years.
9. Cable and internet fees: you can get a cable telephone and have a package deal with your TV cable, telephone, and internet all from one company.
10. Synagogue fees: Most larger synagogues have membership fees which usually are a few hundred shekels to 800 shekels/year
11. Adult education/activities: Community Centers usually do not have membership fees - you pay per activity.
12. Trips – tiyulim: most likely during your first year you will want to see the country... you can buy a matmon card (about 300 shekels) and this will allow for entrance into most of the national parks.
What were some things that were not worth shipping? What things do you wish you shipped? What items are must haves?
I would not ship appliances. Buy them all here to fit electricity and space requirements
Only ship furniture if you have something you really love or new or has sentimental value. You can buy anything here but it is more expensive. I don't know the shipping costs so it may even out.
What do you wish you had done differently in preparation to your making Aliyah? Good and bad. Obvious and not so obvious.
What I would have done differently? I can't think of anything. I came at age 26 and I didn't really have any furniture to speak of. The only thing I would have wished for is that family members would have come as well. Lack of family is the hardest thing about Aliyah, in my opinion, hence the importance of living in a place which has a community which fits you. Never go to a community just because you see a posting for a nice house or a job. Check out the people. They will be your family!
Please take a moment to reread the last few lines. For those of us making Aliyah without any family already living in Israel and not expecting any family to follow us, this is the most important thing to remember when deciding where to live.
Once again, I would like to thank Shelley Brinn for taking the time to share her tips and answer my questions. This is the kind of conversation that everyone in the Aliyah process should be having whenever given the chance.
Please let me know if you have any tips or answers to the above questions so that they can be posted and shared with other future olim.
UPDATE: Since posting this blog, I have received a tremendous amount of feedback and support. Thank you all for taking the time to read and respond. Additionally, Shelley emailed me with some additional advice which is important for all of us to consider:
The only other statement that I would add is with regard to ideology…
I participated in a teleconference at the Jewish Agency a few days ago and spoke about MA [Ma'aleh Adumim] to a screen of about 40-50 potential Olim from South Africa. Each community rep did their spiel about how wonderful their community is....pools, theatre, sea, culture, etc, etc and I did the same. Afterwards I thought that perhaps I had missed the opportunity to say something very important and this is that there are many challenges today for our little country and Olim must take this into consideration when deciding on a community.
For some, making Aliyah is enough of an ideological statement but for others who feel strongly about certain issues their Aliyah choice should express this and not leave others to do the job for them. For example, if you feel strongly that Jerusalem is our capital -politically, historically, religiously - then we must strengthen the Jerusalem area by living there, working there, supporting businesses there, etc.
Today, when the world is discussing whether Jerusalem should be divided and whether Jews have the right to live in different neighborhoods of the city (I'm referring to neighborhoods which are Jewish and not Arab), then perhaps we should make it our business to make Aliyah to the Jerusalem area to strengthen it!! BTW, this is one of the reasons I feel good about living in MA - from here I support Jerusalem in many ways while living a quality lifestyle.
Others may feel very strongly about making sure the Galil increases in its Jewish population. So what I'm trying to say is that Aliyah can also be the time to try and influence the very tenuous situation that Israel is in today. Ideological considerations and not just which community has nice people or a nice mall because there are so many communities that have this.
It's easy to say "let someone else do the work." The truth is that Olim today are among the most Zionist people I know and have the ability to breathe new energy into the Israeli mindset.