Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Aliyah Reality Check

Ma'aleh Adumim

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.
7.      Entertainment.
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.

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.


  1. Yes! We all have our online Jewish family... our twitpacha! If we could only get the whole twitpacha to make twaliyah. :)

  2. not exactly aliya related, but take a look at life in Tel Aviv, blogging the last 4 years not only on the personal experience > http://bit.ly/h0X7w :) nice writing > I would say that for most aliyah is the experience, there is nothing even close to it no matter how "unpractical" it is

  3. Hi Ami,

    Thank you for commenting. I enjoyed reading your blog, your latest one in particular.

    The Aliyah experience, thus far, has been amazing and I am looking forward to all of the experiences to come. Sometimes the most unpractical thing to do is also the most practical... this is one of the main reasons why some many people move back home!

    Thanks again for reading. I hope to see more comments from you in the future.



  4. From an oleh as of 2008...
    There are jobs for English speakers. Hebrew is more important when calling customer service or in the grocery store than at work.
    Keep in mind a community that is reasonable commuting to where the jobs are. You dont want to be driving over an hour EACH WAY to work.
    It is true that your community will be your family, so don't poo-poo English speaking communities. This is where you will get the most help from people who came before you. Once you are settled you can decide if that is where you want to stay.
    And finally, I agree with Ami above. This Aliyah thing does not always make sense on paper, but it is the best way to live Jewish!

  5. Thank you Bruce.

    These are things that we should definitely keep in mind. Thank you for sharing a little about your experience. I hope to read your feedback on
    future posts.



  6. First, let me say thank you for being out there! I'm also a Jew by choice. I converted to Reform a couple of years ago, and have been planning to make Aliyah ever since. I'll be doing this all on my own so it's a little daunting. I'm 38, but when it comes to all of the ins and outs of this process, sometimes I feel as lost as small child. Anyway, my plan is to move to Kibbutz Yahel(one of only two Reform kibbutzim). The Jewish Agency has a hotel management program in Eilat, and Yahel is one of the housing choices(b'shert!). I'm planning on making Aliyah through Nefesh B'Nefesh(and any other organization that can help me make this happen) which requires you to make a "pilot trip" to Israel to check out possible living/employment situations. I'm in the process of planning this trip now. As you may have guessed, I have a million questions(I've never been to Israel). First, how difficult is it to arrange transportation to Yahel(Elat) from Tel Aviv? What kind of expenses should I expect(food, transportation, lodging,etc.)? I've tried a few times to contact the Kibbutz through email, and they don't seem too responsive- should I go through an agency to get communication started? if so, who? Most importantly, does the sense of brotherhood/community really exist there(Israel as a whole) like I've read about? Is it as magical as I've been imagining?

    Thanks again for being out there, it's nice to know there's someone sorta like me who's already over there and seems to be doing o.k..


  7. Hi Stefan,

    First of all, Mazel Tov! Brace yourself for when the plain touches the holy land at Ben Gurion. It is an amazing experience which really has no parallel. And the warm and welcoming community, at least in my limited experience, is unlike anything you will find anywhere else in the world (even as a tourist).

    Actually, my wife and I are in the middle of the Aliyah process at the moment. I am trying to write about our experiences on this blog from the time we started filling out our Nefesh B'Nefesh application and ending whenever I have to stop (hopefully long after we have made Aliyah).

    Unfortunately, I do not have answers to your questions but I would suggest contacting the program coordinator at the Jewish Agency for more information and correspondence with the Kibbutz. I would also suggest posting in the Nefesh B'Nefesh yahoo group, the various Aliyah groups on LinkedIn, and reaching out to people on twitter. Of course, it is preferred if you can talk to someone face to face.

    Hopefully, someone will be able to post a more detailed response to your questions. I hope to hear of your successful journey home in the near future.



  8. Stefan, you are looking for magic and I can honestly tell you that it CAN BE, however, I have been though a few tough times and have heard many other people speak of their experiences in the worst way...explaining why so many return to where ever they came from. I am a very easy going, go with the flow, have a great time in whatever situation I am in kind of person. If you are the kind of person who plans everything out, is used to a certain standard of living, etc. etc. you very well may not experience the magic your dreaming of! I DID and have been here only 8 months, but I am truly still on a "high" simply to wake up every morning in "eretz yisrael". The experience you have depends on your outlook and if you keep yourself focused on your reason for being here....living a Jewish life, in a Jewish community, in THE ONLY Jewish homeland....YES, I'd say it's most definately magical!!!

  9. I could not have said it better myself! Thank you for posting.

  10. Let me just say something about having family here. My parents made aliya five years before we did. It was great to have them to welcome us and help us settle in, and of course over the years they have developed a special relationship with our children.

    But to a great degree it stunted our absorption in ways that we suffer from to this day (it's been 23 years).

    Both at the absorption center, where we spent five hellish months, and then when settling into our community (a heavily Anglo community in a large city), when people heard we had parents here, they tended to tune us out. After all, since we had parents here, we presumably didn't need friends. People didn't invite or call us or reach out to us in any way.

    And no, we didn't sit and take it; we attended events, initiated invitations to others, and even helped find people jobs. It didn't help. That binding that occurs with fellow olim, which often turns into lifelong friendships, just didn't happen.

    And of course, one's expectations of one's parents tend not to ever be fulfilled, and if you have difficult family dynamics, that doesn't disappear in a different country.

    While I certainly don't regret having family here, don't think it would be the solution to any problems. You might even be better off in some ways, at least at the beginning.

  11. Stefan,
    Israel is amazing and can really feel like you are coming home. But, people are still people.You will meet people who won't treat you as a "brother" and you will meet people who will. Don't expect magic and you will be fine.
    Regarding kibbutzim: they are wonderful places and for new olim make life much easier (you don't have to worry about housing, food, friends etc). On the other hand, they can have a lot of bureaucracy and petty fighting since any change you or any member wants to make (including things like adding on to your own house or taking a trip to America) have to go through the kibbutz. You need the whole communities approval. During your pilot trip be sure to talk to kibbutz members and ask what kind of topics are discussed in the kibbutz member meetings. Ask what their policies are regarding overseas travel and vacations. It will give you a sense of what daily life on the kibbutz is like and the mentality of the place.
    Good luck!!

  12. I made aliyah to Eilat on my own in December 2009. I'm fortunate in that I work online so I didn't have to find a job to support myself here. However I did come knowing no one, at least no one south of Modi'in, and have had to find a community that I felt at home with.

    Practical issues: my friend did the hotel management course in Eilat while living in accommodation provided by the hotels here. Don't expect to be paid more than minimum wage, and be aware that you won't be paid for your time on the course.

    Living in Tel Aviv and commuting is expensive and tiring. There are regular flights from Ben Gurion to Eilat, which cost from 99 NIS each way, depending on day and time, and take around 40 mins in the air. There are several buses a day, which cost around 80 NIS each way but take around 4 hours to make the trip. There is no train service to Eilat - the nearest station is at Be'er Sheva, and you can get a bus from there that takes around 2.5 hours. If you're going to be working in Eilat, you'd be far better off living in the town as well.

    Hebrew: Most Israelis do speak English, but they will expect you to speak Hebrew at work, especially in the hotels. The issue in my experience is not in making yourself understood, but in understanding what is said to you in response! You need to actively LISTEN to Hebrew speakers to get a sense of the rhythm and cadence of the language, and you won't get enough practice at that in ulpan.

    I chose my community on the basis of climate! It might seem shallow, but you'll meet the right people if you put yourself out there, no matter where you choose to live. I simply said "yes" to every invitation for the first year, and in doing so met some great people and made some wonderful friends.

  13. Hi Isobel,

    Thank you for the additional tips. I am sure that I am not the only one who appreciates it!



  14. Thank ya'll for sharing! Some good info here.

    Someone making Aliyah in May 2013 !

  15. Best of luck to you in making Aliyah. It is a beautiful experience and one that I will never forget. While my path has brought me back to the US I will always have a place in my heart that can only been filled by the holy land... not a day goes by that I miss Israel. Trust yourself and have faith in Hashem. I wish you a blessed life in your new home!