On casting my lot: 10 life lessons about making aliyah, after a decade in Israel

I arrived here ten years ago today.

Ten years in Israel. A decade living here, a decade not living anywhere else.

A few years back, I shed the term ‘aliyah’ from my personal experience vocabulary. It wasn’t a conscious decision but it slowly crept through as I realized living here and making it here is way more than ‘aliyah’ as the word has come to be packaged and sold.

But I’m breaking out the a-word for this list I deserve to write after a decade of making it in Israel. For the pride I feel as a successful American expat, as a successful implant into the place I know as home.

Am I assuming I know so much and have so much wisdom to impart? Yes.

Or, as my Israeli persona might say it, pashut mageya li.

Ten Life Tips for Making It in Israel (according to me):

1. Dream big but manage expectations

In 2004, you know what I wanted to be when I’d grow up? Some sort of political savior, the bringer of peace and light, a lone voice of reason in the Middle East.

In 2015, you know what I want to be when I grow up? A seeing eye dog trainer.

Wanting to be a part of change in the world got me part of the way here. It wasn’t the only thing that got me here – adventure, ideology, travel, leaving home, the potential to build my adult life a little differently. A healthy dose of idealism is a good thing. A healthy dose of realism is a very good thing.

As long as it’s healthy, hold on to your idealism loosely enough to still realize you’re going to be taking buses and paying taxes on a daily basis.

2. It’s easier if you’re easygoing

Keep your options open. This is probably a piece of advice new olim get a lot and ignore the most. Or not, but I’ve definitely seen it around me over the years. People who are stuck on an idea, stuck to a career path, stuck to lifelong notions of what living in Israel means. Stuck to who they were, stuck to who they thought they’d be by now. Stuck to assumptions made by the time they were filling in immigration application forms.

It’s not just ‘life is more easygoing in the Middle East’ or some Mediterranean culture thing. It’s about making a big move in life and throwing as much flexibility at it as you can handle. Discomfort outside the box means you’re doing something right!

3. Let go of pride

It’s a tough one, even on the best of days. I had pride problems long before I moved to another country where just about everything is done differently. If we can master this one, we can have a great time getting through the everyday challenges of being a new immigrant. Learn from everyone. Learn from the old ladies at the bus stop. Learn from the sabra kids.

And speaking of hurt pride…

4. Speak Hebrew. Speak more Hebrew. Even on your worst Hebrew days.

Ten years in I still have bad Hebrew days. Like, really really bad Hebrew days. Like I’m not that hot to trot on a typical day – I’ll always sound like an immigrant – but there are those days you’re on the phone with some customer service rep and you’ll hear the wrong tense or male/female mistakes coming out of your mouth – really 101 stuff – and think, wtf?!

Blame the parenting exhaustion, blame the lack of TV, blame the circle of friends I keep.

I have this rule. The only professional I am allowed to ask to speak in English with is a medical one. And even there, I don’t use it all the time. For instance, I gave birth to my first and third kids in Hebrew.

But it happens. And even when I’m so fucking exhausted because the baby hasn’t slept in a week and we’re sitting at the doctor and I’m begging the Universe to just have him switch to English to relieve me of my personal hell, well… he doesn’t. And I keep going.

5. Come with a viable career path or create one

The last job I had in the States – after my university stints in journalism and activism – was totally utilitarian. Its purpose was to get me cash to get me as far as I could paying rent in Jerusalem. I was an English and Political Science major in university, and I had no freakin clue what my next job would be if I were to remain in the States. In fact, I hadn’t even given it a thought. I was going to be a political wunderkind in Israel, remember?

But I got here, and after arousing from a 6 month haze, I started job searching for real. I spent a month chipping away at job boards and submitting cvs every day. A few interviews. Then I threw my cv into the wind and I got super, but incredibly, but insanely lucky with the job I landed.

Funny thing – I was hired because of the journalism experience, as a… marketing manager at a startup.

I had no clue about startups. I was supposed to save the whales. I thought I was selling out. I thought I had no clue about marketing. But I was wrong – my timing was great for getting involved in online marketing, where the spirit of a college activist can really take flight in the hi tech world. And gaining these skills sets me on a path to help my causes in other ways, in my spare time and my current job.

Ten years later, I’m still here with a career. I got insanely lucky with the opportunity but see #2 above.

6. Not everyone is out to get you (or, complain but then stop complaining)

Ah, immigrant life. So much to laugh about. So much to scream about.

Israel – what a country, huh?!

Laugh, cry, tell jokes, complain once in a while… just don’t overdo it. It’ll eat you up. I see threads in anglo groups on Facebook bitching out living here and I think, really? You’re going to let it eat you up?

People are people. Maybe it’s because I come from NYC. Everyone is out to get you, no one is out to get you. There are assholes taking advantage of people every where in the world.

Some people here try to take advantage of you. Some people elsewhere try, too. And most people are just looking out for #1 – including, well, me and you.

Have a sigh, have a laugh, have a cry and move on.

7. It’s not really only ‘making aliyah’; it’s also becoming an expat

Every immigrant has multiple personalities. You have your native one while in your native country, you have your immigrant one in your new country. You have your ‘Old Country’ one while hanging with your buddies from the Old Country in your new country.

Embrace it. We get to be a lot of things to different people. We are by default somewhat worldly. We have a level of life experience.

When all those taxi drivers ask why the hell you moved here when you’re from New York, for instance, they have no clue. You had another life. You have reasons. You have dreams. Proudly answer him. Represent your whole identity.

8. Be true to yourself: don’t lose yourself but lose yourself a little bit

I like to joke, except I’m not joking, that in English, I’m Liz, in my 30s, with a couple university degrees and world travel behind me, with life experience, with an opinion to share. In Hebrew, I’m Elisheva, a five-year-old in kindergarten who needs speech therapy.

But over the years, overcoming my pride, I’ve learned to embrace it. It is what it is. I am worth more than the quality of my second language, of my lack of native childhood, of my working hard to make it work here.

There’s a lot to me. I’m ok with all those sides. I’m not going to be anything that I’m not – I’m not gonna fake it, pretend I can roll my resh (huuuge pet peeve and I’m not alone here), be more sassy than I am, blow up at people because I’m trying to be ‘Israeli.’

I know many shy, quiet Israelis, by the way.

Be yourself. Sometimes, be a spicy version of yourself. Enjoy yourself. Let other people enjoy who you are.

9. Maintain various immigrant lifelines

Build friendships with all kinds of people, but speaking of the immigrant community specifically, all kinds of other immigrants. Have a few vatikim in your pocket, ranging from ‘got here last year’ to ‘got here five years ago’ to ‘holy crap how many wars have you lived through?!’

Ask, take and give advice. When you’ve been here long enough, be the vatik to a good number of off-the-boats.

10. Take it one fucking day at a time

To my fellow expats, my fellow olim, my fellow vatikim – how awesome is this? How insane are we, to pick up and travel somewhere and label it home? To go in the way that many many humans have throughout history? To live where we choose to live? To defy our birth country, our mother tongue?

We all have something in common, we made a choice to take a chance. And it may work out for you and me – and may not work out for either of us, whether after a year, five, ten or 50.

We’re all mad here – we’re all laughing till we cry, crying till we laugh, rolling our eyes at how corrupt our government is, trying to be heard, trying to make a decent living wage, balking at the price of cottage cheese one day, praising our tight-knit relationship to the cab driver the next. We’re angry, we’re ecstatic, we’re depressed. We’re running to bomb shelters, we’re dancing in public streets holding a Torah.

We’re now Israeli. We were something else. But each of us, one way or another, have cast our lot with this crazy place, the gathering of the Jewish people, Israel.

How I call America from Israel for free (and sometimes pennies)

Dear new dual citizens of Israel,

I wanted to share some info about the communication situation on the Mediterranean side of the Atlantic. I can actually say it’s a whole lot better than your North American friends and family have it back in the motherland; for other dual nationals, I can’t say for sure.

It used to be tough to call abroad from Israel (Telecards, anyone?). Back in the day when I moved here, the up-and-coming thing was VOIP; specifically, acquiring a hefty VOIP router like Packet8, taking days to get it set up with your unwilling local Israeli ISP, and hooking it up to an actual phone to use. Could’ve been worse; before those years, we were shoving Telecards into public payphones, praying we’d get the rare card that granted unlimited minutes (right?!).

Anyway, the times have changed for the better. Over the last 8 years I’ve tried probably a dozen options, and I finally found a system that works for me.

Israeli cell phone plans

Nearly a year ago, there was a revolution in the Israeli mobile carrier industry, which was, needless to say, mucho corrupto. Finally, along came a new company, Golan Telecom, and along with the communications minister, the courts, or someone equally as awesome, openness was declared a consumer right, Golan received a tender for operating a 3G service, undercut the established competition by offering 99nis plans and, literally, overnight, the Big 3 – Pelephone, Orange and Cellcom – were offering updated, cheap, and inclusive plans. Basically came down to paying somewhere between 100-130 nis a month for unlimited calls and texts and generous data.

And then another wrench was thrown in – international calling to several countries, including the US, Canada, England, Australia and others – became free and unlimited, too.

So with ten minutes and a phone call, my household was switched over and we haven’t paid more than 30 bucks a month for all my phone use, national and international in… months.

018

By the way, before that, we used 018, which was something like 10 shekel a month for 80 minutes abroad. There are actually a selection of plans like that, but like I said, I think the phone companies made ’em obsolete (or part of their inherent offering).

MagicJack

Before the big mobile monopoly breakthrough, I had been using MagicJack for years. It started as a small USB device you plug into your computer, and through your desktop or a hooked up phone, you could call VOIP style within North America for free. It was great at the time because it was honestly the best option for when Skype wouldn’t cut it; but as a company, it was pretty primitive. But uber-successful apparently, because It still is frustratingly primitive but the cheapest option out there (apparently owned by a Florida Jew who made a mint off the idea, but doesn’t really focus on developing/marketing/customer service, so you have to stay on top of your account, renewals, etc).

With MagicJack, for a year of service with the USB device, it’s 30 bucks; for a year with the iPhone or Android app, $20.

The benefit today is that it allows my folks to call me from the States, to an American number. I know there are ways to get an American number through the local Israeli companies too; I’ve never actually explored them though.

Shalom972

Speaking of American numbers – to all the mamas and papas of Israeli citizens, who are still back in the Old Country – there’s a very cheap way for you to call Israeli numbers. It’s Shalom972, and it actually goes both ways, too. You can fill up your account and call an Israeli mobile for 3.9 cents a minute, and your Israeli kinder can call you back for just 1 cent a minute.

Skype

For video chatting, which has become pretty much ‘it’ since moving here and the smartphone explosion, I favor Skype of course, though I’ll Google chat/Hangout occasionally. If you’re into actually paying for your international calls, Skype has a few different models and plans to try.

Whatsapp

Ok, this isn’t calling, but for texting/messaging people abroad, Whatsapp is an excellent smartphone app available to all the major phone OS’s. With the group chat feature, I’m in a constant virtual conversation with my dad in Florida, my brother in Philly, and my other brother across Israel. It’s free for Android, $1 download for iOS but no other costs.

Another one to try is Viber, which has calling options on top of text messaging.

Call me maybe?

It’s never been easier to be in touch with peeps abroad;  it’s actually insane how new methods are always coming out. And they are so cheap.

So no excuses, oleh chadash. Call your mama. She’s worried about you.

 

The cost of having kids in Israel.

We ‘have’ kids. Sounds so passive, doesn’t it?

Isn’t it more like, we find someone to have kids with, settle in with them, work at it for a few months to a few years, attempt to save money to cushion the initial shock, bring forth a baby into the world with extreme amounts of energy, and work every single second of our lives thereafter to ensure their health and safekeeping?

Costly KidsHere’s an infographic courtesy of Early Childhood Education. It’s absolutely addressing data based in the United States. Which blows my mind, just to see the college figures.

Israel runs a totally different show; not to say raising kids here isn’t costly, it’s just costly in different ways. Our salaries are lower, our cost of living is higher (our standard of living is high). Import tax makes goods more expensive than they’d be elsewhere. Small population, less choice/less supply/higher prices. I’m no economist, and I can’t really, ahem, afford to wax philosophic about it all.

But I feel like shedding a little light.

There’s a good breakdown of costs for a family of four in the context of what to expect when you make aliyah. Note: I take no responsibility for how off this is in Tel Aviv. That’s your fault for living there ;)

But these are relevant to where I live, Tzur Hadassah, a 1500-family yishuv 20 minutes outside Jerusalem.

Numbers in Israeli shekels:

  • Housing (rent or mortgage): 4000-5000
  • Arnona (annual property tax): 300-500 (roughly 5,000 a year – very dependent on where you live)
  • Water: 120-250
  • Electricity: 250-500

…and so on (cell phone, gas, car, petrol, TV, va’ad bayit). But I digress. Children-related expenses, on a monthly basis, look a little like this – for my community, anyway:

  • Daycare for babies until 3: 1500-2500 (lower number reflects range in Beitar Illit, an option)
  • Gan 3+: Free as of 2012/2013, but parents provide ‘aruchat eser’
  • Tzaharon (after 2:30pm): 800+
  • School fees: up to 1050 a year
  • Tin of formula: 50+
  • Acamol/Nurofen: +/- 30-40

Clothes are expensive unless you shop at deep discount stores like Bazaar Strauss and whatnot. Toys are ridiculously expensive – look at mamibuy.co.il for what a deal is here, and then consider the everyday price. I paid for a toy at Shilav with gift certificates equaling 350nis that costs about $36 in the States.

Books are actually decent; I find book stores here hold sales like 3 for 100nis quite often.

Then there’s the issue of weekend activities… A movie ticket is about 35nis. A museum entrance for a kid can be 25nis and up. The Jerusalem Biblical Zoo costs 38nis for a kid above the age of 3. A fast food kids’ meal runs between 25-40nis.

Considering chugim, like swimming lessons or music class? That can start at 40nis a lesson.

Know Hebrew and want to get a sense of food prices? Check out Shufersal’s online storefront. Prices here can be on the higher side, but it’s pretty much reality if you live in a city or popular area (non-charedi).

Keep in mind the average salary in Israel is around 9,000nis (as of March 2012).

I’m not painting a complete picture here, but I figured I’d give a start to the way of thinking when it comes to children expenses here. But it doesn’t stop us from having them: in 2010, 28% of Israel’s population was aged between 0-14. The average size of the Israeli family is 3.7 persons… which I actually find hard to believe while looking around here.

I haven’t included a lot. Add whatever comes to mind in the comments.

 

 

Moving to Israel? Make sure you Stick Around.

To ulpan or not to ulpan? It’s up to you, but it doesn’t have to end when you leave the musty, dingy premises of the classroom…

Take ulpan home with you with Stick Around.

The story behind Stick Around goes something like this:

“Aaaahhh!!!” my wife yelled, and even though it’s not a word, I could easily understand that she was yelling in English. As a new immigrant she was loving life in Israel, but there was one huge frustrating obstacle: Hebrew.

It’s a rite of passage for olim: the language barrier, climbing over the language barrier, falling backwards behind the language barrier, and so on. We have good days, bad days, and oh-my-god-I’m-tired-of-sounding-crazy days.

So this gingy huz-wife team took their own experience and turned it into a product: Stick Around. For thirty bucks, they’re a set of over 500 Hebrew vocabulary stickers to stick around your house on relevant objects to slowly osmosis your way to recognizable Hebrew skills. And that way… you’ll more likely stick. around.

Good luck – b-hatz-la-cha – בהצלחה

Learn Hebrew online for free, visit your Israeli grandchildren.

If Learn to read in Hebrew for free wasn’t enough for you, here’s something better…

Struggling to learn even minimal Hebrew to get by on a visit to Israel? Or even just to get past security at the airport?

Saw this posted on Facebook, had to share: Learn Hebrew phrases with Audio

It’s a free website with study sheets, videos, and ‘flashcards’ with phrases written in Hebrew with vowels, transliterated in English, and English meanings.

It’s a Jacob Richman creation, and here’s more about it from the creator himself:

It has been my goal to create a site that would help you learn Hebrew phrases and sentences easily. There are 54 topics with 1,211 Hebrew phrases and sentences. In addition to the online audio flash, the site includes 152 printable study sheets.

Could be really helpful for the newly-inducted Anglo grandparents of Israeli grandchildren! Hint, hint.

The new American consulate in Jerusalem (now with room to breathe!)

Let’s hear it for American consulate 2.0!

Had to go back to ze Fatherland territory to register new baby’s citizenship, get her passport (1/3) and apply for her Social Security number.

For a while now, Jerusalem and Jerusalem-area American-Israeli residents have been going to the shiny new consulate in ‘west’ Jerusalem (is Arnona not a hop-skip away from East Jerusalem, in reality? I kinda thought it was East Jerusalem).

The building is really nice and there’s a lot of American-ness in it. The giant, thick glass window-walls of the interior facility made me feel at home for some reason. It’s a bit airport-y but that makes sense; what with the security details swiping the cars in the (spacey!) parking lot to be tested for chemicals… and all.

Basically, it’s not a dank, old, claustrophobic ichsa with no parking in East Jerusalem. So, win!

Kudos to security for making me drink my own poison (water in an opaque bottle) instead of taking it away and wasting/pouring it out. That’s an Israeli airport technique. As opposed to an American airport technique. So I guess American security is learning?

I had heard that the new facility would be ‘mother-friendly’ which I assumed meant a nice nursing section. If you turn back the time to the last time I went to the American consulate – two years ago – I thought I was meant to breastfeed in public and then got sent to a tiny little corner with a shower curtain around it. This time, from what I could tell, I was supposed to nurse in the bathroom, in a separate space from the toilets and sinks which had a couple chairs. Next to it was what I suspect was a change area (a long counter top). Definitely an upgrade, but most breastfeeding moms would complain about having to use the bathroom.

Well, in any case, I nursed the little one in the gorgeous courtyard outside the bathroom, complete with park benches, shady trees and patches of grass.

In other news, the ordeal was fairly quick, except having to wait nearly an hour at the end for the passport papers to be approved. I’d recommend going on a day when you can get the first appointment slot. The parking is spacious, so if you can drive, go for it. Otherwise – I’m not sure if/how the public transportation works (I saw other people pulling up in cabs). I also think they need to get a bit more organized with how you line up once you’re inside.

But otherwise, not bad, American compatriots.

Get a job in Israel when you make aliyah… and more.

Wrote up some mostly career-oriented advice for someone who is considering moving to Israel in the next couple years. With that much time to mull it over and prepare, there are lots of things you can do to make it a smooth(er) transition with the right kinds of expectations set.

So here’s what I got; feel free to add more in the comments!

  • Career: see if you can start tailoring your career towards jobs that you’ll be more likely to get here. If hi tech is your area, that’s already a great start. Becoming open minded about shifts in your title/area is key. Things won’t be exactly the same, and if you can embrace shifts, you’ll be more likely to find a job you’re comfortable with here.
  • Another thing is see if you can get an opportunity to work for an international company with a branch in Israel, or that will let you work in Israel, telecommuting. It doesn’t come natural for everyone, but if you can handle working from home/doing American hours, lots more opportunities may be open to you. Flexibility is important.
  • Networking – absolutely. Both in the States (referring to point above) and in Israel. I’d start dialogue with people here now – on Twitter, like you did with me, reading up on blogs (seems like everyone is doing it), connect with people on LinkedIn and if you’re planning a pilot trip, see if you can join some tech/work-related events while here. In Israel, it’s mostly who you know.
  • Live in a place conducive to getting good jobs. Basically, that’s the center for the most part if you’re not an engineer. Jerusalem is ok, Beit Shemesh and Modiin are in the middle, and Tel Aviv of course is the closest to the most opportunity. But lots of people commute between those areas. I live in Tzur Hadassah and commute to Jerusalem. Lots of people commute from BS and Modiin to either Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. Or work from home!
  • Start skimming the job lists and boards to get an idea of what’s out here. There are a few I can think of off the top of my head: IsraemployJobShukJobMobJobs in Israel.
  • On top of that, start thinking about regular life outside of work. Where you’d live and what’s that like (Flathunting) and other boards where people post all kinds of stuff (JangloTaanglo, there are others for different cities).
  • If there are kids in the picture, that’s a big one too, and means you have to look really deep into the places you’d live… I recommend getting in touch with other Anglos in different towns/cities through the Jewish Agency, UJIA, Nefesh b’ Nefesh or AACI.
  • Be wary of people who speak too (or only) positively, though… I think it’s important to get a fully realistic picture so you come prepared. Hey, I’m a realist.
  • Mind your expectations: Going with the above, I think it’s important to keep the fantasy alive while managing your expectations of life here. It’s not all a dream and it’s going to be work. If you’re ready to work for it and take on the challenges, you’re ready to live the immigrant life in Israel.

Post your own thoughts in the comments…

By the time he’s older, neither will matter.

Nerdy fact: My kid had an email address – nay, two email addresses – over a year before he had an American social security number.

To file my American taxes, I realized I needed – and didn’t have – Koala’s social security number. You’re actually supposed to just apply for it while getting the Consular Report of Birth and passport sorted out at the American Embassy/Consulate, but of course, that didn’t prove simple for me and social security got lost somewhere.

So to work it out, I went over to the American Consulate in East Jerusalem yesterday. It was actually chik chok, which was shocking but welcome. You need the American parent(s)’ passport, the baby’s passport, and the birth certificate/Consular Report of Birth.

To explain the email address thing – yeah, I figured out a cool nickname and grabbed it. So what? It was 2009!

The funny thing is, though, by the time Koala is of age, neither the social security nor the email address will matter. Things of the past, the stuff mama could sit back in her rocking chair and muse over… Those were the days.