Expat life: Eleven years.

As of today I have spent a third of my life living as an expat, having made the choice to leave what I knew and start over somewhere else, with specific goals and ideology fueling the decision. And 11 years later I really don’t have much to complain about, which I appreciate is incredibly fortunate.

Sure, over a decade later taxi drivers still balk at the fact I left New York City. Even other olim balk at the fact I left New York City. But I maintained during year one and I maintain now that I was born in the wrong city and it took me (only) two decades to find the right place to grow, breathe, build, and live.

The one thing I tell people and grows truer every day is that the cost of leaving family never goes down; it gets more and more taxing as you build a career, settle with a partner, have another kid, watch your siblings and parents move on without you.

For myself, I made the right decision 11 years ago and it set my life on a course I’m proud of. Not all my goals have been met yet and the ideology that fuels my perspective and life has transitioned. And no matter where I am, I always feel like an outsider and, oddly, that’s where I’ve realized I operate most naturally.

But I’m happy feeling as natural as I can as an inside-outsider here in Israel rather than an inside-outsider back in New York.

Yom Haaztmaut 5774: Three reasons why

‘Why did you move to Israel?’

We get asked that a lot, don’t we?

Here’s my #1 reason 9 years ago, and my #1 reason now: Children who know no differently…

The list of reasons for living in Israel grows each year I live and learn here. This year it grew by way of another Israeli kid. One more kid to realize a dream.

(Also, shwarma.)


I looked up when, among the mumbling, I heard the word ‘מעליב.’

Standing in a long, slow-moving line at a Staten Island department store, I suddenly felt at home. And yet, it wasn’t because I was in Staten Island, or a department store.

She turned around to complain about the long line in English, and then we chatted about the headphones she was holding. Helping her out with the specs, I was filled with a sense of wanting to hug this woman. Who, once upon a time on listening to her loud, unashamed Hebrew complaints, I would have smirked and thought, Oh, Israelis. But like seeing Sabra humus in a Costco, I had discovered a piece of home right there under the fluorescent lights of American shopping culture.

I had to say something once she mentioned she wanted to use them for a plane she’d be getting on shortly.

“So, you live here, or in Israel?”

We ended up switching to Hebrew and talking about our lives in short… She had moved to New York, and ended up in Chicago. I had left New York for Israel. She spoke Hebrew with her kids at home, and actually, her daughter has excellent Hebrew, “better than Israelis back b’aretz.” My kids speak English, and of course, expand their Hebrew vocabularies at their daycares. Her kids attend Jewish day schools – “absolutely, in America, you MUST give your children that.”

We parted ways to pay for our things and wished each other luck. In a way, I felt like this was my parallel universe, maybe ten years from now. With switched accents.

We make choices… we put faith in them… and some of us are fortunate enough to know deep down we’re living the right choice.






How do you take your Hebrew? Heavily-accented.

Anglo self-hate. Nothing wins more comments on the Times of Israel than that.

The latest? This piece by Noga Martin: Why can’t the Anglos learn to speak?

The author made aliyah at 19 with no background in Hebrew. She managed to learn it and speak it fluently, as well as develop an Israeli accent in doing so.

That’s really wonderful. Seriously. And I agree with the point that Anglos must try harder to learn Hebrew before and while they are here. Must.

But in her article, short and to the disrespectful point, she calls out the Anglos, especially North Americans, who never develop an accent, even as they manage to become fully fluent in Hebrew. And she calls out specifically Rabbi Dov Lipman, who gave a grammatically-correct Hebrew speech at the rally this weekend, albeit with a heavy American accent. He’s been here eight years, apparently.

I WISH I had his confidence. Maybe I’d speak that well. He should be revered as an shining example of what Anglo olim should strive for. He gets a ‘kol hakavod’ from me.

In my Masters here most of my professors happened to be Anglo. (Maybe it had to do with it being a Conflict Management course? Stam, stam.)

And throughout the two years of listening to their heavily accented Hebrew lectures, I retained a sense of high respect and pride. They didn’t give a crap, or at least they didn’t show it. And the students, even if I’m sure they had their share of making fun, did acknowledge the respect for it.

Sometimes I let my mind travel back to my elementary and high school years; unlike the author, I have been engaged in a Hebrew environment, academically, since first grade. I’d estimate half my teachers were Israeli, half Americans or other. Yet most of the time, the Hebrew was fine, accented or not. I took for granted being surrounded by a second language and the  fact that the non-native Hebrew speakers were doing it, Anglo accented, full time, in class. In America.

Here’s a superficial pet peeve we may share: I do cringe when people put on the rolling R’s and can’t pass. But who cares what I think? Good for them for trying.

The point is, do not dare to discourage people actually trying to make it work. And there are plenty of Anglos who do. Like the author of the Times of Israel post. People who come when they’re 20, 45, 60. People who come from any country. As posted in the comments, we could list many many high profile Israelis with strong accents – our foreign minister, bless his crazy soul. Golda Meir, who was the freakin prime minister. Stanley Fischer, another Anglo making a difference.

Gedalyah Reback wrote a really fascinating response about the science/linguistics behind learning language and picking up accents. They are two totally two different functions.

Let’s agree to first focus on learning the language b’chlal, shall we?

UPDATE: And then tonight, when my son asked me to read him a classic Hebrew children’s story, I was filled with all this pride – maybe for the first time – as I read it to him in my horrible disgraceful American accent. So thanks for that.


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.



There’s a third camp…

…the people who just live here.

I’ve seen one too many Western aliyah/Anglo-bashing/Anglo-praising/Anglo-centric articles in the last week so now I’m just gonna mouth off a little.

It seems people are either complaining about Anglos who need to get over it – ‘yes life is a struggle here in Israel, deal with it‘ – or people are complaining about… what a struggle it is to live in Israel, from the bank lines to the bureaucracy to the… Israelis.

Guess what? They’re both valid whine-fests. And it’s been that way for years. And it will always be that way.

Vatikim – I wholeheartedly agree, the complaining is annoying. I can’t read another ‘it’s so hard here’ article. But you know what? I remember when you and me used to say the same thing.

Does that mean we should belittle the newbies’ feelings? Offer superficial cries of ‘get over this’ ‘deal with that’ ‘forget the things you loved’? Did that help you when you got here 5, 10, 15, 30 years ago? Is it what you needed to hear from the others who are most like you in culture of origin?

Therapy is expensive. Why shouldn’t people feel like they can vent on their blogs, in their emails, at their Shabbat tables?

Newbies – Level with me. Did you really think it would be golden here? Picking up and relocating would be a breeze and everyone would be nice to you because the citizens here all have circumcisions? Did you really believe everything the aliyah reps gushed about? All the stock photos on their websites? Or the photos of people getting off planes? Did you consider what comes a year down the line? Five years?

Where was your research? Talking to people who have been here 5, 10, 15, 30 years and have made it? Overcome/live with the struggles? They could have explained it. Organizations get funding to get you here. Come on, Westerners – we of all people know how advertisement works!

I went through the same initial phase of wonderment – everything an anthropological study, everything a sigh of amazement at being Home… I fell in love with Israel over snippets of visits, like every other good college student of the 80s-today. And I tried really hard to temper my expectations. It’s the first thing a potential oleh must know when they’re ready for the practical living conversation. Stay open-minded if you plan to stay. Easier to do when you come young, single, with no clear career yet, (like I was lucky to have done).

We just live here now. If we’re lucky, we have a mortgage. And if we’re luckier, we can afford to pay it. It’s challenging here, it’s challenging there. I have homeowner friends in the States with big houses to tend, but I don’t dream of that. Maybe some do here, but I don’t. I like my manageable lifestyle. I work to live. I’m happy here. I have some real struggles – and I’m not talking the superficial ones I’ve seen mentioned in some of these articles – struggles any of us have. But I like living here. I don’t want to be anywhere else right now. I actually am home.

Do you feel at home? If you do, I’m really glad. If you’re doing what’s best for you, you can really be happy here.

And, yeah, the whining annoys me too. It does. Whining in general annoys me. Ask my three-year-old. I’m not saying I agree with the whining, the complaining, the cries of ‘how rude’ at every turn. B’ktana, Israelis say. There are big picture days and days that get lost in the details.

But I’m saying, Seniors, let’s not forget our own humble beginnings here. Let’s not be mean. This isn’t high school with freshmen haze. Let’s strive to be helpful and guiding, or mind our own business if we can’t manage that much.

And in my 7+ years here, I’ve watched dozens of people leave. I have a 1:3 theory but it’s not based on much. They leave for so many reasons… boredom. Bad fit. Looking for love. Academia. Adventure. Loss. Family. Work. It’s personal, it’s serious, and it’s most of the time none of my business, yet still deserves to be treated with respect.

So tossing out the ‘so go back to the U.S.’ comment is silly and pointless. Leaving is complicated. Like making aliyah.

I guess I just did exactly what I am, er, whining about. Going on about the newbie ‘haters’ and the ‘hater’ newbies (still can’t believe someone used the word ‘hate’ against fellow olim in one of those TOI comments).

It’s Sfirat HaOmer. We’re in a period of introspection, of preparation, of reflection. We’re in it together, Westerners. And that goes for you too, Mizrachim, Holocaust survivors, Ethiopians, Russians, lost souls and adventurers.

And by the way, potential olim – ask me anything about living here. I feel confident enough to have nothing to hide.


Also – Times of Israel – I’m rooting for you. But I’m not sure what your strategy is here… It’s obvious these are topics that your audience, local or abroad, care about very much. So that’s a good strategy, but maybe make it more obvious these articles are in the blogs section?

Speaking more broadly, TOI as a whole seems pretty blog-heavy. Community-focused. There are definitely beautiful things in that. But it seems there’s a risk here of the publication becoming an opinion factory over serious news source, as opposed to offering all sides of media to give a really deep content experience. At least, that’s what I assumed it’s about. Most of the articles I see shared are the ops/blogs which is natural but I’d love to see you blow Ynet out of the water when it comes to interesting, well-researched feature pieces (not that it would be hard…).

Or at the very least more like this ;)

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

Lizrael Update: seven years.

So here I am, in Israel seven years today.

Did I consider where I’d be in seven years when I got in the plane from New York? Never bothered to go that far.

Maybe in the back of my mind I always wondered if the seven-year itch would grab me. It hasn’t.

A rarity, maybe, but Israel has been good to me the last seven years. The Universe has been good to me the last seven years.

I wonder how long this ride lasts for me…