Some Straight Talk About Making Aliyah

I firmly believe that Israel is the place to be for every Jew in the world. I also believe that if every Jew moved to Israel that Mashiach would come, and we’d all be better off, in more ways than we can even comprehend. I’m saying this now, so that noone will misconstrue what I am about to say as coming from a desire to dissuade anyone from making aliyah.

That said, I have to share with you a disturbing conversation I had yesterday. In the course of my work I have to make phone calls to America to our customers. In one call yesterday, the woman on the line said to me, “I have to share this with someone, and you are probably the best person….” Since I have only spoken to this customer once or twice I was a bit apprehensive, but then she told me that someone very close to her was supposed to make aliyah this summer with Nefesh B’Nefesh, and they had just decided to pull the plug and cancel. She shared with me her feelings about this (both happiness that they wouldn’t be moving away from her but deep sadness that they wouldn’t be going to Israel), and she also shared some of the details.

It turns out that this young couple had a lot of unrealistic expectations about the aliyah process. They thought that the main breadwinner of the house would be hired while he was still in America (!). They were a bit shocked that the housing prices in Israel weren’t cheap (!) They also thought that the Nefesh B’Nefesh grant they would receive would cover whatever financial gap they would have, and they weren’t prepared for the financial insecurity that the move would bring.

Some of the blame for these unrealistic expectations should be put on Nefesh B”Nefesh, but most of it should be put on the couple themselves. Making aliyah is not like changing from a comfortable pair of shoes to a pair of comfortable sandalimtransporting your life in America to a life in Israel, only with felafel thrown in. It is a major life change to a new culture, a new language, and a reduced standard of living. Financial insecurity is the norm, and you have to be able to live with it.

We made aliyah in May of 1991. My husband was lucky to receive a job offer on his pilot trip, and we used a good portion of our savings to buy the stuff for a lift. Then two months after landing in Israel (no Nefesh B’Nefesh welcoming party or gants either), my husband was laid off, and we found out that some money promised to us was going to be either seriously delayed or would not come to us at all (this all happened in a few days). So in a very short time we went from being comfortable, to having only enough money for one month’s groceries, and both of us without jobs. We were lucky in that we had chosen to live in the absorbtion center, so we didn’t have rent to worry about, but otherwise we were in hot water.

Westbankpapa moved into high gear, and after about two months found a job (family members sent us some money to tide us over). The only problem with the job was the crazy hours. A small firm didn’t have enough computers to go around, so he had to work from 2pm to 10pm every day. I was taking ulpan classes, westbankid number one was in day care, so westbankpapa saw me for a quickly shared breakfast and a word or two after he got home at 11:30 (commuting without a car), and he saw our son only on weekends.

I’m not sharing this to make us sound like heroes, I’m just giving an example about how hard it can be. I also wish I could say that this was a one-time story, and that after this everything went fine. It didn’t – we have had other financial struggles along the way – and we still have them now!

The big difference is that we knew ahead of time that this was part of the package. When we heard that westbankpapa lost his first job here, we didn’t think about turning back, we thought about solving the problem. We knew in our hearts that Israel was the place for us, and we would do whatever we needed to do to make our aliyah successful.

In some ways making aliyah is a lot like marriage. It almost always is not what you expected, but has unexpected pleasures and pain. If you are convinced that your spouse is the right one for you, then you do whatever you need to do to make it work.

You have to come to Israel because you believe it is the best (if not only) place to live as a Jew and raise Jewish kids. You have to love it in your very bones, because it is hard work. I believe that everyone who comes with this feeling will make it, because the problems become minor obstacles – with the right help (both from friends, family, and more importantly, G-d) they can be overcome.

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12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. tnspr569
    May 03, 2007 @ 06:22:30

    Thanks for sharing.

    From what I’ve heard, realistic expectations and the right attitude are incredibly important.

  2. jerusalem joe
    May 03, 2007 @ 07:03:41

    I wonder how this is different from any other kind of emigration.It is very difficult for a newcomer to find job security, not to mention difficulties with the language, and new alien surroundings, no matter where.
    Actually, moving to Israel can be perhaps easier than say moving to france since at least this country is geared to deal with it and you do get some help. I doubt there is ulpan and absorption center in any other place, not to mention so many people who are willing to help out.
    In any case – thanks for sharing.I’m glad you stuck with it and made it through.

  3. Ozymandias
    May 03, 2007 @ 07:22:32

    You have to come to Israel because you believe it is the best (if not only) place to live as a Jew and raise Jewish kids. You have to love it in your very bones, because it is hard work.

    That sounds like a very honest description.

  4. Josh M.
    May 03, 2007 @ 14:43:33

    While dating in the US, I know that I have to filter out anyone whose response to whether they want to make aliyah is “maybe”. If one doesn’t see it a definite, but rather as something to logically consider the pros and cons of prior to reaching a decision (as opposed to merely being aware of the pros and cons so as not to be overly shocked), it’s very unlikely that one will have the courage to go through with the move.

    Come to think of it, a rebbe of mine once said the same thing about marriage, apropos the end of your post.

  5. veeblog
    May 03, 2007 @ 19:58:56

    Good post

  6. Ezzie
    May 04, 2007 @ 01:57:44

    Great post.

    My sister-in-law’s family made aliyah a couple of years ago… but only after working it all out well in advance. They actually went to try it for one year, knowing that it was extra money ‘down the tubes’ whether they would stay or not, to make sure that it made sense. Now they’re happy and doing nicely.

    This year, my sister and brother-in-law started looking into it seriously. After many conversations with the numerous friends and relatives around the country, and a 2-week trip by my sister, along with much help from a number of bloggers I contacted [cough 🙂 ], they finally determined… that they can’t afford it now. They’re not quite there yet, and therefore, they aren’t going to try and push it and dig themselves into a hole. The advice and tips they received did show them that they may be closer than they thought, but as I’ve told many people: “I don’t want to move to Israel in a rush, only to have to come right back. Too many people do that because they don’t plan it properly.”

    We have lots of wise family/friends who made aliyah – some are probably your neighbors. (Anyone from Cleveland. 🙂 ) All gave me similar advice when I was there: Go back to the US, go to college there, get married there, and start saving as much as you can as fast as you can. Then move here before your oldest is 8 or 9 years old.

    That’s still the plan.

  7. westbankmama
    May 04, 2007 @ 09:33:10

    tnspr – you are welcome!

    jerusalem joe – Israel definitely helps its immigrants, but the brunt of the work of adjusting is on the immigrants themselves.

    ozymandias – thanks

    joshm – I may be old-fashioned, but it is even more important for a guy to be careful who he marries when it comes to making aliyah. If the wife/mother is not happy in Israel, it makes things much harder on the family. If mom is ok, she can sometimes be strong enough to convince her spouse to stick it out.

    veeblog – thanks very much

    ezzie – in my day (sounding appropriately ancient) “they” said to come before your first kid was six, and started first grade (both because the kids would have trouble adjusting to school the older they are, and because once you start paying yeshiva tuition, it is impossible to save any more money!)

  8. PP
    May 07, 2007 @ 11:11:30

    Agree with every word, WBM! I think about all the (mostly American, oddly) clueless immigrants in my Ulpan whp had made the most basic of incorrect assumptions, it was almost like they hadn’t realised they were leaving one country and coming to another… they pretty much all went back within 3 years.

    I’m not sure whether you need to “love it” to stay. I think you just need to be able to live with it.

    Great post.

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  10. moshe rabeynu
    Jan 28, 2009 @ 02:35:08

    Simpahleeeee maaaaahvelous !

  11. moshe rabeynu
    Mar 19, 2009 @ 02:29:18

    I would be grateful to be informed as to how the real estate developers building settlements and communities in West Bank territory got title to this land in order to be able to sell off parcels to homebuyers at premium prices. From WHERE did these orthodox personages get ownership title and WHO gave them authority to set up these real estate businesses in west bank territory and to sell this property only to orthodox buyers? Most, if not all, of the rogue settlements on the West Bank, such as Hashmonaim, were originally peopled by orthodox zealots who moved in and took over a site. Who directed them to engage in this activity? Who organized and coordinated these moves. NAMES PLEASE! Is this a means by which orthodox big shots get their hands on land for nothing to be subsequently sold at a premium? Is this the price that the orthodox political parties demand for cooperation in any coalition government? Just who is making big shekels from the sale of this contested territory? Why should any businessmen, whether they wear a yarmulka or not, be permitted to engage in this type of cynical and greedy manipulation in the Land of Israel? What of these “motivated” settlers. Is their motivation that the real estate that they squat on today will increase exponentially in value after a while and they can eventually sell at an astronomical profit. If the real estate is returned to the Palestinians as part of a peace agreement, will these “motivated” settlers expect compensation from the government for their “loss“? Where will the government get the money to compensate the settlers and home buyers for the inflated value of the property? Will Israel ask the U.S. for a monetary bailout for peace? That would take chutzpah but is well within the realm of possibility. Inquiring minds want to know! Shalom and zei gezunt for now. The ads below are presented as documentation:

    Hashmonaim Listings:
    If your interested in real estate in the religious yishuv of Hashmonaim, we have many interesting propositions. For details please contact us.
    For Sale 4 bedroom semi detached house. Very close to Synagogue, Yeshiva and schools. $345,000 pictures
    We now have a large selection of beautiful, well designed houses for sale in Hashmonaim. Great Investment opportunities!

    Land within Hashmonaim is expensive (see box), and though duplexes start at around $375,000, private homes – which are being built bigger every year – can fetch well over half a million dollars, residents said.

  12. Shira Z
    Apr 28, 2011 @ 20:56:04

    Dear WeatBank Mama,

    My brother and I made aliyah abt 8 yrs ago. He is Haredi ba’al tshuva and I Masoriti (b’katze shel dati)ba’alat tshuva. My parents just made aliyah last month, to the North. My father is a life-long Zionist, my mother a self-hating Jew (and self proclaimed pagan…) My mom is miserable in the North, due she says to the lack of American products / culture. I told her the only affordable Americanized option is probably the West Bank (probably better anyway as my brother and I live in Jerusalem.) They are both retired and my father has Parkinson’s. Do you have any retrogradations for a community that might be appropriate for them? they really don’t have a lot of money.

    With thanks,

    Shira

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