Category Archives: Movin’ On Up – Aliyah

Life in the U.S.: A Reality Check for Olim (and others)

Making aliyah is a process, from the decision to make aliyah to the actual move, to learning the ins and outs of how to make a life here, and everything in between.  Spiritually, the blessings of living here are incomparable, but culturally and materially, some things are better, some are not, and some are just different. What I’ve learned along the way is that while we get used to different ways of doing things, we must not idealize what we left behind because we could be wrong. It’s important for American (and all olim) to discuss these issues and get feedback in order to negotiate the aliyah, but a U.S. reality check is important too. “Listening” to what people are opining on various aliyah forums brought this home to me.

Once we opened a file with Nefesh B’Nefesh  (the wonderful organization dedicated to helping North Americans and Brits make aliyah), we subscribed to their  Yahoo! group created for people expecting to make, or who have already made, aliyah under their auspices. This rather lively forum provides an important conversation medium for people planning their homecoming and provides critical support in navigating through Israeli life and culture after one has finally deplaned at Ben Gurion. All sorts of aliyah-related questions are asked and answered on this forum: from what to send in a lift and what to leave behind; information about communities, electrical transformers,  getting the best rates when changing currency, the availability of foods and other products like we used to get “back home” (such as my yellow butter); to finding a good cell phone  provider at a reasonable rate. (We are extremely grateful to Yonatan Ruback at: yonatanruback@gmail.com. An oleh who saw the difficulties family members had getting proper service, Yonatan became a cellphone “broker” and set about helping his family and others get good service at a good price. We could never have gotten the deal on our own (even if we’d had flawless Hebrew) that he was able to get for us, actually saving us hundreds of shekels.)

At times rather extended conversations take place regarding the pros and cons of different aspects of  life in Israel. Earlier in the year the conversation was about the cost of living in Israel, spurred on by the “cottage cheese” boycott and Globes magazine’s articles about the high cost of many products in Israel, which I blogged about here. A recent  toshav chozer (a citizen returning to Israel after many years abroad) to Haifa contributes frequent updates about his varied experiences and concerns. The most recent  debate centered around whether making aliyah is too difficult. The wonderful stories that people contributed about their “only in Israel”  and “WOW” experiences  here, despite any hardships encountered, actually helped one olah convince her mother to make aliyah.

Another topic that is popular on forums for olim is job hunting in Israel. Cultural differences, lack of Hebrew, differences in pay scale,  transferring professional credentials, etc.,  are all issues that have to be be dealt with. Our perception often becomes clouded and we think it would be easier to find something in the States. For some people that is the case, but for many finding a job is a challenge there as well; the unemployment rate has gone up quite precipitously in the U.S. in the last couple of years, while it has remained considerably lower in Israel. A particular job issue raised in various forums is that older olim have a harder time finding work. (It’s supposed to be illegal here, just as it is in the U.S., to ask a prospective employee their age, but many employers in Israel have no compunction about asking age before anything else.)  As a matter of fact, a family friend who’s been here for many years is considering returning to the States because he feels the job opportunities are better for him there, not expecting that age could become an issue. I’ve maintained, however, that age can be just as much an issue for job seekers  in the States as it is here, the only difference being that the “discrimination” is less blatant.  And in fact, I received an email from a friend with whom I’d had just such a conversation:

Caryn, take a look if you can at an article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal (“Oldest boomers in U.S…..) about one of the items you mentioned last Shabbat — the difficulties of older workers in finding employment. It confirms your opinion.

That it does. The complete title of the article written by  E.S. Browning, Oldest Baby Boomers Face Jobs Bust,  is telling.

Older people have more trouble finding new jobs. Among unemployed workers older than 55, more than half have been looking for more than two years, compared with 31% of younger workers, according to the Heldrich Center. Among older workers who found a new job, 72% took a pay cut, often a big one, the Rutgers data show.

The problem has been building for decades: Inflation-adjusted, middle-class incomes have stagnated in parallel with a free-spending culture of indebtedness that has left many Americans with too little saved. Over the same time, many U.S. companies cut pensions and shifted to less-generous retirement-savings plans such as 401(k) accounts that have stagnated or diminished in the market tumult of past years.

Older families aren’t just failing to save, they are increasingly draining accounts that were supposed to help finance retirement.

The English edition of Mishpacha Magazine (Issue #389, pg. 32) recently made mention of this issue as well in their Business & Technology section:

Flex-Pay>> Fortune advises job applicants over 50 to preempt age issues. Turn age into an asset by emphasizing experience; describe your flexible management style to deflect fears that you’re too set in your ways; cite experience working successfully with a younger boss to allay that common concern. And by this stage in your life, it is often wise to keep in mind that it sometimes pays to be flexible about pay.

It’s not that financial concerns aren’t real, and the blatant discrimination is definitely troubling but I think as Americans (I don’t know about other Anglos) we tend to aggrandize what we had/have in the U.S. and we magnify the challenges we encounter in Israel, as well. The reality in the U.S., as outlined in these articles, is far different from what many of us have been led to believe and maybe not that much different than it is here in Israel. (Unless of course you’re the president or prime minister – then, for some reason, it doesn’t matter how old you are.)

The discussions we have are important in helping us acclimate to a new situation. However, it’s important to remember that no matter where we are, there will always be some challenges for us to deal with; if it’s not one thing, then it’ll be another.  In many respects, the situation in the U.S. is no longer the one we actually left behind — nor some rosy one we’ve painted in our imaginations.  Having made the effort to pack up our belongings and move halfway around the globe for a more fulfilling and meaningful life, it’s important to do a reality check and not let false perceptions sour our experiences. The sooner we recognize this, the easier it will be to accommodate a new reality and find creative ways of overcoming these challenges. Just ask Yonatan.

(Conversely, if you are contemplating aliyah, life in Israel has much to offer that could never be had in the U.S., or any other country for that matter. It’s important to recognize that the dismal picture often painted in the media about this country is not the reality. To live in Israel you don’t need rose-colored glasses; in many ways life here really is rosier. Come and do your own reality check.)
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Oh, It’s a Happy Chanukah In Israaaael….

Oh, it’s a happy Chanukah in Israaaael
Menorahs make your heart so light!
When the day is gray and ordinary
Sufganityot* make the sun shine bright!
Oh, happiness is blooming all around here
The daffodils are smiling at the dove
When Chanukah comes to the land, you feel so grand
Your heart starts beating like a Big Brass Band
Oh, it’s a  happy Chanukah in Israaaael
No wonder that it’s Chanukah that we love! **

Celebrating the Jewish holidays in Israel is a very different experience than observing them in the States because here the whole country is celebrating with you. I’m not sure how long the WOW factor lasts after aliyah (it’s almost 1 ¼ years for us) – I hope it never goes away – but  I’m still amazed and delighted that what used to be for me a communal event is a national celebration here and I’m part of it!

Billboard Magazine's Chanukah Cover

Even Billboard Magazine gets into the Chanukah spirit!

Chanukah even ranks top in the Jerusalem Post’s Billboard Magazine; full of movie, TV, and entertainment listings, Chanukah gets the front cover and the magazine features a variety of Chanukah events taking place around the country. And, it’s the only holiday which takes front and center at this time of year!

Listening to the radio on the holidays (or any other time) also has that WOW factor, since now I don’t have to tune to one specific station and/or for a few specific limited hours during the day to listen to Jewish thoughts, ideals, and values. What a pleasure to turn on the radio and hear discussions about issues affecting the country as a Jewish country,  divrei Torah (words of Torah) about the upcoming parsha (weekly Torah portion), and callers trying to answer questions posed by the host about Chanukah. When I tuned in  last night people were calling  in their answers to questions such as

“What’s the reason why Chanukah is celebrated for eight rather than seven nights?  Since the jug of oil found with the Kohen Gadol‘s (High Priest) seal had enough oil to burn for one night then the miracle was only about the extra seven nights.” (See bottom of post for answer.)

What a pleasure!

This past Sunday evening I met a wonderful woman at the Jerusalem Business Networking Forum, Sharon Altshul, who takes pictures of what’s really happening in Jerusalem and posts them on her website The Real Jerusalem Streets. Despite what the mainstream media chooses to headline, there’s always a different picture that they haven’t shown you (usually on purpose) and she proudly tells the world (her readership spans the globe) about the other,  real story that is happening here.  This is what’s happening in Jerusalem around Chanukah time:

10 Signs that Chanukah is Coming

It can be spelled differently in English every year,
but the Chanukah season in Jerusalem is very consistent.
There are 10 sure signs that Chanukah is on its way.

1. The piles of sufganiot in all bakeries

begin to disappear at an astonishing rate.

2. Street decorations are up

Click here for  8 more signs that Chanukah is coming to Jerusalem.

Answer to question above – When we pour  water from one container into the next, all the water is transferred; however, when we pour oil from one container to the next there is always some that remains behind. So, even though the oil in the jug was enough to burn for one night, when it was poured into the Menorah some oil remained in the jug. Therefore, there was not enough oil in the Menorah for even one night. The fact that the Menorah stayed lit that first night was a miracle as well!

 * Sufganiyot – donuts cooked in oil
** with thanks to Stlyrics.com
 

Oh, It’s a Happy Chanukah In Israaaael….

HAPPY CHANUKAH !
CHAG CHANUKAH SAMEACH!

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How Yellow My Butter

Churning Butter

Got raw milk?

Over the last 10-11 years we have overhauled our pantry and refrigerator; we did away with  most of the processed foods, the polyunsaturated vegetable oils, bottled dressings, soy burgers, white flour, cold breakfast cereals, Betty Crocker, Skippy, and much more. Margarine, which we used sparingly before with meat or pareve foods, now  became a dirty word in our house. Instead, we bought cold pressed extra-virgin olive oil, coconut oil, palm oil, sea salt, whole-grain breads and flours, organic cake mixes, omega-3 eggs and free-range eggs, organic vegetables (price permitting), raw milk, organic butter, and many more natural and minimally- or un-processed foods. We started reading labels — if there were too many ingredients, additives, or other stuff that didn’t need to be in there, we put the “food” back on the shelf.  While not perfect (we all have our vices) we tried as much as we could to become (thanks to Dr. Harry Schick) adherents of Dr. Weston A. Price‘s nutritional philosophy and practitioners of “Politically Incorrect Nutrition.”

In Highland Park and Lakewood, NJ, where we lived while transforming our diet, we came to know where we could find the foods we wanted – which stores and which aisles. I got my organic butter, eggs, and vegetables in Shoprite (a large supermarket chain); organic grains, palm oil, and coconut oil from the health food stores or NPGS, a kosher supermarket in Lakewood, which also carried a selection of organic and natural foods and was often a little cheaper than Shoprite and the health food stores.  I really had it down pat by the time we were ready to make aliyah.

So, it was important to us that wherever we moved to in Israel we would have access to as much unadulterated, natural, and organic foods as possible.  Rehovot we were told, had at least 3 health food stores. But moving to a different country, or sometimes just to a different city, means that even though you had shopping down to a science before, you have to start from scratch all over again. I wasn’t quite prepared for that. Or the kashrut issues – mehadrin vs.  not mehadrin… private certifications… certifications (most) that require a magnifying glass to read… For Pesach we discovered products with two different types of certification on the same label – one certification indicating that the food was kosher but not Kosher for Passover and the  other certification specifically indicating that the item was Kosher for Passover. Huh? *

It’s gotten a lot easier since, but the first time I went to the supermarket I spent an eternity buying very few items. My knowledge of the Hebrew language  is more biblical than modern so words like resek  or tarkiz referring to (tomato) paste or sauce, respectively, were unfamiliar to me. And, a lot of additives are identified by E-numbers (probably makes it easier to hide chemicals that way).  So, besides figuring out what I was looking at on the shelf, I was checking prices, reading ingredients (to the best of my ability) and kashrut certifications (without the benefit of a magnifying glass). By the time I left the store, I had a tremendous headache and much gratitude to my new friend Rochelle who had taken me there and patiently waited while I had my first experience of supermarket shock.

We eventually found many of the items we were looking for. I was very relieved to  find yellow butter. Color is a significant indication of the nutritional value of the food; yellow is the color that butter should be, a sign that the cows were grass-fed and the butter contains the vitamins it should. It costs significantly more than the colorless Tnuva butter sold here since it’s imported, but so did the yellow organic butter we were buying in New Jersey, and I prefer nutrition. We were still searching for other items , and with yet others we weren’t sure about the reliability of their private kashrut certifications. It was beginning to become quiet distressing for me all around, until I realized that I had time. I would do what I could now and leave the rest until we were more settled, even if it was next year.

I remembered that the nutritional changes we made in the States took time… time till we absorbed the information we were reading and understood the pros and cons of the different products… time till we were able to incorporate them into our diet. It involved a lot more cooking; no more ready-to-eat blintzes, kugels, cakes and cookies with endless strange ingredients, and other prepared foods that contained ingredients nobody would have on their kitchen shelves, or ingredients I would no longer use, and canned goods were kept to a minimum. Eventually I started sprouting my own beans, soaking grains to remove the anti-nutrient phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors  which they contain, and other measures to ensure a more nutritious diet. Some things I found easier to do than others, some were more successful, and some fell by the wayside, to be picked up again at another time. It wasn’t planned this way, it just happened and I was okay with it. It was all part of the process.

Applying this “all part of the process” philosophy while acclimating to Israel, to the different variety of foods and related issues here, the different shopping experiences, and to other cultural and lifestyle differences as well, is helping to make our transition a lot easier and much more pleasant. Kol hatchalot kashot, all beginnings are difficult,  the Hebrew saying goes, but there’s no mitzvah in making it even harder by pressuring myself.

* We were told that the first agency, which certifies for the rest of the year, doesn’t certify the food for Passover; however, the second agency does. We are still stymied by this. Since the Passover labels are not  used all year round  it would be easy to remove the first certification which can only cause confusion.

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A greener in Israel

I often think about what it would be like if I had moved to a different country, say England or France, instead of Israel. Would it be easier because I’d know that the country has a long history and therefore a different way of life? Would I accommodate myself easily to the differences, forgive the English their foibles, and take my newfound inadequacies in stride? In England you have to look the “wrong” way when crossing the street, a truck is called a lorry, and the last time I was there, about 10 years ago, discovered that the English do not use paper plates except for picnics (although that may have changed by now). Moving to France would necessitate my quickly becoming fluent in French although I’d be able to rely on my hubby for a bit, who not only majored in French, but spent a year in France as well.  Different currency, different attitudes, and all the other aspects of life that make France French and England English would all have to be learned. Would I, for the most part, expect that and take it all in stride?

Somehow, when making aliyah we are surprised to find out that we have to learn how to live all over again. Perhaps it’s because the country is so westernized, or because there’s so much English used, or so many American olim here, or because we’ve visited before and didn’t notice (or overlooked) all the different ways things are done here.  Or because it’s frustrating to feel so “green.”  Being a “greener” only applies, we think, to people who came to the United States from “the old country”, not to 21st Century Anglos making aliyah.

Not too long after we get off the boat/airplane, we realize that acclimating is more than just learning Hebrew, shopping in shekels and kilograms, and memorizing one’s Teudat Zehut (identity card) number, which is asked for more than one’s drivers license or social security number. I still haven’t memorized mine. There are myriad little aspects of daily life and the larger one of “knowing the system, the way things work” that we take for granted which are vastly  different here  and require adjustment – after we get over the shock about just how different things can be.

The first few weeks post aliyah are often very hectic as one tries to settle in and take care of opening a bank account, registering with one of the four health insurers, visiting Misrad Ha’p’nim (Interior Ministry) and Misrad Ha’klita (Absorption Ministry), obtaining cell phone service, and such.  “The shock” began for us when we were made aware that Israel is not open 24/6 (or even 10/6) as we are used to in the U.S.  Besides just about everything being closed on Shabbat – which is what we came here for – most offices are not open all day every day and in fact are often closed afternoons and  one or more days during the week. Misrad Ha’klita in Rehovot is not open at all on Tuesday and our bank is not open on Friday! And, if they are open morning and afternoon, they may very well be closed for a couple of hours midday. Here, in Rehovot, many stores are closed Tuesday afternoons. If you haven’t checked all the different schedules beforehand, finding out that the office/service that you need is not open when you are ready to go is quite an eye-opener.

Another interesting thing we discovered is that when signing up for health insurance the first stop is the post office. Yes, that’s right, the post office, where more transactions take place than just mailing letters and packages. The post office can be used instead of a bank  where you can open up an account (although that’s not generally recommended), as a place to change money from one currency to the next, pay bills, and of course, pay the initial fee to sign up for your health insurance. In the U.S. there are generally stanchions which delineate the line. When you get to the banks, post office, or government office in Israel, be prepared to take a number and sit down to wait your turn. But how do you get a ticket when you don’t understand which line you need to be on?

And, while it may seem like a trivial item, Israeli phone numbers still annoy me. In the U.S. the seven digit number is split between the first three numbers – the “exchange” which covers a particular area and the last four which make it your personal number.  In Israel the numbers after the area code are either broken up differently or, more likely, are one long 7- or 10-digit string, making it much harder to read and remember the number at a glance.  (Many businesses have only 6 digits, and very often an asterisk followed by about four numbers will be a shortcut to dialing.)

A lot of the acclimation process, however, seems to be one of attitude. My daughter exclaims to her friends that she’s not bored here because it’s a different culture. She finds it exciting and interesting.  My son commented on shopping in Rehovot. He thinks it’s much more of a pleasant adventure going into all the little shops along Rechov Herzel,  than walking into Shoprite, a large U.S. supermarket (although Israel has some large supermarkets, too) for one item and coming out six hours later. He points to my husband  – walking around in shorts, sandalim (sandals) and an almost 10 gallon hat which he bought for 10 shekels ( about $3.40 these days) to keep the sun off – who, ever the people person,  has a chavaya, an adventure, wherever he goes.

Being prepared, knowing what to expect, is important before one sets out on any trip, no less when one makes a major change in life, as aliyah is. More important, however, is one’s attitude; my children keep pointing this out to me.

Oh, and then there’s dealing with military time – but that’s for another time!

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This is MY TERRITORY

When one talks about being American, Canadian, Israeli, British, Ethiopian, Russian, etc., it’s very often a cultural identification, rather than a geographic one. The longer one has lived in their country of origin, the more ingrained the cultural references, habits, ways of thinking and relating to people and the world become.  So, when one finds oneself smack dab in the middle of Israel, by their own volition, is one obliged to become Israeli? Is one automatically required to shed their frames of reference and take on Israeli outlooks and mannerisms for everything from what’s considered polite and acceptable behavior to the Israeli way of washing floors? Or does being Israeli (as that’s how the government recognizes olim) simply mean having an allegiance to the country, adapting and slowly adopting as much as possible and necessary while retaining your core essence? In a very humorous website, How to be Israeli , blogger Maya, who made aliyah from the U.S.  in early 2008, gives her take on the idiosyncrasies of Israeli life and culture as viewed by an American on everything from the Israeli version of a mop to the correct pronunciation of the name of a major Israeli supermarket chain to the difference between what is considered rude and polite in Israel vs. the States.

How hard or easy one’s acculturation process is probably depends upon one’s like/dislike for their country of origin as well as their personal attitude towards change. I would also venture that the more one is “moving to Israel,” rather than away from their home country, also plays a great part in their willingness and ease of adaptation.  A very interesting article entitled “A local girl in the IDF”  includes a letter from former Fresno, California resident Darrow Pierce, whose (progressive) opinions of Israel changed as a result of making aliyah and joining the IDF. She concludes:

I once heard that moving to Israel is like a marriage — you give, take, fight, love, disagree, compromise, and work on your relationship with the country and the people. For some it doesn’t work out, and others are happy for the rest of their lives. I don’t know what’ll happen after I discharge from the army, but for now, my marriage is going great.

If I was to compare making aliyah to marriage, I would say that a great determining factor as to whether or not you succeed is your level of commitment. Going  into a marriage – do you expect it to work and to work it – do you believe that you are marrying your bashert (destined) or do you tell yourself that if things don’t work out there’s  always the option of divorce? Or in terms of aliyah, did you come to Israel because this is the place you want to be, where Hashem (G-d) has prepared a place for you, or do you expect that if things don’t work out, you can always return to your home country? The better you are prepared emotionally, the more realistic your expectations, and the more willing you are to weather  and work through the tough times, the greater chance of success  you give your marriage/aliyah.  If the option of divorce/return is on the table before you’ve entered the relationship/made aliyah, IMHO, this mode of thinking makes one less likely to stick with it and overcome the challenges; you’ve most likely undermined the success of the venture before you’ve even started out.

Maya, in her post “Aliyah after the honeymoon,” uses the marriage analogy as well:

The aliyah-as-marriage analogy works in many other ways, too: you must get to know each other first, you must be committed, you must discuss money and how to raise the kids and where to live. (I bet that the percentage of people who “divorce” aliyah over financial concerns is at least as high as the percentage of marriages that dissolve over money.) I once heard someone say that the best indication of how happy you will be in a marriage is how happy you are out of it. In other words, if you are miserable, don’t expect marriage (or aliyah) to transform you. We are responsible for our own happiness. As I waited for aliyah, I reminded myself to practice enjoying life then so that I would be able to enjoy life in Israel.

Reflecting on my previous relocation from New York to New Jersey, I realized that after having lived in New York for many years, I didn’t feel like a New Jersey-ite all of a sudden.  My body may have crossed state lines, but I considered myself a New Yorker for quite a while afterward. I was more interested to learn what Mayor Bloomberg was doing to/for New York City than about anything that was going on in New Jersey. Truthfully, I had no frame of reference or understanding about local and state politics at that point and I wasn’t sure I cared. Over time, however, that slowly changed. I don’t know when it happened, but at some point I stopped thinking of myself as a New Yorker.  I could no longer vote in New York State and my interest and connection dwindled; New Jersey became my home.

I was therefore quite pleasantly surprised not long ago, to realize the degree of ownership I feel here already. When listening to Binyamin Netanyahu (I’ve not gotten to the familiar “Bibi” stage yet) address Congress recently, I took umbrage when he magnanimously offered major land concessions in return for “piece” – the little piece we would keep.  What right does he have to offer so much of Yehuda and Shomron (Judea and Samaria), I said to myself – it’s my land and I don’t approve!

Most wonderful, however, was hearing my daughter, Tova, express similar sentiments to her friend who was visiting from the States. Trying to arrange a meeting place in Yerushalayim  over the phone, her friend was anxious about traveling in the area – it wasn’t her territory. Tova, trying to give directions, responded – “well, it’s my territory.” And, the other day, a friend, still stateside, asked Tova if she was bored. “Bored!” she exclaimed. “It’s a different culture!” I’m so glad she’s embracing and enjoying the differences.

As much as making aliyah involves learning a different language and different way of life, it is also just the opposite – it’s living in a country where everybody speaks the same language and runs on the same calendar as you do. It’s the most comfortable place to be Jewish.  For the first time we truly feel that we’re in the place where we belong.  With time the rest will come, but we’ve already got the most important part.

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