Category Archives: United States

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.)
Share

Advertisements

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!

Share

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.

Share

Cottage cheese and false gods

The price of cottage cheese here in Israel has become a hot topic. The Israeli financial newspaper, Globes, had done some investigative reporting recently and in an article entitled We’re overpaying for more than just cottage cheese put the spotlight on the high cost of dairy products , other foods, and consumer goods and services, as well as providing a price and salary comparison with other countries. As a result, Israeli resident Yitzhak Elrov decided to do something about it and called for a boycott of cottage cheese for the month of July. Apparently, this has made it all the way to the K’nesset, where an investigation into the cost of dairy products is being launched. And some supermarkets have even reduced the price of cottage cheese, letting their suppliers know they expect them to do the same.

Because we olim are particularly sensitive to the disparity in prices for many products between Israel and our home countries, these articles have been cause for much comment on Nefesh B’Nefesh’s email list. Of course, if there is no economic reason for the high cost of many of these products, then they should be investigated; true market forces and competition should be allowed to help bring down the cost of living for all of us in Israel. Most commentators offered their take on the veracity of the article and were also sure to mention that although finances are of significant concern, making aliyah is not a financial decision.

To quote a few olim:

From IP
In the UK, students leave university carrying a huge debt of student loans – that wasn’t mentioned in the article. Neither was the relative cost of health care in Europe, the US and Israel.

It’s easy to pick and choose individual prices to make your point, just as the international media pick and choose their “facts” about Israel. You can be technically “accurate” without being “truthful”.

From HB
It is certainly true that some products here have inflated prices that would come down if more competition were allowed – and something really does need to be done about this – and not just for cottage cheese. And it’s also true that wages in many cases are lower here than they should be – and something ultimately has to give there as well. But when you really factor in everything, there isn’t the great difference that so many people describe. And while people here complain about going into minus, I know too many Americans who have their own version of minus – just going into credit card debt.

All in all, it’s great to be here in Israel, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

From RA
…take the good with the bad and keep the eye on the prize, which is NOT the cheapest cost of living, or the highest average level of education, or the cleanliness of the cities for that matter. The prize is the land itself and the Jewish mishpacha that is of every possible origin, every look, every walk of life, and of wide range of religious observance.”

From MB
I am clear about what I have come here for, I came for the people of Israel. During a few months baaretz I’ve been successful if I can say, meeting excellent Israeli people. That’s the value I look for. It’s far away from monetary values. It provides me with a feeling of fulfillment, with a venue of self-expression; I recognize myself in these people … In short, I came for the tribe and my place in it.

I still miss some of those things more easily or cheaply acquired in the States. It has taken/is taking a while for me to get used to “making do” with substitutes or paying “premium prices” for some goods. Other items are cheaper, particularly fruits and vegetables which are very inexpensive compared to those in the U.S. So, it’s a mixed bag. And, even though people who say ‘you have to realize that Israel is not America and the sooner you get used to that idea, the easier your absorption here’ are pretty much on the mark, changing one’s mindset takes time.

However, we must remember that money can be a false god and believing that living in Israel is more financially risky than elsewhere is to believe in the false god of country or currency, and not in the G-d of Israel. Consider that the world is losing confidence in the dollar as its reserve currency:

Why the Dollar’s Reign Is Near an End
Finally, there is the danger that the dollar’s safe-haven status will be lost. Foreign investors—private and official alike—hold dollars not simply because they are liquid but because they are secure. The U.S. government has a history of honoring its obligations, and it has always had the fiscal capacity to do so.

But now, mainly as a result of the financial crisis, federal debt is approaching 75% of U.S. gross domestic product. Trillion-dollar deficits stretch as far as the eye can see. And as the burden of debt service grows heavier, questions will be asked about whether the U.S. intends to maintain the value of its debts or might resort to inflating them away.

Even individual states are losing faith in the dollar:

Tenn. Joins States Considering Alternate Currency Legislation
According to the text of Senate Joint Resolution 98, Ketron’s purpose in initiating such a proposal is “to create a special joint committee to study whether the State of Tennessee should adopt a currency to serve as an alternative to the currency distributed by the Federal Reserve System in the event of a major breakdown of the Federal Reserve System.”

…The state governments of South Carolina and Virginia have passed their respective versions of the law, and both houses of the Utah legislature have passed a bill approving gold and silver as legal tender (it awaits the Governor’s signature or veto). Colorado, Montana, Missouri, Indiana, Iowa, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont, Georgia, and Washington are also considering doing the same thing.

Europe has its own problems, too.

Perfect Financial Storm Shaping Up for Europe, U.S.
Meanwhile, the IMF, whose disgraced former president, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, was instrumental in helping the eurozone finesse the bailouts of Greece, Ireland, and Portugal, is rudderless and likely to have considerably less clout. The G8 countries are meeting this week to try to cobble out yet another way to buy time for Europe, but they will be distracted by a burgeoning debt problem on the other side of the Atlantic: the spectacle of the United States sinking into insolvency as it runs out of money to borrow. Greece, after all, has been sunk by indebtedness of around 150 percent of the GDP; can the USA, whose debt has reached roughly 100 percent of its own GDP, be far behind?

The British Health Care system needs a bailout:

Germany offers to treat a million British patients
German hospitals are offering to clear the entire NHS waiting list after the Department of Health opened the floodgates for Britons to seek treatment abroad.

Health bosses in Germany yesterday urged Britain to send up to a million patients for surgery this year – which would clear almost every person waiting for an operation.

Now, consider Israel – it has weathered the recent economic crises much better than many other countries, it’s a high-tech leader that has made possible much of the computer and cellphone technology we have today, has recently discovered huge reserves of oil and gas it can begin to develop (thank you G-d), and all this in only 63 years, all while fighting constant battles for survival. I ask you, which country is better poised for future growth?

So, while there are problems to be addressed, inequities to be rectified, and issues to be resolved, I’ll bank on the land that Hashem has not forgotten. Because He did promise us a rose garden here; we just have to till the soil a bit while we watch out for the thorns (false gods included).

Will I eat cottage cheese next month? Probably. But I didn’t come here for the cheese.

Share

An ode to Rehovot’s four seasons

14 Adar 1, Purim katan

In the States, the four seasons are very clearly delineated, each with their unique and rather well-defined characteristics. I would say that the long-awaited spring was probably my favorite of the four seasons, with summer scoring a close second. The bright sun, warm weather, and longer days were rejuvenating after the cold and dreary winter (as I’m sure they will be after this past cold, snow-filled one ) and the blossoming trees really sang to my soul.  Our last home in New Jersey was extra special because of the wonderful flowers that sprang up over the course of the spring and summer in our backyard, courtesy of a previous resident. Our first season was most delightful since the garden was always full of surprises, with new flowers blooming sequentially throughout the spring and summer; we enjoyed irises, tiger lilies, roses, tulips, and a host of other flowers whose names I never learned. There was even  a mimosa tree in our backyard, which, although not native to the area, I spotted elsewhere in town as well. The second  spring  we  enjoyed planting a vegetable garden but were not privileged to enjoy the fruits of our labor; no matter how we tried to deter him, a resident gopher got to our plants first – he found the leaves very appetizing. In addition, the flowers in our garden seemed to fade all too quickly – probably needed good weeding, pruning, and fertilizer – but I think anything short of lasting through the summer would have seemed too fast to me, and the flower blossoms of spring fell too quickly from the trees for my liking. Is it any wonder the multi-hued leaves of  fall are so enjoyed in the Northeast United States and why newspapers track the changing colors through the New England states?   The trees are bursting with color once again!

Rose bush in Rehovot

I'm still amazed by the gorgeous roses growing nearby, during the winter! My daughter, Tova, who enjoys nature photography, took this picture.

The four seasons here, in Rehovot, are not as clearly marked by abrupt temperature changes;  fall slowly became winter, if you could call it that. I’ve greatly enjoyed our first Israeli fall and winter, not just because we’re living in Israel (although that would be reason enough), but because when I walk outside in November, December, and January the trees are still green — some are even flowering;  hibiscus bushes, which are ubiquitous here, as well as other shrubs and plants are always in bloom, the palm trees (three different species as far as I can tell) are majestic, and  even the terraces in apartment buildings (there are many) are filled with plants and small trees. Nothing like the winters I’ve been accustomed to!

When we moved into our apartment in Rehovot it was mid-October. A priority for me was stocking the plant terrace outside our large living room window, since the plants would help to make our apartment into a home. The window starts about a foot-and-a-half from the floor and extends to the top of the nine-foot-high ceiling, takes up about three-quarters of the wall (we have pocket windows), and opens up to a deep cement trough encircled by a high railing.  I was delighted to find a large and well-stocked plant nursery in our mixed commercial-residential neighborhood, and I was amazed that I could buy vegetable plants in mid-October which were out of season by mid-September in New Jersey. So, into the trough we put pots filled with tomato, eggplant, pepper and cucumber plants and various herbs. I don’t think the temperature went below about 40° F here at night during the coldest period and it was probably about 10° warmer during the day. Except for the cucumber plants that were shredded during a very bad windstorm, we are still enjoying their fruits.

Another restorative activity for me: walking along Rechov Sereni to one of the nearby Anglo shuls (synagogues).  The entire boulevard dividing northbound and southbound lanes is lined with tall palm trees, and along with the blue sky… Well, what more could I want?

I can feel spring coming to Rehovot already; the weather is gradually getting warmer and the days longer. We will soon be able to keep our windows wide open once again and I look forward to enjoying the new varieties of plants that will start coming into bloom. We were told that it gets hot and humid here in the summer, but I think the year-round greenery is more than worth it.

The four seasons in Rehovot and living in Israel are like a smile in my heart and a song in my soul.

Share