Tag Archives: Nefesh B’Nefesh

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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Happy Anniversary to Us

We have just celebrated our first anniversary! It is now a full 12 months since we made aliyah. We left the U.S. on August 31, on a Nefesh B’Nefesh group flight, and arrived here on Sept. 1, shortly before Rosh Hashanah. We have come full cycle, having had the privilege of experiencing each holy day of the Jewish calendar in the Holy Land.  An incredible milestone! When we stepped off the plane at Ben Gurion Airport, it was with excitement and anticipation of the future.  We made this move with the utmost conviction that it was not only the right thing for us to do, but the only place for us to be.

It says in the Torah that Eretz Yisrael is acquired through challenges and just about everyone who we spoke to here confirmed that this is indeed true. So we understood that it would be best to remember the Jewish maxims “kol hatchalot kashot” – all beginnings are hard, and “gam zeh ya’avor” – this too shall pass, and most importantly, to remember that this is part of Hashem’s plan for us, too.  Thank G-d, it’s been without too much trial and tribulation, so far.  We have gotten accustomed to many different aspects of life in Israel; many facts of life here we’ve made our peace with; and there are things that we realized we can live with/without for now and look to change/acquire later on.

When we first arrived, discovering that stores and offices often close for a few hours in the middle of the day, close early or are totally closed on certain days was a bit of a shocker, but now we regularly take these schedules into consideration when making plans. This means that several weeks ago, because I knew the post office would be closed in the middle of the day, I waited till later in the afternoon to go, when I was sure it would open up again. Unfortunately I picked the day when it closed for the day in the early afternoon. But at least I could now accept having to go back again the next day with equanimity.  Now, I’m also a lot more comfortable going food shopping and usually have a better idea of what I am buying. My first foray into the supermarket was difficult. Despite the benefit of having most of my Judaic subjects taught in (biblical) Hebrew as I was growing up, the language, the different packaging, and the many products which were not quite like those we were accustomed to back in the States made it a trying experience. Fortunately, I can navigate the supermarket aisles now.

We’ve been told that it takes somewhere between 3-5 years to fully acclimate to life in Israel. I’m sure it does. There are many parts of the acclimation process that we’re still working on and even those things that we’ve gotten accustomed to, still feel “different”. One can’t expect to relinquish a whole life’s worth of habits and customs over night. But at the same time, I don’t think I’ve referred to New Jersey as “back home” in quite a while. It was very hard at first and I had to tell myself repeatedly, don’t say “back home” since this is your true home, the true home for the Jewish people. New York and New Jersey were places to live, but now we’re home.  So even though I have an affinity for the States and care about what transpires there, somewhere along the way, one chapter of my life ended and another began.  NJ became my past, Israel my home and future. Our dear daughter started medrasha (seminary) in Yerushalayim last week, as an Israeli; our dear son has just started his fourth year of yeshiva in Yerushalayim; and we have a nice circle of new friends in Rehovot, and have reconnected with many old friends who made aliyah years ago. So, yes, this is now home. It’s truly been a miraculous year.

As we approached our anniversary, I had a desire to say the Shehechiyanu prayer, much as I did when we first got here, to thank G-d for keeping us alive and bringing us to this place and time. Not having inquired into the propriety of doing so, I sufficed with again realizing how much our being here means to me, with understanding the depth of my gratitude.  I am so amazed at how much our lives have changed, how far we’ve come, and how much richer we are for it.  To all our friends and family who are still living “away from home” – if we could do it, you could do it too. Please come and join us. Hashem is anxiously waiting for you here. To make it easier, He personally arranged aliyah assistance for you through Nefesh B’Nefesh. It is time to come home.

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Look who’s supporting our Lone Soldiers

Shortly after publishing my blog post Chayalim Bodidim – Lone Soldiers, three new posts supporting Lone Soldiers appeared on my radar.   1) Groopbuy is offering a 50% discount on tickets, ₪50 for ₪100 for tickets to a Gala Wine Event supporting the Lone … Continue reading