Tag Archives: olim

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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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.

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When the Siren Sounds

As new olim we are still often wondering “What should we do when the siren sounds?” Not the kind from an emergency vehicle, but a long siren that can be heard throughout the whole neighborhood. In Israel the siren means one of two things – it’s either a warning to run for shelter from an incoming missile (which we were told has not yet happened, thank G-d, here in Rehovot) or notice of a minute of silence. The first time we heard a siren, several months ago, we were unsure what to do but since no one outside was running to a shelter, we figured it was okay to go about our business. Apparently we weren’t the only Anglos in the dark since queries on the local Yahoo email list had others questioning the purpose of the siren as well. Ultimately it was revealed to be a test and that information could usually be found in advance about siren testing on YNet News, as well as the radio for those who are more fluent in the language. The other morning I heard a long siren and again looked out my window to see what I should do. Since no one was fleeing, I didn’t either, and went to check the YNet site for enlightenment. Realizing that it was Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, I understood that the siren had been an indication for everyone to stop what they were doing and stand still till it stops.

Not every moment of silence comes with a siren. Several months ago I was walking in the neighborhood listening to the news in Hebrew on my cell phone’s FM radio and heard something about remembering Gilad Shalit, but I didn’t quite understand the whole story. I continued walking for another couple of minutes until I came to a spot where everyone was just standing around near a truck which was unloading. It was really curious since nothing seemed to be going on and I couldn’t imagine that so many people had actually stopped to watch someone unload a truck. So I stopped, stood there, and waited, expecting that I’d eventually find out what was happening. Fortunately, enlightenment wasn’t too long in coming as the woman next to me was soon explaining to an inquiring newcomer – five minutes of silence for Gilad Shalit. Having heard the news before, it all fell into place, and I felt privileged to be able to participate for the remaining time.

a moment of silence during memorial day for th...

A Moment of Silence During Memorial Day. Image via Wikipedia Commons

I was prepared for the siren at eight o’clock last night, this one in commemoration of Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day. Many commemoration activities were taking place at that time and they began with a minute of silence. Although I was not able to attend, Andy and Tova did. Rav Simcha Hakohen Kook, Rehovot’s Chief, Rabbi spoke and although they did not understand everything that was said in Hebrew, they were there and counted. Whereas Memorial Day in the States has become another reason for stores to hold sales, in Israel it’s taken quite seriously. In fact, as the blog  A Soldier’s Mother explains:

It is sadly a bit unique in the world in that it is truly a day of mourning. There are no barbecues, no sales, no discounts, no playing on the beach. It is somber, it is heartbreaking, it is agonizing. Cafes, restaurants, movie theaters, etc. are all closed – by law and by desire, there are no places of entertainment open.

In this fledgling state that’s still fighting for its survival, too many people have friends and loved ones who have fallen. Even though we’ve only been here for 8 months so far, there is a great feeling of unity when the siren sounds as we have intertwined our destiny with all those who are living here. The siren sounded promptly at 11 AM this morning. We stood still for the duration.

Tomorrow we will celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel Independence Day. One would think these two couldn’t be farther apart, but in fact we only have one because of the other.

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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

Crosswalks

As much as  American culture and language have seeped into the Israeli life style, there are still many daily facets of life here in Israel that are quite different from what we’re used to in our home states. As such, even the mundane takes on added significance. Take crosswalks and traffic lights, for example. Since we don’t own a car and therefore walk all over town, the crosswalks and traffic signals have become objects of interest. Often painted with a series of parallel white lines, when a pedestrian steps into the street at a crosswalk, vehicles must stop. Where there are traffic lights, a little green or red figure of a person walking lets you know when you are allowed to cross. Crossing a two-way street can take twice as long as expected; many have pedestrian islands in the middle of the road with two differently timed traffic lights. This requires you to cross half the street with the light to the pedestrian island  and wait there for a second light to change before you can continue to the other side. Pedestrians can be seen patiently waiting for the light to turn green even with no cars in sight, and j-walking,  crossing in the middle of the block or against the light, is not an expected occurrence. For those of us relocating to the Holy Land from the New York – New Jersey area of the United States, however,  this is all easier said than done.

At crosswalks I deliberate: “Are the cars and trucks speeding down the block actually going to stop, should I try to make them stop, or should I wait till they  pass?” I am still amazed when I daringly step into the street and the oncoming cars really do stop. The other day I stood and waited on a busy street for traffic to clear when all of a sudden I remembered: “I don’t have to wait.  I’m at a marked crosswalk and the cars , trucks, and buses all have to stop for me!” Wow! I feel like Super-olah: stopping speeding buses with a single footstep.

A four-way crossing can be even more complicated to figure out if the stripes to cross the avenue are only on one side of the street and you’re on the other; if I only need to cross the avenue am I expected to needlessly cross the street in order to cross the avenue? I don’t think so. And which New Yorker wants to be delayed waiting for the light when there is no traffic, or waste time by walking to the end of the block, crossing at the corner, and then walking back up the other side when the store you need is right opposite? It really goes against the grain.

All these cogitations about doing something as simple as crossing the street seemed to make a good topic for a blogpost but I wanted an esoteric focus, so here it is: life is like a series of crosswalks. We come to many of them in our lives when we have to make one life-changing decision or another – are the signals clear so we can go ahead, do we wait for them to change, or choose to remain where we are?  Some crossings seem  easier to navigate than others with clearer signals or fewer options; other roads appear to be fraught with obstacles and crossing will be more hazardous; we  have to decide whether we should try to make it across now, wait till it’s easier, or conclude that it’s not the right road to take.  And, we always have to know where it is that we want to go, no matter how we get there. A map is a handy thing to have.

Making aliyah is a lot like crossing a big boulevard to an unfamiliar side of town. Prepare as best you can, take your map, run quickly, and pray. Thank G-d we seem to have made it safely across!

One other thing I’ve noticed about Israeli streets – the street names are visible even at night – with actual backlighting or phosphorescent paint. Even when it’s dark, in Israel you can always find your way home.

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