Thinking of Making Aliyah?

Tips on the Big Decision and How to Make Your Aliyah Successful

If you’ve made Aliyah or are considering it, you know just how difficult it is to take the plunge.  Making the move means more than just a change of location; it means a new language, a new culture, new people, new job, new lifestyle – new pretty much everything.  So if you’re on the fence about making a new life in Israel, or have already cast off the shackles of a diaspora existence to come here and are adapting to your new environment, here are some tips for both prospective immigrants and new olim.

1)  Network!

Find and connect with other Anglos, both recent and veteran immigrants.  That way you have people who can relate to your present situation and others who have already gone through it and can give advice.  Your Anglo friends will be an invaluable source of both moral support and tips on everything from how to deal with how to convert your driver’s license, to which Misrad HaPnim office has the shortest lines, to how best to import products.  And if you’re immigrating alone, they’ll become a sort of surrogate family for meals, weekends, and holidays.

2)  Get to Know Israelis

Being in contact with other immigrants is important, but so is having Israeli friends.  Even if they’re only casual acquaintances – neighbors, students you learn with in college, the cashier or clerk you see at the local store – it’s useful to strike up conversation as frequently as possible.  And this isn’t just a matter of language; though it does of course help you improve your Hebrew.  It also helps you get acclimated to Israeli society and behavioral patterns.  And you’ll inevitably make deeper contacts and lasting friendships.

3)  Be Proactive in Learning Hebrew

All too often, immigrants come with the expectation that they will simply pick up Hebrew by being in Israel, as if by osmosis.  While it’s true that if you immerse yourself in a thoroughly Israeli environment, your Hebrew will naturally improve.  But that requires some effort.  Don’t live in an Anglo bubble of English media; do your best to develop both your spoken and written Hebrew skills.  Once you’ve mastered the basics, sit down with a Hebrew-English dictionary and read a short book, magazine, or even the newspaper.  Every time you encounter a word you don’t know, look it up and write the translation above the word.  Yes, this method is difficult at the beginning, but it’s also remarkably helpful, improving your reading skills and rapidly expanding your vocabulary at the same time.  Once you’re done, scan through a few pages to pick out some words you translated and try to use them in conversation.  Try your best, even if you know you’re butchering the pronunciations and are flubbing the grammar.  Laugh off your mistakes and don’t feel embarrassed when you struggle to get the words out.  We’ve all been there, and chances are, any Israelis you’re talking to have heard their share of immigrants have an even worse go at it. Lirom Language Center based in Kfar Saba has created an innovative immersive language program for small groups and individuals to interact in real life situations using hebrew such as an Israeli Café or at the shuk (Israeli Market) This might be time worth spent while taking a pilot trip before Aliyah.

4)  Tour Israel – All of Israel!

Fall in love with Israel – both the country and the people.  Exploring the country beyond the standard tourist sites is a great way to learn about Israel and to become accustomed to life here.  Whether you’re already decided on Aliyah or not, make the effort to hike around the Galilee and the Negev and see what Tel Aviv’s nightlife has to offer.  And when you’re off touring the country, take the opportunity to meet with people from all walks of life.  Small as it may be, Israel is one of the most diverse countries on earth, with immigrants from around the world and a multitude of faiths represented.  If you’re planning on staying or still haven’t made up your mind, getting to know Israel in all its depth is definitely worthwhile.

5)  Learn Something New in Israel.

It can be a formal academic course, a practical skill, a hobby – anything.  Not only will you pick up the Hebrew words associated with it, the more new things you learn in Israel, the more your brain connects with your new surroundings, associating what you’ve learned with your new (or potential) home.

6)  Embrace the Differences

Remember, you’re immigrating in order to discover a new life and a new you, not just to replicate your old one in a different time zone.  The culture is different in Israel, a fact that you will notice constantly.  Change is always a challenge to deal with, even if we tend to romanticize the idea of it in our mind’s eye.  For instance, Israelis tend to be more forthright, straightforward, and blunt than most Europeans and Americans.  Yes, at times this will rub you the wrong way.  I guarantee you it will.  But it’s also refreshingly honest and cuts down the façade so many people in the West put up to circumscribe their contact with others in public.  The upshot is that people are more open with each other; there’s an instant rapport people feel, an intuitive feeling of belonging to the same larger whole.  That’s why strangers will readily strike up a conversation on the street or on the bus in a way that would almost never happen in Europe.

7)  Discover Israeli Cuisine

Israel is an epicurean’s dream. Blessed with immigrants from around the globe, Israel enjoys a cornucopia of foods that is just as diverse; far beyond well-known dishes like falafel, schwarma, or hummus.  The Israeli plate has amba, a mango-based spread brought to Israel by Iraqi Jews; the poached egg dish imported by Tunisian Jews called shakshouka; spices like the Yemenite hilbeh and zchug and the Moroccan harissa; pita sandwiches including ingredients such as the Austrian chicken schnitzel and the Iraqi sabbich or; pastries like bourekas and rugalach and the Yemenite jachanun and malawach.  Hungarians made layered cream cake called kremsnit Romanians make hearty meals such as mamaliga (polenta) and gvetch a vegetable stew.

A big part of integrating is connecting with the local food.  Try everything; you’re sure to find something you love.  And also find the foods you enjoyed back in the old country.  Israel’s international cuisine has expanded and improved in quality in recent years and you just might find a Thai restaurant, steakhouse, or pizza parlor here that satisfies your feelings of culinary nostalgia.

8)  Do Some Studying in Israel.

This is a great idea whether you’re a new immigrant trying to make it in Israel or you’re still undecided and trying to make up your mind.  If you’ve already made the commitment to living in Israel, learning in an Israeli college is an ideal way to meet people, get a feel for Israeli cultural norms and work expectations, and help set you up for a job in Israel.  Of course this is also a great opportunity to pick up Hebrew, but it’s also a way to ease into Israeli life, particularly if you enroll in a program targeting international students.  University in Israel aggregates some of the most Anglo-friendly learning programs in Israel, particularly those that offer academic credits recognized abroad.

If you’re not sure about Aliyah yet, going to school in Israel is as close as you can get to take the idea of immigrating out for a test drive.  It’s a long enough time for you to get a firm idea about the country and what life is like here; you develop relationships so you have a clearer impression of the people; and being in a serious academic environment you get a taste of how professional life in Israel will be.  And if you end up deciding Aliyah just isn’t right for you, you’ve still gained from the experience with recognized academic credits and life experience in a foreign country.