You’ve just moved to a new country where you don’t speak the language, but you need to register your son for 3rd grade and your daughter for kindergarten. You also need a gas line put in your apartment, and you’ve signed a rental contract in a foreign language, not understanding a word.
Whether someone came to Israel 2 years ago or 20, many of the struggles – and successes – are the same. Moving to a new country with a new language and a different culture is an enormous challenge. Though organizations such as Nefesh B’Nefesh and The Jewish Agency offer great pre- and post-Aliyah services, there is a much bigger need for new immigrants. Companies have taken notice and are working to provide solutions.
It’s often said that ‘just getting to Israel’ is one of the toughest parts of Aliyah. Every day things that many take for granted, such as signing a rental contract or ordering internet service are stressful activities that can be a heavy burden for new immigrants. For some, these ‘little tasks’ can cause a make-it-or-break-it effect.
Businesses such as OlimAdvisors were created for just this purpose.
Started by Rafi Shulman and Lara Itzhaki, a brother and sister team, the company caters to new immigrant families coming to Israel without a local support system. The siblings made Aliyah with their families, so they know exactly what their clients need for a smooth klita (absorption).
According to Shulman, “The key to a successful adjustment is having realistic expectations. Know that in all likelihood your home will be smaller, you’ll make less money and daily life will be more of a struggle. Accept this and you will truly appreciate the wonderful vibe of living in Israel.”
Asked what would have made her acclimation easier, Itzhaki responded, “Renting furniture would have helped. We slept on thin mattresses that we borrowed in the beginning. Our place needed an exterminator and we didn’t have a car.”
So what can families do to prepare? Rafi and Lara offer the following tips:
1. Start Planning at Least 6 Months in Advance
If you think you have all papers & information ready, you don’t. There will be questions & request for more details that you won’t have considered.
2. Bring Multiple Copies of Medical Records, Diplomas and Professional Certificates
If any valuable documents are lost or damaged in-transit, it will be very difficult to replace. Putting extra copies on your lift, in your suitcase or sending ahead of time can ensure that replacing your documents won’t be a big deal.
3. Learn Basic Hebrew
The more you know ahead of time, the easier your new life will be. There are many free courses that are available online. You’ll also be surprised at how quickly children can learn a new language. Your kids will be translating for you before you know it.
4. Rent for the First Year
A lot can change in a year. New friends, schools, jobs and social functions can be affected by where you choose to live. A full year is usually enough time to decide if your neighborhood is the right fit.
5. Don’t Bring Appliances
Everything you need can be purchased in-country. It’s not worth the lift space to bring large appliances from overseas.
6. Convert Your Driving License as Soon as Possible
The longer you wait, the less time you’ll have to do this. The laws change frequently, so the sooner you convert your license, the better off you’ll be, whether you have a car right away or not.
7. Be Patient
Things work differently here. Although Israel is a very hi-tech country, some things (especially government offices) are still the way they were years prior and work slowly. Ask questions, but be patient. Have an appointment at Misrad HaPnim? Assume this will be your first try, that you don’t have all the required paperwork and will have to come back another time or 2, or 3, or 4…
Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore. Don’t compare life in Israel to where you came from. Thinking about what dinner and a movie would have cost in the ‘old country’ or how things were different there helps nobody and only ends in frustration. You aren’t there anymore.
Company cultures, family events and everything else are different in Israel. It’s very common to see guests wearing jeans at a wedding, and people give money as a gift, which is deposited in a safe at the reception. Do not bring wrapped presents. People are very direct and don’t beat around the bush. It’s a very “say what you mean” mentality.
Business culture is also – you guessed it – very different. Native Israelis have a built-in network of contacts from childhood, school or army service. Immigrants don’t have this; we create it ourselves. From the next-door neighbor to the parents in your child’s class Whatsapp group – these people you interact with on a consistent basis will form your network of contacts. Don’t be afraid to reach out to them. People are usually glad to help, whether to introduce you to others in your industry or pass on your CV to the right person. There are also many Facebook groups with job leads, meetups and networking events. Take advantage of this and be ready to help others when it’s their turn.
Emails are used far less as primary methods of communication, whereas sending a Whatsapp or text message is more common. Waiting for a bank manager to approve your loan? Don’t be surprised if he gives you his mobile phone number. It’s expected that you use that rather than calling an office line.
It used to be a joke that people would fight over who had the highest amount of minus (negative balance). Another was “How do you make a small fortune in Israel? Come with a large one.” Salaries are generally lower and expenses aren’t always relative in comparison, but some practicality goes a long way.
Consider your profession, whether you have a 1 or 2-income household, if you have a car and where you live. If Adam works as a personal trainer and his wife Sara is an art teacher, living in Central Tel Aviv with 3 kids and a new car, they can expect to have a difficult time financially. This young family may have 2 incomes, but their salaries are low, they’ve chosen to live in a very expensive part of the country and they have a pricey car. Be realistic. Consider moving to a less expensive area, perhaps reinventing your career and buying a secondhand car.
Credit cards work drastically different, too. Unlike in the US with minimum monthly $25 payments, whatever you spend on your credit card is what comes out of your bank account automatically every month. If you rack up 4,000 shekels in credit card charges, then 4,000 shekels is what will be withdrawn from your bank account.
One of the most wonderful things about Israeli culture is how we absorb new people and care about others. Ask anyone who’s ever been stuck on the side of the road how many drivers stopped to help them. Volunteers in hospitals give out sandwiches to people waiting for treatment or to others in need.
Life in Israel is hard, but incredibly rewarding and meaningful. Information is power. The more you have, the better off you’ll be.