Tomorrow will mark my family’s 10 year “Aliah-versary.” I can still remember the ride from Highland Park, NJ where we had built a very nice life to JFK airport, which at the time represented the unknown. We were of course excited about the future, but we were also concerned and worried about what was in store for us, our children, and for life in general. I am happy to report that after 10 years of living in Israel, we can look back and know that we made the right decision. Sure, there have been some frustrating moments, but when I look at our lives now, I know without a doubt that Israel is the place where we belong. Over the years, I have been approached by several people/families thinking about Aliyah, as well as new families who have arrived with the same questions that we had 10 years ago. Every time one of these conversations takes place, I always start to think about what we did and if I would do anything different. Now that we have reached our ten year mark, here are some general rules that my family has followed to a successful Aliyah…
- The Big 3 – So I am beginning my stealing from my wife. She has said many times that there are 3 main ingredients for a successful Aliyah. The first is a good marriage, as Aliyah bring A LOT of stress. The second is some financial stability. Yes, Aliyah can be expensive. The 3rd is a good sense of humor, which I actually think is the most important. Things in Israel are not always the same as they are in the US. There will be times when new Olim can either laugh or cry, and when given the choice, it is always better to laugh. We have heard several stories of families who have made Aliyah in order to escape problems in the old country. The strategy has not worked for any of these families. Aliyah requires planning, communication, flexibility, and some savings. Families that start planning ahead will have an easier time with these items.
- Community – Most new Olim are coming from Jewish communities where they had friends and where they knew the “ins and outs” of how things worked. Most importantly were the close friends and family that were there for support during the tough times. The fact is that many Olim do not have close family nearby and have not yet met those close friends who will provide that extra support. This is why it is so important to find a community where you will be comfortable. Your new community will become your “friends and family” support. For a small country, there are a lot of choices for places to live. Take the time to research options that are best for your family. Decide if you want to live in a city or small community. You also need to decide the level of religious observance that you want for your new home. It is also important to think about whether you want to live in an area with more Anglo residents, or if you prefer a more Israeli community. Finally, a lot depends on budget. Certain communities are much more expensive than others. You need to find a place where you will be able to meet the financial demands of rent, and perhaps eventually the purchase of a new home. There are pros and cons to all of these areas. The best thing to do is to speak to a lot of people and if possible, do a pilot trip and spend some time in different places. I still remember my pilot trip as being one of the craziest weeks of my life (even after Aliyah). I was in Israel for 10 days and during that time, I visited at least 4-5 different communities.
- You need to make a living – The good news is that there are jobs in Israel. The country is one of the most hi-tech locations in the entire world. For most professions, there is usually work available, however you need to do your research to figure out what you need to do to succeed. First, there are some professions where you can continue to work in English. One of my first jobs was in a hi-tech company creating English training materials. My lack of Hebrew skills actually helped me to land this position. Not all jobs are like that. Many do require more than just basic Hebrew skills. Other professions require a certification process that can sometimes take a while to complete. In some rare occurrences, re-training can be required. If you plan on looking for a job right away, don’t wait until you arrive to start the process. With social media and other tools readily available, begin networking in your field to see what is available and what you need to do to get in the door. If you come on a pilot trip, take some time to meet with people in your field and to let them know that you are coming. Many companies will not hire you until you are here, so do not be discouraged if you do not get offered a job right away. You should be prepared though to do a bit of “starting over.” Just because you were the boss in the US, you may need to work your way back up the chain here in Israel. Bottom line is to do your homework and figure out what you need to do to get in the door.
- Flexibility is Key – This is true with so many areas including employment, education, family situations, and more. I had a friend many years ago who made Aliyah with his family. He was a very respected professional in a very specialized field. My friend thought that based on his contacts and reputation that he would be able to continue to do the same thing in Israel. He learned the hard way that this was not the case. For many years, he kept trying to achieve a very narrow goal and refused to consider other options. Eventually, he realized that he could not continue with the current situation and opened himself up to the possibilities of doing something different. Today, he is again a well respected professional, but in a different field. Once he was willing to be flexible, he found his place. I had a similar experience. After 10+ years as a teacher/administrator in the US, I was determined to do the same thing in Israel. I quickly found a lot of obstacles that would have made this goal, maybe not impossible but definitely difficult. I too was forced to consider more options, and today I can say that in addition to still being an educator, I am also the owner of a successful business. If you had asked me 10 years ago if I would be running a company, I would have said that was crazy. The same is true with communities. You may identify a great place to live but for financial or other reasons it may not be possible. Keep your options open and be willing to consider alternatives.
After 10 years, we are certainly not experts when it comes to Aliyah. Sometimes I joke with new Olim that I can tell them the mistakes we made so that they do the opposite. Some families come on Aliyah thinking that living in the Holy Land will be easy and that everything will be amazing. If you look at any of the Aliyah videos out there, most show happy families, children, and others enjoying life to the fullest. Hopefully, this is the end result for all. The truth is though, Aliyah is challenging. It has been, by far one of the most difficult experiences of my life. There is a lot that they don’t tell you in the brochures and videos. With all that said though, 10 years later I look at my family, especially at my children and I see what we have accomplished. I see that with a lot of hard work and stubbornness, we were able to reach our dream.
So after 10 years, I can only think about what the next 10 years will bring!