Can You Make It In Israel With No Hebrew, No Money And No College Degree?

I often hear people sound defeated about their ability to make it in Israel. They say, “I have no degree/no experience/no capital/ no Hebrew – or none of all the above,” as if those are definite pre-requisites for making money in Israel. Whenever I hear someone talking like that, I challenge them by sharing stories of people who found ways to make money despite having no degree, no experience, no capital and/or no Hebrew.

However, my saying it is not as powerful as hearing the story from a person who actually turned an idea into a business. So, in honour of the “Living Financially Smarter in Israel” Facebook group reaching 6,000 members, I put together a webinar called “Financially Smarter Ideas for Making it in Israel”. In the webinar, I interviewed four people who are making it in Israel – despite a lack of starting capital, a lack of Hebrew and/or a lack of education.

By sharing their stories, first on the webinar and now here, I hope to inspire you to think outside the box of the Israeli job market. Hopefully, these stories will inspire you to think of creative ways of making money, outside the parameters of a conventional job.

Riki Fried started ShemeshPhone, a community directory for Anglos in Beit Shemesh, based on similar directories she had seen in Jewish communities in the US. Fried spotted an unmet need in the community but, since she doesn’t speak Hebrew, she started the business with a bi-lingual partner. During their first year, Fried and her partner worked part-time jobs in addition to working on ShemeshPhone. They gave themselves a year and committed to not drawing a salary until they were sure the project was going to generate income. With no starting capital to speak of, they launched a successful business and actually made money from the first year.

When Josh Gold was a geeky 13 year-old American Jewish boy, he used some of his bar mitzvah money to buy a $200 video camera. He started shooting video and never stopped. Today, he runs Serio Films a successful video marketing company. Gold emphasized how it’s much more important to invest in learning and refining your skills than in expensive equipment. Learning to live a simpler life in Israel is also important, so you don’t spend your entire life chasing after money. At the same time, Gold emphasized that, even when you find something you enjoy and figure out a way to make money doing it, it still takes hard work and support from family and friends. But in the end, getting up every day and being happy to be working at something you love is so worthwhile.

Janice runs a successful eBay business from Israel, without needing a word of Hebrew, a college degree or any starting capital. She started slow, selling unneeded things around her house then buying $100 worth of goods and selling them for $200. Then she bought $200 worth of goods and sold them for $400. Today, Janice makes more than an average Israeli salary on her eBay business. She advises finding a niche and selling something you’re passionate about. If you’re not familiar with buying and selling on eBay, you’ll have to invest time learning how to work on eBay’s platform. Surprisingly, shipping from Israel takes a little longer but it doesn’t cost more than shipping within the US. There’s very little financial investment but you do have to put in the time needed to learn how to work within eBay, to find your niche, to learn how to take care of your customers and to build up a sufficient number of transactions so you don’t look like a newbie. It’s not a get-rich quick scheme, but you can definitely make a living running an eBay store from Israel.

My last interview was with Naomi Elbinger who, in addition to building websites for clients, is passionate about helping people make money. Elbinger blogs at MyParnasa – The Jewish business blog and she spoke at length about freelancing as a way to make it in Israel. In short, freelancers offer services in exchange for money. They have no real overhead and no products to sell. Freelancers can work in diverse fields such as copy writing, legal writing, editing, translation, graphic design, interior design, animation, illustration, web development, app development, tutoring, researching, social media consulting and more. As a freelancer, what you’re selling is yourself.

Elbinger emphasized that expensive technical training often isn’t necessary for many freelance careers since there are so many options for learning a skill online. At a minimum, learn something about the field for free to assess whether you enjoy the field enough to invest money in training. These days, there’s no excuse to say, “I don’t know how to do it,” when there are so many ways to learn at home for free, including, CodeAcademy and how-to videos on YouTube.

According to Elbinger freelancing is definitely harder and can be less secure than having a regular job. It takes time to build your practice, your reputation and a steady income. Dry periods can be a real obstacle and you have to put yourself out there in the beginning to get your first clients. At the same time, freelancing offers tremendous flexibility with your time and gives you the chance to work at a variety of tasks. In addition to ending up with the lifestyle of your dreams, your income is only limited by how hard you’re willing to work.

To summarize, there are definitely options for people with no financial capital and no Hebrew skills to make a living in Israel. These interviews illustrate just a few possibilities. Professionally, I spend time helping people make more money and do better with what they have, I know these stories and others are possible. Attitude is everything. Be creative. Identify what you’re passionate about and find a way to make money doing it. You’ll need to invest time in getting trained, polishing your skills and growing your business. The good news is – with the proper investment of time, you actually can make it creatively in Israel!

About the Author
Rifka Lebowitz, CFP®, is a Certified Financial Planner and internationally recognized author, public speaker, and founder of the 35,000-member Facebook group, Living Financially Smarter in Israel. For the last 20 years, she has helped English speakers living in Israel build sustainable monthly budgets, make wise money choices, and, more recently, create financial plans. Her passion is helping others prosper in Israel. Rifka lives with her husband and four children on a pastoral moshav in the Judean Hills.
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