Successful Aliyah Starts in Your Head

After twenty years in Israel, I officially became an Israeli.

It happened at the local supermarket. A cashier was telling her colleague how she was holding down two jobs, but couldn’t find the time to make it to the Income Tax office and get the tax discount owed to her. Thinking that the poor woman was forfeiting 15 hours of her work each week and could take care of it in 15 minutes over the Internet, I committed the quintessential Israeli crime… and offered unsolicited advice.

I know quite a few Anglos, who after decades in this country, love Israel, but hate Israeli. Let me tell you something – it’s not the Israelis’ fault.

Translators have a concept of “false friends.” This is when the same word has different, sometimes opposite, meanings in two languages. For example, in British/Commonwealth English “to table” a proposal means to begin considering it, while in American English it means to stop the discussion. So when an unsuspecting American reads in the Times of London that “MP Johnson tabled a proposal,” not only does he misunderstand the article, but he isn’t even aware of it!

The same idea applies to cultures. The main problem facing olim is not that they don’t know the ropes. It’s that they misjudge what looks like familiar and known behavior.

An Israeli telling you to bundle up your child is not insinuating that you are an incompetent mother. He really cares that your kid doesn’t get a cold. A bystander giving you wrong directions isn’t on an ego trip. She’s trying to be helpful. The client negotiating to get the best deal doesn’t want to be cheap. He’s mortally scared of being a frier (sucker).

Giving others the benefit of the doubt, especially when you don’t fully get the cultural nuance, is the best thing you can do to preserve your emotional well-being. It is also the most important ingredient of  successful aliya.

From my experience, if you love living in Israel, if bringing up your kids here fills you with pride, if you plug into the experience, the externals (careers, housing, schools) usually fall into place. But no plum job or comfy suburban villa can smooth out the deep-seated dissatisfaction of living in a society of ill-mannered barbarians, who are out to get you at the first available opportunity.

Please allow me to offer a piece of (unsolicited) advice. Don’t judge Israelis with Anglo sensibilities.  Find yourself a local friend, who will help you steer clear of “false friends” and trust her judgment. I promise you – in a few years, you’ll find yourself dispensing unsolicited advice.

About the Author
Leah Aharoni is the Founder/CEO of SHEvuk, a business consulting firm, which helps companies grow by effectively marketing and selling great services to women. Drawing on her training in Organizational Psychology and extensive background in entrepreneurship, education, and international communications, she also channels her passion for women's empowerment into coaching women to succeed in business and personal goals. When not working or spending time with her feisty sabra kids, Leah enjoys learning and teaching self-development Torah, as brought down in chassidic sources. Find out more at