You have made the decision to make Aliya…or you are considering making Aliya. And as you do your due diligence and have your internal conversations and conversations with friends and family, you begin to feel overwhelmed. You may be filled with anxiety, fear and even self-doubt. All of those feelings are occurring for a reason and let no one tell you that you shouldn’t be concerned! Moving to Israel is NOT just picking up and moving across town. While it is OUR land and OUR collective history, it is still a foreign country. Israel has its own language, culture, modern history and its own rhythm. There is much to learn and much to absorb once you arrive, so the feelings of anxiety and fear are indeed feelings that are natural.
BUT…to help alleviate some of those fears, you can rely on the old adage that “knowledge is power.” Allow me to impart some of that knowledge to hopefully make your transition a little smoother. Many of these are tips that need to be implemented PRIOR to Aliya. In any case, I wish you all the best mazal on your decision! May Hashem guide you on the path to Aliya and may you have a קליטה נעימה (a comfortable acclimation/acculturation).
1: Hebrew. I cannot stress enough the benefit you will find coming on Aliya with some command of the language. Locals are very accommodating when you cannot speak the language, but are very happy when you make the effort, and you will find it easier to navigate the “system.” No matter when you plan to move, today is the time to begin to work on Hebrew. This is not a post about how to do that, but there are many methods and techniques to do so. Find what works for each of your family members and go for it!
2. Learn the Metric System. Back in the ’70’s, the push was on in the USA to convert all measurements over to metric within ten years. As the saying goes, “How’s that working out for ya?” It pains me when I hear someone ask, “Hey it’s supposed to be 18 degrees tomorrow. What is that in ‘real’ temperature?” As if to say that the metric system is not “real.” Besides, the vast majority of planet Earth uses it! Temperature, distance, shoe sizes, clothing sizes–all are “different” in Israel from many Anglo countries. Spend time learning what a kilometer is like in distance, or a kilo of veggies, or a size 42 shoe, etc.
3. School: If you have kids going into school (whether it is primary grades, high school or any other level), a good working knowledge of the TYPES of schools available is essential. (Here is a good source to look into this area). Most people coming from North America are used to their kids attending school until 8th Grade, followed by a graduation and then High School. For the most part, primary grades are until 6th after which there is a graduation and then Middle School (חטיבה) followed by High School. Learn the differences between the forms and formats of the school. Expect your child to come home the first few days (at least!) saying that they had not understood anything; crying out of frustration and demanding to move “back home” where they understood the language (see Number One above!) It is all normal and happens to many Olim. The first year of Aliya should be spent making (good) friends, learning more Hebrew and getting used to the new home. Academics will follow but are not as critical the first year as these other steps.
4. Politics: While no one is suggesting that you become active in politics the day you arrive, do know that this is a country where politics is an every day conversation and in some respects is one of the unofficial sporting events of the country! A basic working knowledge of how things work and how they DIFFER from where you are emigrating from are also good pieces of information to glean.
5. Attitude: Expect the worst and hope for the best. While that may be an old, tired statement it is one that serves many people well, psychologically. If you expect your wait in the bank will be an hour to open an account and it is 15 minutes beginning to end (as it was with me, years ago) then you will be pleased. If it takes the hour, well, that is what you expected anyways. There will always be surprises if you watch for them.
6. Steps to Take After You Land: Of all the help and advice that Nefesh B’Nefesh gave us, it was a poster that we were provided by them that gave us the most help of all. In this poster, it tells you about all of the steps that need to be taken (bank accounts, kupat chlim, driver’s license), what documents to take for each meeting, and the order in which to do these steps. It was a fantastic tool and I HIGHLY encourage its use.
7. Downsize: You will find that, for the most part, the amount of room you have in your new home or apartment will be smaller (and sometimes significantly smaller) than what you have now. Use the time BEFORE you begin to pack up your belongings to determine what you REALLY need to take with you. Remember, that many of the items you may need are also available in Israel! Nevertheless, make sure to take those things that have significance for you and perhaps it is time to dump that clothing that has not been worn since the Eisenhower administration
8. Patience: Do not beat yourself up if it takes you longer to do what you “plan” to do here in a single day. Have patience with yourself, your family and “the system.” I repeat that Israel is not New York, Chicago or Boston, but just in Hebrew. Israel is another country altogether. Have patience
9. Flexibility: A first-cousin to Number Eight. If things do not work out how you originally planned, or the timing of what YOU want turns out to be different than what occurs, learn to be flexible. Rigidity in your life when you make Aliya will definitely work against you both in terms of practicality an in terms of your mental health.
10. Be Ready to Re-Invent Yourself: You may be the most respected dentist in your neighborhood. You may be the most beloved teacher; the best lawyer; the most empathetic social worker…but at the same time you may not be able to or, in some cases, not be willing to, continue in that same position in Israel. Do your research about your field. If your field is one that does not seem will be a “fit” in Israel or there is a glut of people in those positions already, consider re-inventing yourself! Have you been doing the same thing for 20+ years but deep down always wanted to make a change? Here is that opportunity! Here is a chance to have a fresh start in your field or in a new one of your choosing.
I hope that these tips will be helpful to you. I am sure that if you ask ten other people they will have many other suggestions of other tips (and yes, you SHOULD be doing that). But, no matter what you find that helps you, do know that your decision to make Aliya is a great decision and that there are millions of people on this side of the ocean awaiting your arrival.