The Aliyah Diaries — Part 1

I’ve been in Israel for nearly nine years, and recently, have been feeling more at home. I’m at the point where certain words only sound better in Hebrew and certain phrases don’t translate over to English. While I only have warm fuzzies for the old country, my new home is certainly my permanent one. I’ve only been married with children and done real-life grocery shopping here. I still get lost sometimes, and the Olah shadow reappears, so perhaps it is a long term journey. Either way, I’m grateful to be an Israeli resident (although my kids do call me an Amerikai..), to be able to put down roots here, and contribute to society.

For the past while, I’ve had the itch to put down on paper what the journey has felt like for me, and perhaps others. An insider’s perspective after nearly a decade. Here’s where I’m starting.

8 Things I Didn’t Know Before Making Aliyah

  1. Aliyah = Immigration

The term aliyah sounds hopeful, and as an Orthodox Jew, I do believe it was just as much a spiritual move as it has been a physical one. I do feel like God’s presence is stronger here and living a Jewish lifestyle feels more natural and convenient.

That said, the experience is like any other immigrant’s. I’m reminded of my grandparents who moved to the States post-Holocaust with little and had to rebuild their lives. Where they couldn’t speak the language and had to make new friends. Where they had to decide which of their traditions to keep and which to leave behind.

In spite of the support from Nefesh B’Nefesh et all (Keep Olim in Israel, Living Financially Smarter in Israel, Ima Kadima) provide, plus the “anglo-bubble” where I’ve chosen to make my life, it’s still starting over. Nine years down the line, I’ve made close friends, built a network of contacts, and have neighbors who are amazing, but they won’t always be there to talk to your kuppa’s secretary or to the internet company. I’ve been at the bottom of the job food chain and people have laughed at my accent. It’s gotten easier and I feel settled, but I’ve had to work my way up. It’s been a path I’ve had to forge, and while meaningful, can be pretty depressing and frustrating.

2. You Have to Know to Ask

Once in a while, I find myself stuck in this “I didn’t know” bubble. I didn’t know what a hitchayvut was. I didn’t know that the pharmacy is closed while the doctors are still seeing patients, I didn’t know the mikva has larger towels. Israelis will say to me, but why didn’t you ask. I didn’t ask because I’m not programmed with an innate sense of this lifestyle! I wasn’t drugged with Israeli FYI’s while obtaining my Teudat Oleh.

3. What Continent Are We On Again?

Socially, We’re part of Europe in many ways. High tax, Eurovision, and FIFA. As an American, I had no idea what these things were until moving to Israel. Weeks after the Eurovision 2018, everyone was caught signing, “I’m Not Your Toy.”

4. Free Healthcare and Tuition-Almost

FYI, school isn’t free, but it is cheap. Same with healthcare. Please note, I’m super grateful for the way these are set up in my life. No cost for hospitalization, giving birth, and I can go to my primary doctor as often as I like, at no cost! I can pay my gan fees with one month’s salary. Like for the whole year. BUT:

  • Most people upgrade to premium levels of insurance, which do cost extra. This way, you can see specialists or select specific doctors at no/low cost. As well, certain medications aren’t covered in what’s called the health basket or are still quite costly.
  • If you’re really doing okay financially, you may have private insurance to cover things like extra medications, transplants outside of Israel, or cosmetic surgeries.
  • If you choose to send to tzaharon, childcare until 330-4, or send to a semi-private school, you pay a substantial monthly fee. High school costs more than elementary school. It’s still a fraction of the cost compared to anything you’d pay for Jewish or private school abroad, but salaries are lower and you feel the burn.  Plus, childcare for ages 0-3 is pretty high, and living off one salary isn’t usually enough.

5. The meaning of Gibush

I love this one. Companies here are really into company days out and developing a team feel. The work culture is casual overall, and many companies take between 1-4 days off per year for the purpose of relaxing together. It’s a chance to partake in fun experiences with your workmates outside the office setting. What could be better?

6. How Lonely It Would Be

Not gonna lie. Sometimes, it hurts and is hard. Like when you’re sick and need to make Shabbat. Because you have no one else to make it for you. When it’s your kid’s birthday, and they can’t spend it with cousins. When they don’t know what “cousin” means. When everyone jokes about Keytanot Savta and you kind of laugh awkwardly along. And again, my community is so incredible and supportive- I’ve gotten invites when I’ve been postpartum, jetlagged, and for chagim, but no one will ever replace the real deal.

And if you’re blessed to have family in Israel, that’s great. But, if you’re not near each other, the stressful work schedules coupled with the lack of Sundays (and Shabbat observance) makes it hard for big families to get together.

7. How Empowering it can be to Build Your Own Life

For me, this nearly counteracts #6. I know everyone doesn’t feel this way, but I love making choices. I like being able to really choose a school, neighborhood, and hobbies. I love trying something new, even when it ends in failure. I ran the Jerusalem 10K and love that no one can take that huge accomplishment away from me. I love creating new opportunities for people meeting and growth. And that’s what it’s like to live here. You feel energized and inspired by 18 year old soliders building life-saving robots for the army. People strating their own businesses hoping to be the next Waze. It’s so healthy and positive.

8. Our People

I know it’s a cliche, but we’re all one family. It’s a huge comfort around the insanity of the summer, the election period, and during times of tragedy and loss. I don’t think I’ll ever get over Ari Fuld’s murder or the kidnapping of the three boys. We all prayed for our friends’ boyfriends and siblings when we knew they were stationed at the Gaza border. It’s part of our collective memory and experience, and it is so powerful.

Hope I haven’t completely turned you away from considering Aliyah or appreciating the life here. It is definetely hard. But also definetely worth it.

About the Author
Esther Cohney was raised in a multi-cultured home in sunny Los Angeles as a 90s child with her heart on her sleeve. She loves writing, travelling, working with people, and asking lots of questions. She is determined to accomplish as much as possible in life, while enjoying every darn minute of it.