About two weeks ago was my 5th anniversary of Aliyah- or Aliyaversary as the Olim call it, proving we can’t have nice things. Whatever you call it, five full years have passed since I began this grand adventure of living in Israel. And let me tell you, it’s been an adventure! I have experienced the highest of highs and definitely the lowest lows of my life here. I have started and left jobs, met new friends, deepened relationships and let some go. I have moved house and city. I have (slightly) improved my Hebrew and (definitely) improved my Israeli knowledge. I have watched too many of the cohort I arrived with “go back home” wondering how, how, how they didn’t consider Israel their true home!
So if I may take this wealth of information I have gleaned after living here a half-decade and share some do’s and don’ts for making Aliyah. Because it’s true- it’s the hardest thing you will ever do, but also the best.
Do- make a plan
Depending on your age, the plan will differ. But if you’re younger or unmarried and unclear where you plan to live “forever,” give yourself a soft landing- an Ulpan, an unaudited college course, a coffee shop part- time job. Something that allows you to start out slowly and get your bearings here, while you still have money coming to you from your Aliyah.
Don’t- make Aliyah while on vacation, Birthright, for a guy/gal you really like
I hate telling anyone not to move here but Israel is definitely a magical place, especially for visiting Jews. Don’t get swept up and try to extend the best vacation ever or “see what happens” with the hot soldier from your Birthright. I’ll tell you what happens. 99/100 times, it ends with you on the plane crying about how Tal ghosted you.
Do- grow a pair
Please excuse my crudeness! I could have said “toughen up” but the sentiment remains. Israel is tough and Israelis are tough. Does that mean it’s not for you? No. Does that mean you have to be “rude”? Also no. It means that when you move to Israel, a little assertiveness may just save your life. There’s nothing rude about not letting people cut you in line and there’s nothing rude about telling your waiter you haven’t gotten food in 30 minutes. There’s nothing rude about asking for a lower price in the shuk and there’s nothing rude about wanting the girl on the bus to wear headphones instead of blasting music on her phone. Standing up for yourself may feel difficult for someone say, from Vancouver (kidding!) but it will make life here exponentially easier.
Don’t- have FOMO
Living so far away from your native country, you will be bound to miss a lot of things. I think we don’t realize how many things we have until we’re missing them. And while you may be able to fly in for the odd wedding and 90th birthday party (or if you’re British, something even less major like an anniversary or a Pidyon haBen- seriously, Brits head back to England a lot) you will be missing engagements and births, graduations and Bat Mitzvahs. Not to mention Labor Days, Chanukas and Thanksgivings! Oh, how I miss my Thanksgivings! That said, you will also be front and center for the important events- those that take place in Israel! Your friends and family will hopefully decide that there is no better place to celebrate a big moment than in the Homeland, and you’ll be one of the only people who will get to witness the blessed event! Plus, you’ll be making new friends and all of their smachot will be here! Problem solved.
And with the advent of Facetime and Skype and even Instagram video, you can feel like your there while in your bed in pajamas. It’s kind of even better! Plus, with social media being what it is, aren’t we all in a perpetual state of FOMO anyway?
Do- calibrate expectations
Spoiler alert- people in America (Canada, England, Australia, France) make more money. For the same jobs. And often less hours. This is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad fact. Sure, I’ve heard there are rich Israelis, haven’t met too many personally though so introduce me! But by and large, we make less, our houses are smaller, we have fewer cars and the stuff we want generally costs the same. So what do we do? We adapt! I was a total shopaholic in NYC. Now, I buy less and I’ve survived. We budget. We buy what’s most important. And some things are cheaper now, too. Travel to Europe- could I ever afford that living in the States? Buying produce at the shuk. And how much have I saved taking the bus?
You adapt to having less here and realize that your life can still be as fun, comfortable and rich (see what I did there?) even without all the tchotchkes of America (et al.)
Don’t- expect New York in the Middle East (Or Toronto, Sydney, London or Paris)
Oh, your sushi is better in Brooklyn and your nail salon is better in Hendon? Tough toenails! We are in the Middle East people! And while it’s not a Third World country (although some may lead you to believe that) we did have smoking breaks in the middle of movies like, 5 years ago. So while you may be used to the luxuries of life, some things you will have to do without. And if you ask enough people (although ask friends, not Secret Tel Aviv for better intel) you can find your new favorite sushi place, manicurist, and English-speaking dermatologist!
Do- learn Hebrew
Take this from someone who hasn’t. Well, as any of my friends (and dates who force me to speak in Hebrew) will tell you, I speak Hebrew. Just not well. And just not willingly. Just not how I hoped I’d speak it. I didn’t take Ulpan as seriously as I should, nearly all my friends are Anglo, I’ve lived in two English-heavy cities and I usually force my dates to converse in English (I’m worth it, it’s fine.) But don’t be me. L’lamed Ivrit.
Don’t- just leave because it’s hard
I once heard a shiur (and I never remember anything from them, so this should be good) and the rabbi said that the opposite of pleasure isn’t pain, it’s comfort. And nowhere does this strike me more than in my Aliyah. I left what is the epitome of comfort in America- easy money, my entire family, friends from childhood, a car, a mall as big as a small city, and on and on. Comfortable, yep, but was it actual pleasure? I came to a place where a trip to the bank takes half your day and you fully want to throttle your bus driver, mailman and landlord over the course of one day. That said, the work that goes in to Aliyah, the effort and the blood, sweat and tears, only makes being here more pleasurable. It is always more enjoyable eating a delicious cake you baked than one you bought, wearing a sweater you knitted than one you got at Zara. There is no feeling of success greater than a quick and painless trip to Misrad Hapnim or finding your way from Tel Aviv to the Golan by yourself. You put effort into your businesses, your schoolwork, your relationships- things that matter can be hard, but the payoff is huge. That is Aliyah- a less comfortable life, maybe, but certainly a more pleasurable one.
Do- Understand that the future of the Jewish people is here
I get it. America has been very welcoming to Jews and there is probably no better place to be Jewish outside Israel than the tri-state area. All that said- what’s happening in America, and Europe and South Africa, this “rise in anti-Semitism” is real and it’s not new. And it won’t be the first time and history is nothing if not cyclical. That doesn’t mean you should make Aliyah because you’re scared. It means you should make the idea of Aliyah, of living in the Jewish state, of starting or continuing your family here more of a reality and less of some nebulous nice idea that will never actually materialize. And if you really can’t imagine doing it yourself, you should raise children in a way where Aliyah is a value and a goal.
Aliyah and life in Israel is for every Jew, not just the crazy Zionists like me. You just have to plan well, come with a positive mindset and work really hard to make this the best life you can.
And I hope you will, so that in 5, 10, however many years it takes, I can wish you a Mazal Tov on your own Aliyaversary!