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10 Tips to Successful Aliyah

May 9, 2009 | by Riva Pomerantz

Practical advice from people who made the monumental move to Israel.

Uprooting your life, leaving behind friends, family, and familiarity to build a new life in Israel isn't easy.

Here are ten important tips from people have successfully made the monumental move.

1. Keep an Open Mind

Elad Gefen, 27, who works in film and journalism and currently lives in Tel Aviv, highlights open-mindedness and lack of expectations as the number one ingredient for Aliyah success. He cautions against regarding the move to Israel as a "cure-all" or as a "flip of the switch" which will automatically change a person's life. "You've got to work at it," he says.

He offers a good suggestion to avoid this pitfall: Make a detailed list of all the reasons why you're making aliyah (moving up to Israel) before coming. Then, if things get tough, pull out the list and re-focus on the real reasons you came to live in the Holy Land.

2. Keep the Kids Happy

When the Saar family began thinking of making aliyah, they took two pilot trips before making the final move. During both these trips, they focused extensively on a singular mission: finding the right schools for their children. In fact, they built their entire Aliyah around education, with their children's happiness being the focal point.

The Saar Family"We figured if our children are happy, we'll be happy and our aliyah will be successful," points out Yehuda Saar. He was right. After touring schools and neighborhoods, the Saars decided to settle down in Ra'anana, where their children are thriving. Yehuda works as a commodities trader and is enthusiastic about his family's relocation to Israel.

In general, education and social environment are the biggest keys in ensuring a family's happy aliyah. There may be some compromising or conforming necessary to fit in, but it's worth it since they help achieve good peer relationships and fulfilling school experiences. Bear in mind that Israeli culture, religious views and spectrums, and even ways of dress can be completely different from those abroad. It's worth spending significant time deciding where your family wants to find a niche in all these areas, and then work on transitioning into that chosen lifestyle.

3. Keep the Connection Alive

One of the most difficult challenges new immigrants encounter is the loneliness of leaving loved ones behind. Keeping up with family and friends is critical for a successful aliyah. Too much loneliness and homesickness are definite success-busters, and it's important to make the effort. Immigrants would do well to consider getting an all-you-can-talk phone line which can be used to make international calls for a set fee each month.

4. Gear Up for a Financial Reality Check

One of the biggest issues in making aliyah is money. Economic opportunities in Israel may seem less appealing or available to immigrants due to the language and cultural barrier or the need to retrain or recertify. Very often, the aliyah dream dies with the words "We'll come when we have ‘x' amount of money stored up..."

Ellen Solomon knows the financial equation inside and out, yet she and her family are managing beautifully -- despite some challenges they encountered along the way. While she came to Israel with some savings as a nest-egg, she also kept her cool about finances, always being willing to take the chance.

"We went in with the attitude that we were going to bleed a little." The Solomons appreciated the Sal Klitah -- Absorption Basket -- which every new oleh (immigrant) receives, but when it ran out after the requisite seven months, reality hit hard and they had to make adjustments.

"It's important to learn how to live like an Israeli," advises Solomon. "Pick and choose the American products you're going to buy, and give up things wherever possible." She cautions against becoming too tight-fisted, though; it can sour the aliyah experience considerably.

Aaron Katsman, a financial planner, helps keep new immigrants economically stable. He advises immigrants to consult with financial planners who are dually licensed in both Israel and abroad to better advise them on how to invest their money or save for the future.

While immigrants may feel the pinch of lower salaries, there are a lot of economic benefits that Israel offers over other countries. Day-school tuition is the oft-cited biggest financial savings. Health insurance, too, can be cheaper in Israel, along with other services. Even Israeli taxes -- which can be higher than in the U.S. -- come with some advantages, such as paid maternity leave and tax breaks for women in the workplace.

At the end of the day, though, the reality check is important and can be summed up by this well-told joke: How do you make a million dollars in Israel? Come over with two million!

5. Live, Laugh, Love

There are very few people who wake up one morning, roll out of bed and say "Honey, let's get up and move to Israel for no reason in particular." Ninety-nine percent of those who come on aliyah do so for very concrete reasons: ideological, religious, and spiritual, to name a common few. There is beauty and depth in Israel which touches the heart of nearly every visitor. The lifestyle here is completely different from that abroad, and therein lies the appeal.

Make sure you keep a good attitude and take time to enjoy the life here.

To ensure aliyah success, make sure you keep a good attitude and take time to enjoy the life here. Take a family trip to recharge your batteries -- the farthest you can travel in Israel is six hours to Eilat! Go to the Kotel, (the Western Wall) to remember why you wanted to relocate to a country where your ancestors served in the Temple. Even a brief walk in many neighborhoods can reveal archaeological treasures and ancient ruins. If aliyah is a marriage between Israel and the immigrant, keep the spark alive. And remember: Despite the over-fond memories at times, America was no cake-walk either!

6. Get Help; Lots of It!

You can find an inch-thick listing of "Gemachs"-- free loan projects run by modest individuals who lend out anything from baby strollers to medicines to crutches. The culture here is a warm, tight-knit one where every heart feels another heart. And most Israelis have a soft spot for the new immigrant who "sacrificed fame and fortune" to move to their humble country.

When you get offers of help, you may initially be surprised and even embarrassed by them. After all, in your country of origin you might never have received an offer from a six-year-old next-door neighbor to watch your three children while you sleep! Stifle the urge to act the martyr. Smile and say, "Okay -- thanks." You will find that most people are offering out of pure good-heartedness; they generally do not dream of being compensated. One day you will give back to others, but for now it's your turn to accept all the help you can get. From learning which products to buy in the grocery store to finding out the best way to clean Israeli stone floors, reach out to your neighbors, taxi drivers, and store owners. They love to help!

The popular Hebrew saying, loosely translated, goes: "A near neighbor is better than a distant brother." It couldn't be truer.

Also take advantage of the myriad services offered by organizations such as Nefesh B'Nefesh, AACI, and others. Workshops, courses, lectures, and support groups all add to a smooth Aliyah experience.

7. Think Things Through

As our family planned aliyah, one day my daughter, then six-and-a-half, had a total meltdown. We offered her the chance to write out her fears: leaving her friends and school, as well as her frustration with seeing our entire house filled with boxes in anticipation of sending our lift shipment. Today, we treasure that piece of paper, and she laughs every time she reads it -- a sure sign that her fears are long gone, replaced by abundant friends and a positive Israel experience.

It's important for everyone contemplating Aliyah, young and old, to acknowledge and express their feelings and fears about the prospect, and face them before they get here. Any relocation is tough, and being thrown into a totally new environment like Israel can be even tougher if the wrong kind of baggage is brought along!

8. Time is a Healer

Leah Barkan made aliyah from the Former Soviet Union as a teenager, during the Israeli government's mass emigration project which sought to bring youngsters over in the hopes that their parents would follow. As luck would have it, Leah's parents never came, but she considers her Aliyah extremely successful. Her Hebrew is fluent and she has a secure job as mortgage consultant in a major bank. Leah's advice to new immigrants is to be patient and give enough time to really progress. Even if things start off stressful, circumstances generally improve as time goes by. It's hardly ever advisable to jump the gun and do an about-face back to the Diaspora, even when disappointment sets in. Instead, keep the faith, call a friend to commiserate, and know that there's an excellent chance that one day you'll look back at this moment and laugh!

9. Plan Ahead

The face of aliyah today is a lot more pleasant than it's ever been. New immigrants are entitled to many services, both before they move and afterwards, and many times they're given preferential treatment.

The best way to assure a successful aliyah is by becoming as knowledgeable as possible about every aspect of the before and after. Take advantage of aliyah resource websites, Israeli community email lists, and anyone else who can give you additional information.

It's important to be smart about your rights. For example, immigrants are entitled to a special tax bracket when purchasing an apartment, but it can only be used once in a seven-year period. Knowing this, the savvy oleh will take this perk into consideration when contemplating a home purchase.

Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Nefesh B'Nefesh, offers this advice: Plan ahead, do lots of research, network professionally even before you arrive, and above all make sure your timing is right. Families often choose to come when their children are young so they can better adjust; sometimes couples wait until after retirement to make aliyah so they can take advantage of Social Security.

"Making aliyah is a significant life-changing move and requires a lot of planning to ensure a smooth and successful transition," he emphasizes. Nefesh B'Nefesh offers a dedicated support team to provide immigrants with all manner of financial, logistical and social support in the form of workshops, events, and reunions.

10. Take on the Right Pace

There are differing opinions on the best technique for acclimatization to life in Israel. One school of thought says jump right in and hope you don't drown, while others advise swimming lessons first. Some immigrants buy a house even before they come; they put down roots and are here to stay, for better or worse. Others choose to rent at first and feel out the neighborhood before they make a big commitment.

Chances are, immigrating to Israel is not going to re-mold your personality overnight. If you're a cautious person, don't make the mistake of jumping into anything -- a house, a car, a synagogue membership, or a job -- just because it's thrown at you or you're worried there's nothing else available. Instead, get plenty of advice, pray hard, and make an informed, calculated decision.

On the other hand, setting down roots in Israel is one of the best ways to achieve successful aliyah. It only feels like "home" when you've got your home established on terra firma.

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