The question below is one that I think almost every single person who heard we’re moving to Israel has asked:
“Are you going with Nefesh B’Nefesh?”
For those who don’t know, Nefesh B’Nefesh is an organization that supports people who are moving to Israel as olim. My husband and I were both studying in Israel when we met; we got married there and then decided it made sense to legally become citizens. I believe we got a small monthly rental subsidy for the first year as a benefit of having made aliyah (becoming Israeli citizens); we didn’t make a lift because we didn’t have anything to bring from the US or the money to do it even if we had, I was able to attend ulpan for one week in between jobs, and that’s the extent of the benefits we received as olim!
We lived in Israel for eight years before moving back to the US to pursue a rabbinical position offered to my husband, and have been in the US for eleven years. We no longer have the status of olim and the time we were entitled to claim them has run out, but are now considered ‘returning citizens’. To be more accurate, we’re officially gorrerei zechuyot – those whose rights as olim were frozen when they left the country (we left after eight years and the final benefits run out at 10 years) – but have been working for several months to legally change our status to that of returning citizens. We meet the technical requirements, but it’s been hard to find someone who knows how to handle a case like ours without sending us to Israel to first sign waivers before returning here to make the move – we’re in a gray zone that they rarely deal with. People are usually olim or naturally born Israelis who are returning to live in Israel, but not olim who are returning citizens! Hopefully this week it will finally be resolved and we can finally buy our tickets! :))
Nefesh B’Nefesh (NBN) doesn’t assist returning citizens – not even if you were born and raised in America, have lots of kids born in the US, or didn’t use the immigration benefits the first time around. When I called NBN, they were pleasant but emphatically told me that I was welcome to browse their website but they wouldn’t be able to answer any questions or offer us assistance of any kind, including information. And no, my kids born in the US don’t qualify for any benefits, either. (All of our children, those born in Israel and in the US, have the status of dual citizens as well.) The exception is ds17, who will be considered a returning minor.
This surprises most people, who assume that we are benefiting from the generous absorbtion benefits available to those making aliyah. When I tell them we aren’t, almost everyone says, “But your tickets are paid for, right?” No. As returning citizens, we have to purchase our tickets but will be able to get a discounted price for one way tickets of $806 per person; we’ll also be allowed an extra piece of luggage per person. This is a lot of money but it’s less than if we weren’t able to get this discount – if we had to pay $1300 per person (current prices), we simply wouldn’t be able to afford to move back.
Another benefit to the returning citizen is that the reinstatement fee to participate in the national medical system is….well, here’s what it it is. Every person above the age of 18 has to be pay something like 9600 shekels (approx $2500) to make up for the years that they haven’t been living there and paying into the system. They recently passed a law that returning citizens will have 50% of this sum immediately refunded (I don’t know if that means immediate as in five minutes or five weeks), and the other 50% refunded after a year. This means we need to come up with about $7500 in order to get medical insurance (for dh, me, and ds17 – he’ll be 18 by then) – kids in Israel are all automatically covered once the parents are paid in full. The option to paying this money is to go without insurance for six months and then our insurance can be reinstated, which I don’t think is a great option even though I rarely avail myself of the traditional medical services. (After this point we will pay a monthly fee for health insurance – it’s free to olim for the first year, but that’s it.)
There are some other benefits – like being able to bring a lift within 9 months and having to pay minimal taxes on it – but the one of most immediate importance to me is the discounted tickets. I believe there’s some kind of assistance in finding employment but I can’t tell you what that is like until we get there (we called but they told us we have to be there first). The absorption package that olim receive assists them significantly in getting started: buying furniture, stocking the kitchen, and paying expenses until they find work. None of this is available to the returning citizen.
One big expense in moving overseas is passports – though everyone is supposed to have up to date passports at all times, but because it was so expensive and we had no plans to travel anywhere, we didn’t have current passports for anyone. Of course anyone who is moving overseas has to have passports from their country of origin, and in our case, we also need Israeli passports for every family member. (I might be wrong but I believe if you’re making aliyah that you don’t immediately need Israeli passports. Please correct me if this is inaccurate.) We’ve spent over $2000 on passports for the eleven of us, and I’m really glad to have all of the passports issued and ready to go!
A number of people who I’ve spoken to who are in our situation would love to move back to Israel but feel it’s unrealistic. It’s in large part because there’s so little assistance and the costs are so intimidating that very, very few olim who leave Israel later move back. Not to mention the concerns and warnings not to come with children over age 10 or 12 because of the social risks in poor adjustments and all that comes along with that. Obviously, we’re not the only people in this situation, but since I haven’t met anyone else, I haven’t been able to enjoy sharing the experience of this particular aspect of our aliyah experience with anyone.
This leaves us in an interesting place – without the financial or social supports offered to olim, but facing similar challenges. However, one advantage we have over many olim is that my husband and I are conversational in Hebrew and familiar with life in Israel (though undoubtedly life in Karmiel will be very different than life in Beitar).
From a logical position, perhaps it doesn’t make sense for us to move to Israel, to give up our familiar life here to undertake a very major transition. But I don’t know if moving to Israel is ever really logical for anyone. I think the Jewish soul feels complete only when in Israel – certainly for me it was a very palpable feeling when I visited in February, of all parts of me being in one place at one time. What is propelling this move is my strong soul-level feeling that our family belongs in Israel at this time, and it’s really from the soul level that I’m having to deal with confronting some of the concerns that pop up. The concept that I hold onto is that Hashem has provided for us until now, and will continue to provide for us – my job is to do the leg work and make my best effort, and to trust that He will take care of us, perhaps particularly when it seems hardest to believe that. And with His help, the pieces are falling into place!