Time is flying by, and we’ve now been living in Israel for exactly three months! Overall it’s been a great move and we’re so happy to be here, and in honor of this anniversary I’m going to post over the next few days about some specifics of our transitions to life here. I’ll also add some thoughts based on feedback from olim in different parts of the country. (Feel free to ask about something particular if I haven’t addressed it and you’d like me to.)
It’s definitely a change to go from living in a private house to living in an apartment. Whittling down our possessions to what would fit in our suitcases before we left wasn’t easy, but it makes it much easier to live comfortably now. If we had all the stuff we used to have, we’d feel crowded, but thanks to having eliminated lots of potential clutter, our apartment is comfortable for us and the transition to apartment living wasn’t at all difficult. And it makes keeping things neat and orderly much less time consuming!
I’m very, very glad we chose not to take a lift, though I undeniably miss some things that I wasn’t able to bring along (eg my canning equipment, sniff!). We don’t have to force our Israeli size home to accommodate our American sized belongings and were able to buy things that are suited to the available room space. Though I think minimizing the lift and buying major furniture and appliances here rather than bringing it from the US is a very logical thing to do, our ‘stuff’ has a lot of emotion to it, and with the transition to living in a different country, letting go of that stuff (or thinking seriously about it) is almost traumatic for a lot of people. So it’s not surprising that very few people choose to go this route.
I think many people making aliyah make the mistake of trying to maintain the same materialistic quality of life that they had in the US, where everything is SO much less expensive. A real estate agent that I’ve spoken with told me that she’s seen so many olim spend disproportionate amounts of money on housing that’s out of their financial range, and resist living in apartments that are typical in Israel for families their size because they are unwilling to shift from their US standards.
When people get used to living according to US standards here, they have a hard time downsizing their lifestyles to accommodate the realities of the Israeli housing market later on. An even bigger mistake is to come to Israel with the expectation that you’ll live on a higher material standard. Yes, people do this. If someone wants to live on a US standard, it’s going to cost much more to do here than to do in the US, and if you want to live above their standard in the US, it’s going to take a LOT of money.
Many olim are told that in order to have soft landing, they should get something bigger, nicer, more central. And that sounds logical; after all, you’re making so many changes that why make things harder on yourself by depriving yourself of physical comforts? And as long as you can afford the standard you’ve chosen, get the nicest home/location that you can! But I’ve seen that many people underestimate their expenses in living here, and can too quickly find their financial situations deteriorating with their housing expenses eating up a huge part of their budgets/savings. Living here means a person needs to be prepared to adopt Israeli standards from the beginning, if that’s what he can afford.
When making aliyah, being in a place where you’ll have a feeling of belonging is much more important than the size of your home. Making aliyah means leaving behind all your friends and family, and very often starting off here is beginning with a blank slate. The absence of a social network is difficult, and the nicest home will feel empty when you walk around feeling like no one knows or cares that you live there.
This can be justification for choosing to live in a smaller home what is often referred to derogatorily as an Anglo bubble. I chose to avoid the Anglo bubble and am glad I did, but it’s important to be realistic about the cultural differences between countries. Moving here and learning to speak the language fluently won’t make you an Israeli – you’re likely to maintain the mindset of the country where you grew up. So while there are a lot of affordable housing options in the periphery of the country (including where we are in the north), don’t go somewhere that you’ll be the only English speaker. It’s just too socially isolating.
However, I think that people exaggerate the difficulty of living in any but the most central locations in the country. This locks them into very, very expensive real estate. The further from the center you go, the more affordable prices become. Granted, that doesn’t mean that the work or educational opportunities that you need will be in those areas, but don’t assume that they aren’t before investigating! I’ve too often heard people wistfully saying they wish they could afford to buy their own apartment, but the fact is they aren’t willing to buy what/where they can afford. One of the appeals of moving to the north was that we could purchase a comfortably sized home for our family, and we were willing to buy in an area where there weren’t yet a lot of Anglos or religious families (both of which drive up the price – but when we bought our apartment I was fairly confident that both of these factors would shift steadily in the next few years, which I already see happening in the short time we’re here – the apartment across the hall from me was just sold to a religious English speaking family). And then prices rise and people bemoan how they wish they had bought when it was less expensive, forgetting that it was also less desirable at that time and that’s why it was cheaper!
What I miss about not having our own house is not having a yard for the kids to run around in. Particularly after we built a six foot security fence around our property in the US and installed a full size playset (swings, slide, fort), it gave the littles so much freedom to go in and out of the house to play without me needing to be with them every minute (giving me freedom as well, since I could watch them play through the window and simultaneously do things in the house). I miss having that kind of space for them to run around and play freely – there are plenty of lovely local parks, but that’s not the same as having your own space.
The second thing that’s challenging about apartment living is that you need to be very aware of your noise level in consideration to your neighbors. When you have very sensitive and/or difficult neighbors, this can cause extra tension and pressure. Fortunately, we bought an apartment with a second floor, which has been a huge blessing since there’s a place that I can send the kids to play noisier games without having to worry about how many thumps and bumps they make in the process. We remain careful and aware of our noise level, but we don’t have to keep them from acting like children.
Another bonus of living here is that because housing is so much more expensive, it’s common for families to live in smaller quarters than the US. That means less social pressure because everyone’s expectations are on a different level. This weekend we had a family of four staying with us – the parents in the guest room, and each of the kids sharing rooms with our children. In the US I often felt self-conscious about what I was able to offer as a host compared to others (and would have been reluctant to make an offer like this), but now that we feel so much more free about opening our home to others, it makes hosting more enjoyable.