Four month aliyah review: Karmiel community

I received an email requesting information about Karmiel over a month ago, which I intended to respond to to correspond to our three month anniversary of living here.  I wasn’t able to get to it as soon as I had hoped, so it’s going to be answered as part of my four month aliyah review!

>>HOw do you find Karmiel to be for an Anglo oleh/family?  How did you choose this community out of the many other anglo pockets in Israel?<<

Firstly, it’s a physically green and beautiful place.  There are loads of parks, and it’s an extremely well-planned city.  I thought my apartment was in the best possible place, but the more I walk around, the more I think anyone could say their home is located in the best possible place!  There are no bad neighborhoods in Karmiel.  Housing is much more affordable than in the center of the country, so you can get something with more space more for your money.  The climate is nice – not too hot in the summer, not too cold in the winter.

The community lives on a nice but simple standard.  I was told by a recent guest who  lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh that many families there are living on US incomes, which means that their children live in a way that we wouldn’t be able to replicate.  I wouldn’t want to live in a place where by living normally, our children would see us comparatively as poor.  Who needs the pressure to keep us with standards that aren’t even normal in Israel?  Here I feel very content and so do our children.

Karmiel a small city of 52,000 people, and though it’s big enough that people on the street aren’t going to smile at you when you walk by, I’ve found people to be very pleasant (and they will smile back if you smile at them first!).   (I would have loved to have moved to a much smaller town, but since we moved with teenagers, we needed to find a place that had enough going on for them.)  There’s definitely a difference between the way people act in larger cities versus smaller cities/towns.  I find the quality of life is higher in a place like this, and correspondingly, people are more relaxed and have an attitude of ‘live and let live’.  It’s a lot less stressful, and I don’t see the pushiness that people sometimes complain about experiencing in Israel.  When I return from a trip to Jerusalem where there are so many people and so much noise and so l little green for your eyes to rest on, I feel so happy to be back here.

Now, about the ‘Anglo’ pocket aspect.  There aren’t many English speaking olim here, though there are increasing numbers of Anglos or adult children of Anglos who are moving here from the center of the country (which from my past experience is a precursor for the Anglo olim to move here).  I was surprised when I got here and realized how many first generation Israelis raised in English speaking homes live here – if you want people to speak with in English, you can find plenty.  I believe that it’s not a coincidence that so many of them were drawn to Karmiel.  I think that the fact that so many of them came to Karmiel is indicative of something a little different than most charedi communities; I’d say that people are more open and accepting here.  (Note: my personal experience is with the charedi community, so the specifics I’m sharing are relevant to that.  However, there are many Anglos in the modern Orthodox and Conservative communities here.)

I think if you make aliyah to a place like this, you have to be aware that your experience is going to differ from people who move to the center of the country.  In the Jerusalem area, every third person seems to speak English. Not so here.  There are immigrants from many countries in Karmiel, but the vast majority are from Russia, and Russian is the second language that is spoken in government offices, etc.  I think it was helpful for us to come here speaking Hebrew, but most olim who came here without the language seem to be managing well in spite of their lack of Hebrew.

Other things we liked about Karmiel: the local schools.  I feel like I need to write extensively to explain about the charedi (very religiously conservative) culture here in order for this point to be clear, because  I see that Anglos really don’t realize how different this is here from the Orthodox Jewish communities in the US until they’re living here for quite a long time (and often, by the time they understand the significance of the educational choices they’ve made, it’s too late to change tracks).  I’ll try to write a detailed post at some point because it’s a really important topic, but for now I’ll say that the schools here are unusually balanced and not exclusive, something that should be a big draw for Anglos, especially once they look around at communities and see this is something you won’t often find.

I like that the charedi community here is centered around a kollel that is headed by a very special man with a wide ranging vision of sharing Torah with everyone, Rav Margalit.  I find his acceptance of others and inclusiveness to be unusual, and he has made it part of the mission of his kollel to reach out to less affiliated or unaffiliated Jews, something quite unusual for an Israeli kollel.  He has founded a number of the religious institutions here, and his stamp is clearly on the schools, which is reflected by the inclusiveness that I touched on above.  This is something huge, even though the visible differences in the community aren’t immediately apparent – there’s a different value system underlying things here that is much more similar to what those of us from the US are accustomed to.

I liked the idea of living in a community before it was very large and impersonal, where we could know people and be known.  I think Karmiel is going to take off in the next few years and become a very popular choice for Anglos when the advantages of living here become more widely known.   I wanted to be in on the ground floor, so to speak.

That being said, though the Anglo community is very new, the larger charedi community is not, and my expectation of there being an inherent sense of connection and warmth between members of this community wasn’t actualized.  We arrived this summer the same time as the biggest influx the kollel community here has ever seen at once (14 families), and I think that the community was almost overwhelmed – unsure?- how to deal with so many new people at once.   This has been a small and slow growing community for a number of years, so this was a sudden and big jump.  There was no official welcome wagon, no offer of meals, assistance, friendship – nothing.  I didn’t come here with my hand out expecting to be taken care of, but it was disappointing nonetheless.

I had to work to get to know people, and I had to often initiate contact with the Israelis; I didn’t find that people reached out to me so much.  I at first thought this was because I was an American, but have since spoke to Israelis who moved here from other places who also had the same experience.  I think it’s just a situation that has happened since the community has grown faster than the supporting social infrastructure has grown; people used to organically get to know one another and all recognize one another, and now that unofficial approach is too haphazard for people to feel really welcomed or be known.  Also, Israelis have a wide social network of friends and family to fall back on that olim don’t have, so I don’t think the average Israeli has any clue how very alone we are when we get here – so they aren’t being cold and unfriendly.  They just can’t realize how much friendship and warmth mean to us when we left full lives behind and came to a blank slate.

Within the first few days, my teenage daughters already told me I needed to organize things so that others wouldn’t come into the situation we did, but I wasn’t – and still am not – up to taking the lead in this yet.  I needed the chance to be new and figure out my own way around things before thinking about helping others in a larger communal way.   I need to have the chance to see how this community operates, where the needs are, and what my corresponding abilities are, and what area I really feel is most important to get involved in.  And I need to have a chance to find my equilibrium and be sure my family is on an even keel before investing my energies outward.

As far as the Anglos, there aren’t many of us but I do feel like we all know and care about each other, and are there to help out and support one another.  In this group, it really is small enough for everyone to know and recognize one another, which is very nice.  It was a couple of families here who invited us for meals and offered to help.  This is the community that as it grows, will provide the support that Anglos need, I think.  There is monthly gathering for English speakers that takes place, which is a very nice way to get to know other women in the community, and I’ve enjoyed and appreciated this a lot.  With time and more people getting involved, there will be more frequent events and activities.  The advantage of being here at the beginning is you know everyone, but the disadvantage is that there aren’t many people to know!

There are so many nice people here in both the Israeli and Anglo communities, and it’s worth the effort to get to know them!  We frequently have guests from here in Karmiel as well as outside of the city, and we’ve enjoyed getting to know people.  It takes time in a new place to feel like you belong, but people here really are very nice and caring, and if you make the effort to be friendly, they’ll respond.


4 thoughts on “Four month aliyah review: Karmiel community

  1. Very interesting! Sounds like you’re very clear-headed about the advantages- and disadvantages of Karmiel. Thanks, Avivah!

  2. What about number and types of shuls that might be more Anglo-friendly, number and types of grocery stores/shopping for datiim/Charedim and stuff like that? I find that in moving to a new community (something I know a LOT about) that is the types of thing I try to investigate up front as it indicates the “health” of a community…

    1. Good questions, Yael! These weren’t critical aspects of our decision so I didn’t include them, but they are important issues for a lot of people so I’ll answer that in another post

  3. If teenagers weren’t a factor in your decision to move to Karmiel, what other smaller communities might you have considered? I am asking because we are looking around and coming from a rural environment in the US that also has a “live and let live” attitude.

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