Nine month aliyah update: About Karmiel

Today I spoke with several different women about a similar topic – the ups and downs of moving to Karmiel.  I’m a big believer in being optimistic but staying realistic.  What that means is that if you ask me what I like about living here, I’ll tell you but I’ll also caution you about things you may not hear from other people (someone recently told me that I was the only one who gave her an accurate picture of the realities of Karmiel).

Knowing that Karmiel is increasingly being considered as a place to live not only by those making aliyah but those living in Israel, I’ll share the following:

Physically – Karmiel is a physically beautiful city.  My husband’s tennis partner who has lived in the area for many years told him that one of the nicknames of Karmiel is ‘Charmiel’, because it’s so charming.  It’s well-designed, well landscaped, and well taken care of.  A joke that’s reflective of the priority on maintenance in the city is: when there’s a traffic accident, the first vehicle on the scene will be someone from the municipality’s maintenance department to replant the flowers that were damaged by the cars.

There are lots of parks for children.  It’s a big enough city that you can get anywhere in the country with public transportation, so you don’t need a car.  However, if you’re in one of the outlying neighborhoods of Karmiel, you’ll probably find it much easier to live here with a vehicle because buses are less frequent (though still regular)- I live in the center where it’s not a concern at all.  The public transportation within the city is excellent – the buses are all new, clean, and comfortable.  You can purchase a local day pass that’s good for unlimited bus rides for just 7.70 shekels from 9 am and on.  And if you want taxis, then there’s a flat rate charged of 15 shekels within Karmiel, 20 shekels if you need to get to the industrial zone.

The local shopping is good and you can get anything you need without needing to leave the city – food, electronics, furniture, cars.  Many people come from surrounding areas to do their shopping here, particularly at the major shopping center called The Big (this includes many Arabs from the local villages – it’s very interesting seeing such a variety of people!).  Kosher meats and hard cheeses (edited to add: with a badatz hechsher) aren’t widely available in the majority of stores but they are available in two or three stores in the city.

Housing – In Israel, real estate is very expensive and prices are constantly rising.  Coupled with the banks’ insistence on at least a 30% down payment, purchasing even a modest home can be very challenging.  Something that has brought many people from the center of the country to here is that they can afford to buy something much larger and nicer than the area they were coming from, for less money.  (Rents aren’t significantly less than areas surrounding Jerusalem, and the rental market here is tight.)  The apartment prices have risen dramatically in the last three years, but still constitute a very good deal considering the general market in the country.

Socially – Karmiel is a city of 52,000 (a couple visiting from Ashkelon told me a couple days ago that they were told 70,000 by several people during their visit, so I’m not sure who’s right – I got my stats on this from the NBN site), and there are a lot of immigrants here, particularly from Russia.  This definitely affects the atmosphere here.  It’s common to hear Russian spoken, and in just about every government office or store I’ve been to, it seems that most of the people working there speak Hebrew with Russian as a second language – this is different than Jerusalem, where English is usually the second language.  You don’t hear a lot of English when you’re out and about, so much so that when I hear English, I feel the desire to walk over and introduce myself!

Since many of these Russians are not Jewish (not going to get into why the government allows them in based on the Law of Return), this means that Karmiel has a large percentage of not just non-religious Jews, but non-Jews; I believe the number the chief rabbi of the city quoted of non-Jews was 40%.  Olim coming to Israel and looking forward to the religious inspiration of being in the Holy Land and surrounded by their fellow Jews aren’t likely to feel it here.  The modesty standards of secular Israelis tends to be less than that of the average American, and the Russian population brings this even further down.  (I hate to say something that sounds so negative or derogatory but I’m trying to be honest.)

The percentage of religious Jews in the city is supposedly 10%.  I don’t know about how accurate that is or how the term religious is determined.  The charedi community is about 150 families; the garin Torani (seed group for the Torani community) is about twenty five ten families with many others who have some connection there.

The charedi community here tends to be fairly relaxed and accepting, but is still very much a community unto itself.  There is a focus in the local kollel on outreach that is unusual in Israel, but this doesn’t change the social reality as much as you might think when hearing that – outreach is something they do to some degree but my impression after speaking with some of the kollel wives is that there are different levels of commitment to this.

There isn’t much mixing of people in different religious circles – this is something that several people visiting here told me they were disappointed by, having been led to understand that it was a very open and inclusive community.  It’s true that people are more open and accepting, but it means that the definition of the charedi community is broader, not that people are really mixing with those who aren’t part of their defined community.  I don’t mean to overemphasize this and I don’t see this as a negative as much as simply the reality, but it seems that this is an area where people aren’t getting accurate information and after visiting here go away disappointed or disillusioned.   This is very much a community that is based around the kollel; the ‘kehila’ (community) is defined as those who affiliate there.

As far as the religious Anglo community- there are two components.  One group is made up of olim and first generation Americans.  This is a pretty small group, about ten families in the charedi community.  (I’m not sharing statistics on the dati leumi community because I don’t have enough familiarity with those stats to do so, but there are more Anglos who affiliate with different synagogues and movements than what I’m sharing about here.)

The second group is bigger than the first, those who are first generation Israelis, raised by American parents – they speak English and although they were raised here, their mentality has been tempered by being raised by parents from a different culture.  These are generally younger and smaller families, having four children or less.  This group is growing pretty quickly – while we were the only American family to move here this summer from outside of Israel, within the same two week period in which we arrived, six other English speaking families arrived, five of which fit into this grouping.

Schooling – I think the local school options are very good.  The cheder/Talmud Torah is the most classic local charedi school, but it’s more open and accepting than schools near the center (for example, the boys are allowed to play ball at recess).  Someone who moved here from the center told me that this was part of the appeal of living here; in charedi schools nearer the center, it’s become difficult to get your children accepted to schools (I’m talking about very young children, ages 3 or 4) unless you’re the ‘right’ kind of family.  We don’t have that exclusivity here. (Updated to add – the cheder as of the 2013 school year will have an acceptance committee that will determine admittance.)

There is an elementary school (Amichai) for girls and boys (separate classes) that is charedi run but more typical of an American school practically and philosophically (more details on that here).  It’s an unusual school choice to have available, and one I’m grateful for.

At the high school level, there’s what I feel is another great option, the girls high school (Neve Chava).  Like the elementary school I mentioned above, the administration is charedi and the student body is mixed.  That means that they don’t have the focus on controlling the students and every aspect of their behavior both in and out of school that are the norm in charedi high schools schools throughout the country – exploring other schools throughout the region as a possibility has brought even further home to me how lucky we are to have this school here.

Socially, we have a lot of great families living here.  I honestly like all the women that I’ve met, particularly the English speakers; Karmiel attracts nice quality people.  However, somehow all these nice people don’t coalesce into a solid block that makes it feel like a community – I moved here expecting a lot more warmth, connection, and intrinsic sense of community than I found, and though we’ve made it work for us and are happy here, my initial disappointment with this situation hasn’t been unique to me.

Someone moving here at this stage has to be emotionally be prepared for not that much support.  People will try to be helpful because they really want to be of assistance and make things easier for newcomers, but the help is by necessity limited since there are so few English speakers.

So initially someone new is likely to feel somewhat isolated, something you wouldn’t expect when hearing how few Anglos there are since you’d think everyone would band together and all be a close-knit group.  (This is what people looking into moving here tell me they’re expecting.)  To deal with this, you need to have realistic expectations (hence this post) and remember that time takes time – it takes time to make friends and find your place in a new community.  In my last community, it took me almost two years to feel I belonged there.

My goal about sharing information about Karmiel isn’t to sell anyone on living here, but to help them determine if this is a place that will meet their needs.  I want people to move to a place where they’ll be happy.  If that’s here, great.  If not, then what does the community gain by having someone move here who will feel disillusioned on arrival?

I believe that within 3 – 5 years, Karmiel will be a much more popular place to live than it is now.  Anglos are searching for a moderate religious community that is hard to find in Israel, and though it’s not perfect (is anywhere??) Karmiel has a lot going for it.  Currently, it’s at the earlier stages of being on the religious mental map as a place to consider, but the more people who learn about, the more are going to want to come.  When that happens, it’s going to be much more expensive than it is now.  (There are other reasons that it will become more popular and expensive aside from the religious community, like the planned train that will eventually connect here and the main No. Six Road that is scheduled to extend here, both of which will significantly cut travel time to the center of the country.)  If someone moves here now, they have to understand that they’re coming to a community that is in the early stages of developing – this has advantages and disadvantages; it means accepting the limitations as they are right now or being prepared to actively get involved in changing things.  And actually, that’s pretty true of anywhere that someone is going to live!

At the same time, remember that this is why the current prices are the way they are (and they’ve doubled in the last three years)- because it’s not widely recognized as being an option.  Understandably, people want a great buy and a community that is already established and has all the things they want in the way they want them, but this isn’t very realistic since those things don’t go together!

If there’s something important that I didn’t address, feel free to ask in the comment section!  I know there are a lot of specifics that I didn’t share, but I’m attempting to answer the most common questions I’m asked about.

Avivah

26 thoughts on “Nine month aliyah update: About Karmiel

  1. As an israeli with american parents, with family within the kollel in Carmiel, I’ve been reading your blog over the last few months. I’ve found quite concerning your over-simplification of the Israeli Chareidi society; however, this last post forces me to respond.

    There is NO obligation to do kiruv in the kollel in Carmiel. While it is true, some are part of a program, which includes pay for outreach work, the people doing kiruv are not doing it as “a condition of their acceptance to the kollel.” They’re doing it because they believe in it.

    Nor is it done “to some degree.” They are going out every night to different yishuvim, kibbutzim, and within Carmiel itself. They are teaching Torah and acting as counselors to help people in their personal lives. On top of that , it is NOT true that avreichim do not have others for Shabbos. I witnessed this myself on one of my visits. Just because you, on the sidelines, do not see it, it does not mean it does not happen. And for those who do not? I think doing kiruv for six nights a week gives them the right to have Shabbos to themselves and their families.

    The reason you have so many, excuse my language, simple-minded views on Israeli Chareidi society, is because you are unwilling or unable to think and understand like they do. For you, “having over people with a different background” is good kiruv, and if you don’t do that, you must not “really believe in it.” These avreichim dedicate time EVERY DAY to kiruv! So, you ponder, and based off of your “impression,” you condemn them as doing something they don’t believe in, since it doesn’t fit into your box of thinking.

    If you wonder why american olim do not feel part of the community, it’s because many are unable to adapt to society. You want to bring America with you and not let go.

    I think that it is best, that until you yourself have integrated into their society and begin to understand their way of life and thinking, you stop making such negative comments towards an entire community. No wonder you feel “not part of things.” When you keep your mind closed and unwilling to see and FEEL issues through the eyes of others, you will never feel integrated.

    1. I had already edited the two sentences you took exception to before you wrote – it seems you were writing at the same time I was editing my post – but I’ll try to respond to your comments a bit later when I have time. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

    2. Dear Anonymous,
      I think that most of us can identify with Avivah’s process of struggling to come to terms with the Israeli mentality. We may have been here longer and hopefully moved on to a more accepting place, but it takes time and we should respect the process. Most olim go through it! I think she is adapting just fine for a person who has been here less than a year.
      If this is hard for you to accept, then I think you should perhaps examine why. It might help you in your own continuing integration process.
      Also please remember that bloggers are people too and you should be careful before you slam them.
      Kol tuv!

      1. Thank you, Naomi – I really appreciate your comments. It’s easy to forget when facing a screen that a real live person with feelings is sitting on the other side.

    3. Anon, I’ve spent a few hours thinking about your post, and am assuming that because you aren’t able to edit your post, there are things you said in the heat of the moment that you perhaps feel uncomfortable about now. Although I’ve spent over two hours composing a response to you, I’ve decided not to share any of it because there’s no gain – it won’t make either you or me a happier and more productive person.

      Since reading my blog is so stressful for you, may I suggest that you find other things to read instead that you’ll find inspiring and of help to you? With the internet filled with so many wonderful resources, I’m sure it won’t be hard for you to find something that meets your needs. Wishing you all the best, Avivah

  2. Something I don’t understand- you said that Kosher meats and hard cheeses aren’t available in the majority of stores. How can this be? Aren’t the majority of your stores chains like Supersol, Mega, etc. that are Kosher? Or are most of your stores like the Tuv Taam chain that sell pork, traif cheese, etc. That really surprises me!

    Thanks for your very thorough post on Karmiel- we live in the Sharon area, but it’s always interesting to hear about other places.

    1. I have to correct my statement, Shelly – I meant that cheeses and meats with a badatz hechsher are only available in a couple of stores, but I think that most stores have products that carry at least a rabbanut hechsher. Thanks for pointing out that I wasn’t clear!

  3. I forgot to mention- your comment about boys not being allowed to play ball during recess in schools in the center of the country really made me sad. Not your fault, of course, but knowing that kids aren’t allowed to play ball just seems wrong.

  4. I agree with you that Karmiel has potential to end up like RBS or Bet Shemesh once more Anglos move in. I don’t know if that’s good news or bad.

  5. About karmiel and the kosher food situation, I remember once in camp stopping in karmiel for a few hours; we’d eaten no lunch that day and we were looking and looking for food to eat. All the pizza places we found (near the central bus station) were so completely treif, serving chicken on pizza, pork, etc,,, the fast food places were treif, etc… In the end, the only food we found that we could eat was ice cream. And we werent looking for mehadrin hechsherim, just not completely treif. This also was 7 years ago. Did things change?

    1. I don’t know much about the fast food places – I’ve never eaten out here. A few minutes away from me there’s a badatz pizza store, and I know that in the area you referred to there’s now a badatz falafel place. And also right near the central bus station is the mall where the supermarket with lots of badatz products are sold. So while you won’t have an easy time in the fast food places getting food with a good hechsher, things have changed!

      1. Its good to know! It saddened me so much that in the middle of Israel we couldn’t find kosher food… That chicken pizza got me sad,,,

  6. hi avivah- a bit off topic, but i’m wondering if you’d humor me. do you think the adjustment to any new place takes an equally long time, or do you think the “culture shock” of israel is uniquely long? i still look at the money in my wallet and panic that i need to change currency (for seattle LOL) and feel similalrly unmoored at times… having only lived in israel briefly and then in detroit forever, i find being in seattle very much like being in israel. i guess the question is how much time is realistic for a new place to feel like home? thank you for continuing to be honest and thoughtful, in spite of those whose knee-jerk reactions can be painful. be who you are and let the rest sort themselves out. chazak chazak!

  7. Hi
    My family and I are looking into the option of moving to Karmiel. One of the hardest choices we face is the change for our kids. Though i am from Chull and my wife grew up in an area that had mixed religious and not our kids only know the life thatthey see around them. We have of course instilled in them the tools to manage with people of different mid sets which is one of the reasons we wish to move from where we are. acceptence is hard in the area we are currently living that and i feel more asstranged by the hardcore elements. but that does not mean i dont fear bad influences from schools. How does the religious schooling compare for gils and boys. Yes there is cheder fro boys (and i think it is vital for boys to be able to play ball, it need not be a focal point but thats a matter of chinuch) but the girls schooling concerns me. Can you please explain how the girls schooling works.

    1. Can I infer from your comment that you’re currently living in EY and are looking for a more open religious community?

      The girls Amichai school here has a charedi administration and accepts girls from a variety of backgrounds. This is the only girls school in Karmiel and all the charedi families send their daughters here. I personally wouldn’t worry much about negative influences; the charedi girls tend to stick together and those from other backgrounds stick together. While I think this is unfortunate, that’s how it is.

      1. Thank you .
        Yes we are currently living in EY and yes we are looking for a more open charedi community.
        The other sticking point we have and it comes hand in hand with any move is parnassah. Could you advise me on the situation in karmiel regarding parnasah.
        It would also be helpful to know which areas in karmiel the charedi (i use this term very loosely) live.

  8. Srulik, I can’t advise you on parnassa without knowing anything about you, and I don’t know if I could advise you if I did know more about you!

    In general in the north, jobs are harder to come by, particularly for those who aren’t fluent in Hebrew. Salaries tend to be lower than in the center, though of course cost of living is lower as well.

    The charedi community lives in the Dromit and Rabin neighborhoods, almost all of the Anglos are in the Dromit.

  9. I’m happy to read these posts because it’s hard to find detailed information about living in some communities in Israel. My 19 year old daughter and I plan to make aliyah this summer and are trying to find an affordable place to live while being able to meet both of our needs. My daughter is secular and I attend an orthodox shul that does a lot of kiruv. She and I are in 2 different worlds and need a place where the 2 can meet. Perhaps Karmiel is the place? Other cities that we are considering are Acco, Nahariya, and Ma’alot. Affordability is at the top of the cake though I must say. We have little to bring with us, and have lived a very sparce life in the US, so we’re not spoiled. If you or anyone has some feedback or information to share, please send it my way.

    1. Eliana, Karmiel is a great place to live with room for a lot of different kinds of people. If it’s right for you, I can’t say. Have you considered a pilot trip? I know this is expensive, but there are things you can see in person that immediately make clear which community feels best in. I don’t know the prices in the places you mentioned, but I would be surprised if Karmiel were cheaper than any of them.

      Wishing you lots of luck in your decision making!

  10. Hi, I am a mother of 3 small children. Recently divorced and I plan to return to Karmiel with my kids. I am worried i will not cope on my own but I consider planning a trip to Israel alone and settle things before moving, like finding school, nursery school .
    Is iris a good area to live with kids? Are schools easy to enroll? Is finding babysitters a common practice on this city?

    1. Hi, Oriela, welcome! Being on your own is such a challenge.

      If you’re asking about the Irisin neighborhood, that’s close to where I live and if you are religious, the Amichai school and the hesder gan are right there. There’s also a public school and I’m sure there are local non-religous ganim. Since most people work, finding babysitters is a common issue and as far as I know, school enrollment is a straightforward process.

      Good luck!

  11. We’re planning on coming from a central Orthodox environment and wanting to move to Karmiel to be in that similar type of central Orthodox of America (I guess called Charedi in Israel or Karmiel). Our children will be entering either the HS or Post HS stage. Any recommendations on what to look for regarding hashgafa of the type of category we fit into?

    1. Hi, F, welcome! This is a challenging question since it’s so individual, but if you feel most comfortable with the charedi type education, then that would be the first thing to look into here. For kids in the post high school stage, you should be able to find an American style setting that will be what they’re used to in the US. Be sure to talk to your kids about what they want, to involve them in the process and let them have continued input. Good luck!

  12. Hi Avivah, we plan on making aliyah in the next few months and very much considering Karmiel as a place to settle. I noticed that your initial post describing Karmiel and the area (pros and cons) was over 2 years ago. Any way you can give a short update on how things have changed (improved, worsened, prices, …) in the past few years?

    Thanks!!

    1. Hi, Yochanan, welcome! You can join gonorthkarmiel@yahoogroups – I’ve seen a couple of smaller apartments advertised there for rent recently. Once you join, you can post your request and also look through the archives to see past postings.

      If you speak Hebrew or have someone who can speak Hebrew look at the online listings at yad2.com for you.

      The most expensive option is to go with a real estate agent. If you go that route, I recommend that Remax office in Karmiel. Good luck!

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