“If I’m going to be poor, I might as well be poor in Israel”

Our one year aliyah anniversary is coming up in a week, and I’m hoping in the next week (as time constraints allow!) to post on a variety of aliyah related issues.  If you have a question about aliyah that you’d like me to respond to, please post it in the comment section and I’ll do my best to respond.  (One caveat – please don’t ask me if you should move to Karmiel – I get a lot of emails asking about this!)

In the past, it seemed that most of those making aliyah had planned and saved for years, had a huge chunk of savings, a home that they sold for a large profit, or some kind of solid financial cushion.  Whether that was the reality or just my perception, the fact is that now things have changed.

It’s interesting to me that so many people who aren’t making it financially in the US are opting to make aliyah to get a fresh start.   With free one way tickets to Israel along with the absorption benefits, it’s understandable how this can be very appealing to those having a hard time making ends meet.  (For the last three years, there were significant additional benefits for those moving to northern Israel, which are now no longer available, and these were even more enticing.)

It’s important to be clear before making the move here that almost everything costs more in Israel than in the US.  Expenses such as utilities are proportionate to US expenses but salaries are generally much lower.  (Things like food and car ownership/gas costs are higher, tuition and private health care are lower.)  When I’ve asked people who are struggling in the US about how they plan to make it financially in Israel, they’ve told me, “If I’m going to be poor, I might as well be poor in Israel.”  There’s a mitzva to live in Israel and all things being equal, of course it’s better to be here than in chutz l’aretz.  But all things aren’t equal.

If you’re planning to be poor, seriously consider staying in the US; in my opinion, it’s much harder to be poor in Israel.  Making aliyah is a wonderful thing, but dreams come crashing hard and fast when there’s not enough money to live.   Making aliyah takes a lot of money.  There are a extensive costs in setting up a home from scratch in a new country.  It can take a very long time to find employment, and you need to be able to get through until you have an income.  And there aren’t the financial safety nets that exist in the US and make it possible for the poor to live a tolerable life (eg food stamps, housing assistance).  If you’re going to be poor, stay where you have friends and family who can emotionally support you.  Stay where you speak the language, where you have connections and you know how to navigate the culture.

Having faith everything will work out can’t be your exclusive plan – some might call this wishful thinking.    This is a tough thing to balance because you do need to take a huge leap of faith to make the move.

If you’re struggling in the US, ask yourself why you’re struggling.  Sometimes a change in location will open up new opportunities and possibilities that will help you shift your financial situation for the better.  But more often, the reasons you struggled in the US will come along with you.  Making aliyah will not make you or your spouse a motivated go-getter, provide you with education or work experience in a given field, or give you a good work ethic.  It will not improve your marriage or your communication about tough subjects like money, or make it easier to be financially responsible or live within your means.  But if you can be honest about what got you to where you were and address these underlying issues that caused the problems for you in the past, there’s every reason to think that you can have a more positive experience in Israel.

I love living in Israel, and I feel privileged on a daily basis to be here.  And I want everyone who moves here to have a positive experience!  So think about the tough questions regarding money before you come, change your ‘stinking thinking’, make a plan, and then work your plan!


60 thoughts on ““If I’m going to be poor, I might as well be poor in Israel”

  1. I have mixed feelings about this topic. I agree with you that many things are harder financially in Israel, but at the same time, there are many reasons why its easier to be poor in Israel. Health insurance and schooling is a big one. Cheaper fruits and vegetables is another. A lot of people struggling financially so you have a support system of people who “get you” instead of feeling pressure to keep up to the standards of the richer people around you. Lots of gmachim. Good public transportation that you can live without a car. Easier to get a shomer shabbos job, especially if you’re an unskilled person without any degree.
    My husband and I have considered moving back to the states, and we keep on flip flopping about it, and these are issues we’ve definitely considered. In the end, if we move to the US, it won’t be for financial reasons, it would be because of hashkafic reasons.

    1. Ronit, what you’re saying is true; it’s not black and white. But remember, you’re writing as someone already living here, you have your support system – you didn’t move here with the belief that you’d rather be poor here. Some people who have made the move and found out how hard it is to be poor here have already told me they want to move back to the US, that it’s easier there.

      1. I don’t think the support system I have would be so difficult for a new oleh to make. The things I find more difficult here financially are: expensive grains, expensive gluten free products, difficulty of buying things wholesale/in bulk, being nickle and dimed for everything, lack of second hand stores and garage sales, only the occasional clothing gmach but nothing like goodwill or whatever, more expensive glasses, more expensive health food products, no food stamps/wic or housing assistance for people struggling financially, etc. It certainly isn’t black and white, and I know people who said they’d make aliya because better be poor here than be poor there, and they have been very happy with their choice to make aliya.

        1. The support system I’m referring to isn’t just friends, but familiarity with resources. That takes time – to learn where the cheap sales are (and even to learn what a normal price is takes time), where the second hand stores are, etc. I used to agree with those who said they’d rather be poor here and know that there are those who are happy to be here even if they’re poor, but people need to be aware of the reality and make an informed choice for themselves.

    2. We are a failed aliyah, came poor baring college degrees and know- how, starry eyes and a head full of compelling Dvrei Torah on why we absolutely HAD to do it, to be good Jews. (We were young then, and stupid). Ended up getting screwed over, what meager savi b gs we had ripped from us by scam artists, and were put by the Jewish agency, in a place with only all wealth Americans who could barely speak Hebrew. Couldn’t even keep up with rent, and it was the worst of American culture, just with more of an even sharper bend towards racism for black Jews, arab Jews—- any Jew who was poor, disabled, or “ethnic”. Still in treatment for PTSD from what happened to us there.

      1. So sorry to hear of your experience, Sarah – it sounds extremely difficult. I hope that where you’re living now is better for you emotionally and financially.

  2. Avivah, I think this is one of the best “reality” Israel article I’ve ever read. Many of my ulpan mates who are in their 50’s told me that they would stay in Israel until the “money” (meaning savings) runs out and then if they still don’t have a job, they will have to move back to the States. They didn’t sell their house as they are still on the market, nobody wants to buy, due to the economic slump.

    Another “reality” about Israel is school issues. Several of my aliyah-mates have returned to their “home” (origin) country due to this, after 2-3 years of sticking it out, even though the parents have a good job, but the family is unhappy.

    Also to consider if if you are making aliyah with older parents who have chronic illness. I must tell you that many questions about medical issues go unanswered by the NBN staff before the aliyah. A real issue is getting medicines that are approved by the Israeli Medical authorities, that sometimes you can’t get them because they are only approved for certain illness even though you can easily get them in the States or Canada. Some people schlep (read smuggle) their medicines through couriers from US/Canada regularly. Even if you have very good insurance that you pay extra for, you may still not be able to get treated by the specialists in Israel unless you dish out extra shekels up front (in the hundreds). My mil made aliyah with us, and the situation was not good. She couldn’t get her meds because they were only approved for Alzheimers but she has similar symptoms even though she doesn’t have Alzheimers. Her situation got very bad, and all the doctors were able to do were give her Vitamin B12. The Parkinsons meds that they gave her was different and caused her limbs to be stiff and her mind was totally gone and unresponsive. She was a total wreck when we took the plane back to the States. But after a better well-managed care with her old doctors, her situation did a reversal for the better, which was a miracle by us.

    1. Hi, the best way to negotiate the israeli medical system (and get a break) is to take advantage of one of the medical referral organizations. I strongly suggest that you get in touch with Magen Lachole (Rav Benny Fisher) – google this. hey take phone inquiries every day and can help you find the best solution and resource for the problem

      1. I am miserable in USA. I lived in Israel when I was a kid, in the Gadna,and Kibbutz. I miss the unity, the sense of belonging. I wish I’d stayed. It.sounds hard now, I’m 49, divorced, highly educated with a Masters Degree. I am broke though. Sounds like I’m stuck! I paid for a move to Israel in 2008, but chickened out, being alone.

  3. HI my name is Liba Yoffe my family and I(husband And 2 young kids)
    plan to move to Karmiel after the chagim we are now in America but lives in yerushalayim since we got married were just here for a few months trying to make some money
    tha reson we are moving from Yerushalayim is becouse we are trying to find a place to settle down in. I would like to share with you our resond And would like to hear what your opinion would be if Karmiel sounds like its something for us.
    We do not want to bring up out kids in a large city(yerushalayim) we have a daughter who has Alapecia(an auto immuni condition of hair loose
    0 she is totaly healthy but we feel a smaller community would be better for her
    We want a place that the schools are more open than the BAis Yaakov in the center. My husband was learning in ,kollel he plans on getting a job and not being in the kollel.. We are not yeshivish(meaning my husband wears gray pants and doesnt have a beared.. i dress 100 totaly Tznius more colorful Tichuls … we are open to adjust, depending on the expectations meaning out standards of yiddishkeit the same as the kollel ppl we just dont look exactly the same.. its confusing to express. We really want to live in eretz Yisroel we feel the level of gasmius is so much lower their and the ruchnius is so much higher.
    We want it to work so we
    plan on tring it out for a year what do you think???
    liba yoffe

    1. I understand what you mean about the kind of community you’re looking for. Since you’re already coming to Karmiel (and though I didn’t meet you, I believe you visited here for Shabbos, didn’t you?), it sounds like you’re looking for reassurance that it’s a good choice. Karmiel is a great choice for someone looking for a more open and accepting charedi community.

  4. I respectfully disagree. We were poor in US, or thought that we were. And yes, we were using the social safety net – housing assistance and food stamps. Why did we move? Because we did not want our kids to grow up “american” in a worst sense of that word – measuring everything in money, luxuries, e.t. c. We wanted them first and foremost to be Jews. We also knew very well why we were poor. If no one noticed US has been in a heavy economic hole for the past 5 years or so and that hole is only getting deeper so far. I am semi-disabled, too disabled to work outside my house, not enough to get disability benefits.. DH has not been able to find a job in IT field, that has been hit very hard. And yes, being an Orthodox Jew had a lot to do with it. One place would only keep him on if he worked on Fridays until a certain time, it was nerve wreaking in the Winter! Another place told him that they were happy to have him, please come on Monday, just get rid of that beard before you come. Yes, they did say it outright, His work as a machgiach kashrus payed little, and he had not had a raise in 7 years, His boss simply did not believe in them things. With seven kids what else could we be but poor, And yes, the deciding argument was “we might as well be poor in Israel”.
    One never knows what will happen. We lost all the money we got from the Absorption ministry and NBN, Not because we spend it on frivolities, or due to poor business investments. At fault was the Israeli legal system and our not understanding of it. And this is how we got to be really poor. I think it is very arrogant to think that one can “plan ahead”. One never knows what is beyond horizon. A wonderful job, another baby, someone unexpectedly re-paying a debt or a debilitating illness. And all plans become nothing, as solid as smoke.
    What did we learn? First and foremost that we can survive even when it is very hard. That many things we believed to be necceseties turned out to be luxuries. And that G-d is always with us. It is fairly easy to be poor in our community. Almost every one else is. So there is no social pressure or expectations to be met. This was a very good lesson for us and our kids. People are warmer and even very poor people are often very open-handed. With 7 kids in tow we never luck invitations for Shabbos. Not many people invited large families over in N.Y. We learned to cooperate with friends – we do one seuda, they do another, both families eat.
    So no, we are not sorry we left. And we are not going back.

    1. Hi, Henya, welcome!

      Thank you for your comment – I really enjoyed it! You’re right that plans can fall apart, but that doesn’t mean a person shouldn’t have plans. Plans are important and at the same time, humility is important in accepting that we can plan and things don’t always work out, that Hashem is in charge. If you don’t mind sharing, what happened that you lost all of your absorption benefits? That is alarming and sounds like something others need to be aware of.

      You touched on something else, and that’s the importance of a higher purpose giving meaning to decisions that people make, and the difference focusing on the good can make in finding happiness in every situation. I agree with all of your points about the lack of social pressure (I had written about this in this post and then deleted it because I was trying to stay focused), and this is a big plus.

  5. I am also curious about the loss of benefits factor. That caught my attention. Hoping for clarification. Also in terms of US vs IL, I do think there is more for a family to do in IL for free than in the US. The Israeli culture is more conducive to activities such as hiking, picnicing, going to the beach instead of the mall and shopping shopping and more shopping. Now when I do take my kids to a movie or store they are more impressed and excited. They have regained the wow factor which is nice to see. Going to eat out is also more special to them since it is not as often in IL. The biggest expense is a car, gas, registration and insurance. Also electricity and water are also high. Additionally you pay taxes to the municipality even if you rent-odd concept to me. The major balancing factors are free schools and the health system-but then again both will be different from what an American is used to. Anyone who wants more details is free to contact me.

    1. Susan, I find your comment so interesting about there being more to do in Israel for free! My perspective is exactly the opposite! My kids go to stores much more than they ever did before; we were never a mall hopping family. But it’s very likely because I don’t have a car, so I feel very limited in this area. (I started writing a post about this last week, hope to finish it this week.)

      Also, only the public schools are free; this is an important distinction because tuition can really add up here if your children aren’t attending schools that are fully state funded.

    2. There aren’t more free things in Israel, all those free stuff plus more is available in the us as well , people just do free stuff more here because the paying things are just so gosh darn expensive, much more than their American equivalent.

      1. Ronit.. the prices here are not any more than they are in the US .. in fact in many cases they are less. Just check out the prices for Great Adventures etc.. going to museums.. etc..

      2. Compare the price of a movie, the price of admission to museums, to the zoo, for a slice of pizza, to amusement parks… Some in Israel are more expensive than in the US. Others are the same, but when you take into consideration the salary difference, they’re much more expensive here in proportion to salary.

        1. Ronit.. did you ever try Moshav Yishi? It’s around 20 shekel per child. Granted you can take your kid to chuck e ‘cheese in the US for free… but there really arent’ that many things to do for free. The bronx zoo costs money too.. even the Staten Island Zoo.. .. Most frum people do not have the extra cash hanging around for fun chol hamoed trips or fun summer trips.. My cousin and her husband both have to work super full time jobs to support their family of 5 kids in Monsey.. This idea that life in America is soo much cheaper is a myth. For a frum family it’s a struggle to live anywhere because being frum is expensive.

          My husband and I werent’ doing that great in the US. We lived in Brooklyn and the only appt we could afford was a basement apartment with two bedrooms for almost 1000 dollars. I know rent here got high in recent years.. When I first got married I lived in a one bedroom apt for 450 dollars. I guess Hash-m wanted me to not have such a comfy existence in the US to help me a long with my goal of living in EY.

          A Rav in the seminary I went to told a few of the girls who went to his house for Shabbos that if we really want to move to EY that we should not wait until we have tons of money.. we should make a plan and go.

          If I wanted to I could hate the healthsystem here because the hospital that I went to for a D &C really did a horrid job and inevitably caused me to have a hysterectomy with my next pregancy but I won’t. The hospital who took care of me during my last pregnancy was amazing .

          I feel like I have been literally guided by Hash-m in my life here. A person does have to be realistic when coming here .. but to make it seem that it’s better to be poor in America is not necessarily entirely accurate. Money isnt’ everything.

      3. The Bronx zoo is free certain days of the week, as are most museums in NY. I wrote a whole write up in Ami about free chol hamoed trips, so I know whats available free in NY. There isn’t similar here.

  6. Great Post, Avivah!
    You really bring up a lot of important points but my favorite one is the part about how whatever problems you wish to escape tend to make aliyah with you.
    I’ve just marked my 11th anniversary in Israel, and I am still adjusting. Lanuguage, job, housing, schools – those initial challenges are behind me. Now I am working on an even more intense transition – which is truly crossing the cultural divide in my mind.
    I’m working on accepting and respecting the values of the dominant culture around me, rather than continuousy comparing them to what I’m used to, angrily rejecting them, and stressing myself over what I perceive to be the shortcomings of the society. I will never be an Israeli, but I think I can come to peaceful terms with the reality of Israel.
    Life in Israel is my reality. There is so much good in it. I see much to be grateful for in my life here. And the aliyah journey has been satisfying and mind-broadening in a very positive sense.

    1. Naomi, I believe you’re the only person to respond to what I felt was the most important point I made in the entire post! I’m glad it wasn’t totally overlooked.

  7. I think you’ve addressed the money questions well. Thank you. My questions are about employment and frum culture.
    Someone told me that it’s much harder for older Olim (50s) to get work. Is this reality? My husband has a (seemingly) solid job in America and we don’t have savings, so that would be a deal breaker.
    Also, I’ve heard a lot about social division. My husband is a chassid. I’m not (although I’ve taken on his minhagim). We home educate. Our community in the States is diverse and we can find the people we need. (friends, Rav, teachers, etc) Are there better and worse places for a square peg family in Israel?
    Thanks, and Mazal Tov on one year!

    1. The short answer to your questions are:

      1) Yes, age discrimination definitely exists here for those over age 50 – and several people have told me they believe it’s for those over 40. My husband is over 40 and did find work, but maybe he’s the exception, I don’t know. I hate to tell someone not to come here, but if you’re depending on finding employment here, you’ll have to be prepared to take whatever is offered to you, at whatever salary level. Some work experience is of more value when coming here, and I’d suggest researching your specific fields to see what the demand is here, and if you can make contacts with people in the field here in Israel to get their feedback. Another idea is to consider waiting until you are drawing a pension from the US that you can live on here.

      2) Oy, another hard question about social division. Sigh. This is something that is really hard. I hope to share some more extensive thoughts on my own experience with this in the near future about this, but if you have children, then that’s when it becomes more of an issue. There are no easy answers.

      I truly believe that there’s a place for every Jew here, so please take anything that I write as a reason to research or plan more, but not to say that Israel isn’t and will never be for you!

  8. Sharon it’s not just olim and its not just Israel. age discrimination is very common nowadays, no one wants to hire people over fifty when you can hire youngsters. my 50 some year old step dad, Israeli, has been out out work 5 years.

  9. Another benefit financially to living in Israel vs living in the US- you can live in the “boonies” to save money and to homestead, and you still have access to jewish amenities like mikva, minyan, kosher food, and schools. Can’t usually have that in the US.

    1. Ronit, this is an excellent point. In Israel, you can live almost everywhere and be dati (as you list – find kosher food, a school, a shul, a mikvah, etc). Not so in the USA where you have to live within walking distance of a shul where the homes are generally much more expensive than homes in surrounding areas.

    2. Ronit

      I am a 68 year old Jewish woman who still has a dream to come to Israel to live. However I would not have much money and am retired, of course and a widow.
      Where in Israel do you call the boonies? I might be interested in living there

  10. I view our aliyah process similiar to that of when we became religious or thought about having children. We had to change our entire life once before, neither situation we were financially prepared for (religious life and having children). Bitachon is so important in so many respects, although I do value your points. As a religious Jew our options are so limited in the US. I never felt comfortable even as a non religious Jew living in the US growing up in small town america. I could not even imagine living ANYWHERE else but Israel and I am VERY determined to make it work as we truely believe we are finally “HOME”. I waited 20 years to finally move to Israel and am 150 percent committed to finding a way to make it work. Jews have so many more options here as opposed to the socio-economic divides in the US, let alone the “Jewish” peer pressure in terms of career paths one takes in the US.

      1. AMEN! I am VERY thankful to Hakodesh Baruch Hu for finally having the privledge to eat, live and breath in the kedusha of Eretz Yisrael on a daily basis. But your points are well received in terms of governmental help with food and healthcare in the States. But in the same breath that is not a perfect formula as it does nothing to encourage one to get out of the rut of public assistance. Either way, very thankful to be able to contribute to Israel and can not wait to give back once I do get a job!

  11. Here is a secret re: being poor in Israel . . . .

    King David says “I am poor and alone” – this is the pit.

    We can learn from this three things about making it here in Israel.

    1. If one is poor but not alone (i.e. has very close friends or family they can rely on emotionally and occasionally financially), one can make it here – for most Israelis, this is their secret.

    2. If one has money, but is alone, they can also make it – King Solomon says, “Money answers everything.” – And in Israel, having money helps, especially in terms of providing your family with resources that help them adjust and grow.

    3. But if one is poor AND has no family. . . that’s really hard, and its hard to make it. Recently, I participated in a “bail out” to get a family of olim tickets to go back to the States. . . they have returned to the US, are are back on their feet, missing Israel, but with Shalom restored in their lives. THERE IS NO SHAME IN THIS.

    Any prospective oleh would be wise to consider King David’s formula! At the very least it provides a means of analysis.

  12. This topic is very relevant to me because my oldest son recently made aliyah at 19 and his younger brother wants to follow. We didn’t push either of them to do this but when they finished a year of gap-year yeshiva studies with the aliyah fire in their bellies, we didn’t object either. In addition for the ideological reasons to move to Israel, we didn’t feel we could tell them, “stay in America, go to college here and your lives will be easier and more comfortable.” Nor did we want to encourage them to get their education here and “save up” for a later move, since getting a college and graduate education here could land them in long-term debt that they will struggle to get on top of, much less save up for aliyah. As hard as it is for us to let them go, we feel it will make their klita smoother if they have a chance to absorb the language and the culture as young people. Are they guaranteed to succeed in Israel? No, but there are no guarantees here either so they might as well follow their dreams.

    We’ve spoken to many people who made aliyah as adults and some said they wished they had gone when they were younger, but others felt the degrees they got here provided them with an advantage when they moved there.

    1. I agree that it’s easier to go when you’re younger, and 19 is a great time because they can get their higher education here (paid for by the Israeli government for olim), make contacts that will help later professionally, and learn the language and culture. I’ve also spoken with many people who told me they wished they could move to Israel, but they waited too long and now it’s too late for them – in those cases, they said they were staying in the US to get an education, and then stayed longer and longer for more and more reasons. Then they had families, then their children were too old, then they had grandchildren or elderly parents….

  13. Bravo on this courageous and important post.
    When I wrote an article about (charedi) American families making aliyah ( http://www.rabbihorowitz.com/PYes/ArticleDetails.cfm?Book_ID=849&ThisGroup_ID=238&ID=Newest&Type=Article&SID=22 ) a number of years ago, I was criticized for discouraging aliyah. But all of the Rabbonim and mechanchim that I spoke to only encouraged me, because they saw first-hand the pitfalls of moving to Israel when you’re not prepared to handle it.
    I won’t forget when I went with Rav Noach Orlowek to speak to Rav Sheinberg zt”l in preparation for the article and the first words to come out of the gadol’s mouth were, “Gelt! If someone does not have the money to support themselves, they should not make aliyah with a family.”
    May we all merit to live in the Holy Land, happily fulfilling Hashem’s will.

    1. My husband’s Rebbi (who learned in Torah Ore under R’ Scheinberg ZT”L) told us that as long as we had direction we were okay. The NBN money sufficed. We went with over 8,000 dollars in debt which we quickly repayed with tax money. You can plan all you want but then things happen. I couldn’t work at all the second year we were here because I was on bedrest and we incurred a huge debt. B”H when my daughter was 8 months old I got a good job. We were able to buy a home (granted we did borrow from gemachim etc) but still. You just need to have a path and be smart about it. I had also spoke to my Rav from sem and he also said parnasa but saw that we had a path as well. People just need to be realistic and smart in how they live. Life is expensive in both the US and Israel. My mother lives in NY and most of her friends are on debt management plans . I have a cousin who tells me that life in America isn’t cheap either. Everybody who makes aliyah needs to ask their Rav the shayla but it is doable if you are determined to do it. When our grandparents immigrated to the US they dealt with whatever they can afford. That means if you can only afford x amount of bedrooms you do that and other things of the like. People also have to realize that you have to sacrifice some things in order to live in EY but that it’s worth it.

  14. I wish I had read something like this a few years ago. We made aliyah a little over 2 years ago from a vibrant Jewish community in the US to a small northern Israel community. The lack of employment and community has devestated us. We have been in shock at how our dream of living in Israel has faded away as we use the money we saved to buy a home to buy groceries and gas. For a while we were like deer in headlights- unable to move or plan or think about what to make of this reality. We have been through stages of despair, confusion, anger, betrayal and finally are able to plan a new phase in our lives. Knowing the reality would have saved our family a lot of harship-I hope this article finds its way to those who need these wise words.

    1. I thought this was the type of thing that Nefesh B’Nefesh was supposed to prevent. I’m curious what type of aliyah counseling you received and how much time you had spent in Israel before making aliyah.
      I’m sorry to hear it’s been so rough for you. I hope your situation improves soon, wherever it may be.

    2. Batsheva, I wish I didn’t have to welcome you to my blog under these conditions. But welcome!

      I know that your situation isn’t uncommon, definitely not for those who make aliyah to the north. When I write these posts I worry that I sound too negative, but I’m trying to temper the tendency people have to assume it will all work out so that they don’t end up feeling victimized or tricked. I think most people will dismiss what I’m writing as being too negative.

      Do you mind me asking what is the next stage you’re moving toward?

  15. Am disagreeing. Not everyone who was struggling in the US was not motivated, or has to figure out why they were struggling.

    When I stopped working out of the house for my babies to be born, my husband was a public school teacher, making a steady salary with benefits. They neighborhood he’d lived in for decades had gentrified intensely and became one of the most expensive in the country (not an exaggeration) and the tiny apartment he’d owned kept us in that neighborhood. We couldn’t afford to shop in the neighborhood markets because they were so outrageously expensive, so much husband shlepped groceries from Brooklyn on the subway. Our son was bullied at the local yeshiva, and because we were “the scholarship case” and his tormentors were from the donors’ families, the school did nothing. I worked from home, and that money was pocket change at best.

    We made aliyah six years ago b’H and that work from home (not much more money) now supports us here. The money from the tiny apartment we sold disappeared in a flash thanks to 2008, so now we’re struggling here as well.

    And you know what? If we’re going to be poor, we might as well be poor in Israel. The whole social contract is different here. If you’re not living in an Anglo ghetto, anyway, the materialistic ethos doesn’t exist the same way. The designer clothes, the fancy vacations, it’s just not happening.

    One of our kids did go (briefly) to a school here with a number of Anglos from one of those Anglo ghettos, and you know what? They were viciously cruel that he was not a “real” Anglo because he didn’t go to European vacations and didn’t have Wii and whathaveyou.

    It’s a struggle here, and we’re basically making whatever money we can however we can (yes, we return bottles for pikadon and we’re not too proud to ask for gas money for lifts) but at least we’re here. Not saying there’s no materialism, not saying it’s all holiness and joy, but at least we’re not surrounded by everything that isn’t.

    And no, we don’t have the support network here … although our closest friends have moved here, too, they’re struggling as well … we’re computer specialists working cleaning other people’s houses, scientists working stacking melons in the shuk and the like, … and we’re not so young, so no one is so quick to hire us. And we don’t know the language so well, either.

    But you know what? It’s the immigrant experience. That’s it. All over the world, first-generation immigrants have a hard road. Did we think we’d be immune just because we’re Americans? But the point is that we didn’t come here for the work and we didn’t come here for the easy existence. We came here for our children. And our children are learning and growing and living a life they never could come close to in the States. And they all love it here. Here we’re not the poor cousins, and here everyone wears hand-me-downs from the neighbors and here we can be struggling and still live a full Jewish life.

    It doesn’t get any better than this. b’H.

    Please, everybody, come. Just come.

    1. :) I am taking all of everything in. But this post really spoke to me. We are thinking of making Aliyah. I need to read the pros and cons, the good stories and the struggling ones. This experience is sort of what I expect for us when I think of making aliyah. It’s not so far from what we do now only we aren’t in Israel.

    2. This sounds to hard for me I’d be 100% alone, and I.am partially disabled back, arms too. This kind of limits me.I having a
      Masters in Counseling Psychology, but am very poor here.Jobs, limited, low paying. I am 49 I wanted to marry a Jewish man, I screed up! Yikes!

  16. Aliyah is not an easy process, however, there are a few things to keep in mind. Even though salaries are lower, expenses are also lower. We have health care provide, no high tuition costs, and in many locations, one can manage without a car (yes, even with kids). Also, when coming to Israel, one has to be willing to lower their standard of living. If you work hard and are determined to make it here, you can survive. While I’m not judging anybody who chose to go back, but I know many people here with not a lot of money who are very happy.
    Also, we may think aliyah is hard, but it was a heck of a lot harder 100 years ago, even 20 years ago. We just need to see things in perspective.

  17. My concern is the health care. Everyone says how great it is…but what if you are 74 have diabetes, kidney disease and rely on medications. And you are 62 and take meds for blood pressure and cholestero? I have read that there is a cap on supplemental insurance. So once one of you is hospitalized..that it. I also read that the private insurance companies will not cover pre existing diseases. Anyone know if this is true? Also can retiree couple live on 12,000 Shekels a month….without a car….but paying for health?

    1. Hi, Kathi, welcome!

      I’m sorry, I don’t have personal experience with the specifics regarding to people in this age group and with the health issues you mentioned. However, my mother made aliyah four months ago and will soon need to have hip replacement surgery, and she is SO grateful for the health care coverage here – in the US she would have had to suffer because she didn’t have the necessary coverage. I know she pays for the more expensive coverage – I don’t remember how much it is, but I think around 100 shekels a month. She has medications that she takes but I’d have to ask her about how much she pays and if any of them are covered by her insurance.

      I would think that a retired couple could live fairly comfortably on the amount you mentioned if they aren’t living in a high cost of living area.

  18. I loved in Israel for 6 months. It is way more expensive than living in America. This is because people get paid in shekels and everything costs in dollars. Going out to restaurants, to the movies, grocery shopping, clothes shopping and buying gas is very very expensive. I couldn’t survive the lifestyle there..It was very depressing. Moving back to America was the best decision I ever made. Now I truly appreciate the freedom of America and can actually enjoy life now rather than just surviving.

  19. I’d love to come. I have savings that could get me by for awhile, but I’m on disability for quite some time. Only part of it would cary over to Israel. I’d be able to work part time but that is really it. Every time I come I don’t want to leave, which is where I’m at once again. Perhaps this is a dream that can only be a dream.

  20. Wow thanks for writing such a negative toned blog about aliyah to israel. If I were easily scared I may cancel my plans for aliyah because if this post. Most of the comments on here all refer back to money money money. I highly doubt that is what should be the main concern in making aliyah. My family and I are about to make aliyah in a few weeks and we have very little savings it’s almost embarrassing. But one thing I do have is faith. Also I have a husband that is israeli with plenty of family waiting for us to come home. I’m so grateful to have a supportive family and faith is hashem that everything will work out just as it should. Money is definitely not everything. Please don’t try to scare people about Israel and it’s culture. It’s not america. If you want to be comfortable stay in America. If you want to challenge yourself and live for something other than money than aliyah may be right for you.

    1. If an honest post from someone who moved to Israel without extensive financial resources, without receiving a penny of sal klita money, without family, but with spiritual aspirations and a deep love for Israel, sharing about the reality of living in Israel would keep someone from making aliyah, he shouldn’t come. It’s important to deal with life on life’s terms and this post is to help people prepare for that so that they can have a successful aliyah.

      Please reread what I wrote because I was very careful and specific about what I said. It may be too nuanced for a casual and quick read through.

      Wishing you a very successful aliyah!

  21. Hi

    This blog is interesting. I already said in my earlier comment that I was an older Jewish woman, a widow, without much money.

    But for reasons that I cannot print out here, I live a solitary life although I do have friends and a daughter here. I live alone without a car. I do not go shopping, or to the mall, or the movies. All my clothes are bought from thrift stores or were given to me.

    I have a modest and very comfortable house that is paid for and a yard that I love. Also a dog who I love intensely.

    But I still yearn for Israel. I have one friend there who I have known over 50 years however I would not rely financially on her. I have always been independent and prefer to stay that way, thankfully I am very healthy.

    I live on a VERY small pension that I get from England (my original home where I was born) If I live my dream and come to Israel to live I would like to live in nature, not in the City, so the boonies would do me very well.

    Sorry if this drags on
    I would be interested to hear your comments

  22. I made aliya over 15 years ago, single, without any real plan, but was solvent and healthy. Back then I was very gung-ho about living in Israel and only speaking Hebrew. These days my approach is much more nuanced.

    The first thing I would say is it is for none of us to judge anyone else for not making aliya or for making it but with the wrong attitude. I’m not American, and in my experience Americans tend to think that everything is better in America, which is really not true. For example, my doctor in Israel is American and she told me about someone who wouldn’t make aliya on account of a medical issue, but that the treatment was better in Israel. As for higher education, American bachelor degrees are extremely expensive and often not of a very high standard. And obviously the standard of Jewish education for children is much higher in Israel.

    It is impossible to make generalisations about aliya because there are the extremes of wild success, abysmal failure and everything in between. It’s really a matter of mazal.

    My advice would be to make aliya to an English speaking community. Do not go overboard trying to integrate until you have found your feet and are settled. It will be much easier.

    As for work, these days there are many location free jobs, such as teaching English, virtual assistants, etc, etc. Try to have income streams set up before coming. Things will be much easier.

    There will be plenty of time afterwards to learn Hebrew and integrate.

    A very good resource is the website “janglo”: you can find everything there and ask questions.


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