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!