Making Aliyah is one of the most meaningful moves that a family can make, but it also means leaving behind the familiarity, comfort, and customer service of their home country for this tiny sliver in the Middle East.
Making Aliyah is one of the most meaningful moves that a family can make. Some do it for ideological reasons, such as looking to fulfill ancient prophecies of national revival, others are looking to connect to the land of Israel. Even if it's just in the hopes of experiencing a more dynamic Jewish life, moving to Israel is often motivated by a desire for people to feel part of something bigger than themselves. However, while most Olim will tell you that living in Israel really is “living the dream,” they will also likely tell you that it doesn’t always feel like it. With that in mind we sat down with Josie Arbel, Director of Klitah Services at the AACI to get some insight into what steps young families can take to prepare for a successful Aliyah, including her four fundamentals that should be considered:
Clarifying your needs
Begin to network even before you arrive
Weighing out the risks
You must clarify your needs
When asked about the main topics that come up with any young family considering aliyah, Arbel didn’t miss a beat. “Employment, community, and education,” she answered confidently, “but a lot of aliyah is actually about clarifying what it is you want. Potential olim need to decide what they are willing to compromise on, and what they are not – the type of house they can afford, the type of car they’ll drive, the type of job they’ll work, the type of community they’ll live in and, just generally, how their lifestyle will differ.”
“Each person has to dig deep and turn their desire to live here into an understanding of what they are and are not willing to do, and how they can give their dreams shape in a practical and real way,” she continued, “you have to give thought to what is most important to you. The key to ensuring a successful aliyah is being flexible within your own limits.”
Arbel gave a practical example of this concept from her experience working with olim. “I was working with two olim in the same week many years ago,” Arbel recounted, “One said to me, ‘I really need to work. I’ll go do grunt shifts at a call center if it will let me go to ulpan, be around for the kids, and put food on the table. I’ll look for something better later.’ That same week, another oleh said to me, ‘There is a lot that I am willing to do, but if I need to go work at a call center, that is when I turn around and go back. That is my bottom line.’
“There is no general guideline except knowing the limits of your own flexibility,” concluded Arbel.
In addition to turning inward to define your own priorities, Arbel could not emphasize enough the importance of gathering as much information as possible before making decisions. “Olim should research as much as possible, so they can translate information into concrete decisions,” Arbel advised, “buy a notebook or a binder and start gathering everything you can find in one place. Then, you’ve got to break it down into manageable bits that you want to learn more about.”
When asked which resources are most helpful for potential Olim, Arbel said to start by simply gathering as much information as possible from as many places as possible. “Start with Google, turn to the AACI, to Nefesh b’Nefesh, to lists like Janglo and Anglo List, to Facebook groups, ask friends, go on forums,” she listed, “ask the same question in multiple places so that you can compare the answers and start to see common threads.”
Start Networking Now!
You start with your own basic research, but then you check with people on the ground. How did it work for you? Is it really as it is written? What tips do you have?”
AACI can connect people considering aliyah to those that can help them. “We connect people to people,” Arbel stated, “you need to speak to someone who has a child the same age as yours, or has kids in the school you are considering, or works in a company in your field, or lives in a community that sounds attractive to you.”
Ultimately, however, Arbel believes that speaking to other people about their personal experiences is invaluable. “Some information is widely available, you just need to sift through it and figure out how to apply it to yourself. And that is where speaking to people is helpful,” she advised, “ask them questions using an informational interview method. Make an appointment to sit down with someone who could help, and ask very specific questions. How is my training relevant? Will my degree be recognized? Ask about whatever it is you are trying to learn.
Weighing Out the Risks
When we asked Arbel if Aliyah is for everyone, she hesitated. “I think there are people for whom it is not a good idea right now,” she said carefully, “it is important to be honest when speaking with people for whom it is a risk. A potential Oleh needs to be able to look at the objective facts of his life – his income-earning potential, his professional potential, – and make a realistic decision. The biggest disappointment is when you only have a big amorphous dream, and then real challenges kick you in the face.”
“Some is financial,” she continued, “people often have unrealistic expectations of what the safety net is like here. We see it with retirees who have a fixed income and are not realistic about the cost of living they will encounter when they come. But when a person insists, then you have to look at the best, most realistic tools to accomplish what it is they want to accomplish within their limitations – so maybe you can’t live in the center of Jerusalem, but you can live somewhere less expensive!”
At the end of the day, Arbel advises that the most important thing is to be realistic about your strengths, weaknesses, and expectations. “When you make aliyah, you bring yourself with,” she warned, “if someone is not highly employable in America, they may not be employable here either. The challenges of Aliyah can take people who are already vulnerable and make things even harder for them.”
According to Arbel, when it comes to making aliyah, these guiding principles are the basis to success. Whether you are making decisions about employment, community, education, language, or all of the above, clarifying your priorities, doing thorough research, connecting to the right people, and being realistic, can help your family’s aliyah dream feel like one in reality.
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