How To: Learn Hebrew

Competency in the Hebrew language is the single most important skill you can acquire before making Aliyah. Does this mean that Aliyah is off the table if you don’t speak a word of Hebrew? No, it is fairly simple to get by day to day living in English, especially as a tourist or student. But for those making Aliyah consider this: what happens when you receive your electric bill, your army draft notice, or your lab results from your doctor all in Hebrew? How do you sign a rental contract for an apartment when you don’t understand what’s in the fine print? In some of these cases it helps to have a friend translate, in others it’s better to have a lawyer deal with any legal issues. Nevertheless, for any non-legal issues it is important to try to be as independent as possible. There are several ways to learn Hebrew, both before and after Aliyah:

  1. Find a Tutor- Learning from an Israeli tutor is an invaluable resource. If you have the basics down, start focusing on advancing your conversational Hebrew. It’s one thing to understand Hebrew when reading or hearing it. It’s quite another to be able to speak back in Hebrew, even more so using more advanced vocabulary. Challenge yourself to start speaking with an Israeli dialect, and to have as little of an accent as possible. If you do not have access to a tutor locally, try reaching out on some of the Facebook groups. Many people run a business tutoring people online through Skype, FaceTime, and Whatsapp.
  2. Online Language Learning Programs- After having a tutor, the next best thing for beginners is to learn through online programs. Some examples of these are Rosetta Stone, Duolingo, and HebrewPod101. I would recommend Rosetta Stone only for those just learning their letters and first few words. Duolingo and HebrewPod101 are a better choice for a long term investment, as they also teach more advanced vocabulary and sentence structures.
  3. Translate Israeli News Articles- Once you know the basics of Hebrew, you can begin to build your vocabulary by translating news articles from Hebrew to English. This process is long and often tedious, but it is effective.
  4. Watch Israeli Movies/TV Shows- You’ll hear Hebrew spoken more naturally in conversation, and it’ll be a challenge to keep up with the speed at which the actors are speaking! Another thing to try: listening to Israeli music.
  5. Take Advantage of Ulpan- Ulpan is an intensive Hebrew learning program offered to olim for free up to five months. You will be tested for your baseline, and then sorted into a class based on your proficiency. There are many different kind of ulpanim spread throughout the country, and each one offers something a little different to stand out from the rest. It is important to do your research into which ulpan will be right for you. Some things to consider are location, hours per day/week, and the target student population.
  6. Talk to Israelis on the Street- even when they want to practice their English upon hearing your accent, insist on conversing in Hebrew. This will also increase your vocabulary and usage of Hebrew slang terms. Here you will learn how to speak more like a local using the common vernacular versus the grammatically proper speech taught in ulpan.

How To: Travel Around Israel

Travelling around Israel can be a little tricky. Luckily, many of the street signs are in three languages (Hebrew, Arabic, and English) so you can easily find your way around.

Car: You can easily rent a car with your driver’s license from your home country. If you have made Aliyah, you’ll eventually need to get an Israeli driver’s license. If you have been licensed for at least five years, you will not even need to take the driving exam. Pros for driving: Freedom and flexibility to go anywhere in Israel, it is faster than taking a bus, and probably cheaper than using a taxi. Cons: Finding parking in the big cities, steep gasoline prices, driving in Israel (To say driving on the roads in Israel is dangerous would be an understatement), and if you’re not familiar with the area you may accidentally wander into an Arab village.

Bus: Israel has a very well-developed public bus system. In the main cities, most of the waiting times are between 5-20 minutes until the next bus. Moovit is on the app store, and it is essential to have in order to plan your route and find your stop when using the buses. The only con to using this app is you may have to type your destination in Hebrew on occasion. If you are unable to do this, Google Maps is a great alternative. In Jerusalem, if you switch buses within 90 minutes of first using your Rav Kav, each following bus is free. Just be sure to swipe your Rav Kav each time you get on the bus for validation. I’m not sure if the 90 minute rule applies to anywhere else in Israel, but I know it exists in Jerusalem.

Taxi: You can take a taxi in Israel, though it is very expensive. It’s also a bit of a gamble unless you know the driver is trustworthy. If you use a taxi, try to make sure there are other passengers in the car with you. Also, if they pick up on you being a tourist they will try to overcharge you. Insist on having the meter running, even if they claim it’s broken. Have an agreed upon price before you start your journey. Pros: Almost the same flexibility and freedom as renting a car, you don’t need to worry about parking, and you’ll have someone to talk to during a long journey. Cons: They will try to swindle you, and it can be a bit of a safety risk.

Tremp: Otherwise known as hitchhiking is something a lot of Israelis engage in. There are Facebook groups dedicated to tremping from city to city. This is a very dangerous method of travelling in Israel, and not recommended for people new to the land and the culture. Unfortunately some areas of Israel are not very developed, and this means there isn’t public transportation. So those who don’t have a car have to either carpool or tremp to get where they need to go.

Train: The method of using the train or light rail system in Israel is very similar to using Israeli buses. The 90 minute rule also applies here. Pros: Travel a lot faster, can also use Moovit. Cons: May be more expensive, not as many different places you can travel to using this method.

Airplane: There are three airports in Israel that are available for use: Ben Gurion near Tel Aviv, Ramon near Eilat, and the Haifa airport. Ben Gurion is the main international airport, and any flights that need to be redirected are sent to the Ramon airport. Getting to Eilat can be a four hour drive each way from Jerusalem, so while expensive it may be worth it to get a ticket from Tel Aviv and fly into Ramon if you’re planning a day trip.

Your Story: Jason Marx

I grew up on the coast of Cape Town, South Africa. After finishing school I was hungry for adventure, I wanted to learn more about Judaism as well as live on my own. I packed a bag at 19 and went on a gap year program in Israel, fully expecting to come back to Cape Town to start uni at the end of my gap year. 

I had a really life-changing first year in Israel. I focused on inner growth as well as learning in yeshiva because this was the first time in my life that I had the opportunity to do so. While in yeshiva I begin to travel the country visiting as many places as I could, especially for Shabbas. I began to meet the most amazing people living here, with fascinating and inspiring stories. The more I explored the land, the more I grew to love it and then it was all over- in a flash my amazing year in Israel was coming to an end.   

I felt that I’d gain so much in that year yet I had so much more I wanted to experience. The thought of college lingered over me like a black cloud, I wasn’t really even sure what I wanted to study. I realized that Israel could be my home, but I couldn’t even read Hebrew from a Siddur let alone speak it. One of the requirements for making Aliyah at my age was serving in the army- how was I supposed to do the army with no basic Hebrew?

After a lot of research, I found out that you have a year before the army calls you up. So I decided to make officially make aliyah while still living in Israel, a process that took about 3 months. I started looking at ulpans (places that teach you Hebrew) and I realized that the most effective way to learn a new language is to be immersed in it. Ulpan is great for learning grammar, but if you don’t practice it then you’ll never be able to speak it. So I decided to make a radical change and moved to an all Hebrew speaking Yeshiva. It was the first time I was living with Israelis, and in the beginning it was very tough and lonely. After about 8 months, my constant exposure to Hebrew had paid off. I’d learned to speak Hebrew fluently enough that I could understand my classes in Yeshiva as well as participate. 

All of that happened 7 years ago. I have just finished a 3-year degree. There are many things that happened in the middle that are beyond the scope of this article, but to make a long story short I can say that my aliyah was at times very difficult and lonely. But every year I integrate more into society, I make fewer mistakes both with the language and the bureaucracy, I connect more with myself, and most importantly I make deeper connections with our land and the people around me. With each new year here I strive to build and live a purpose-filled life. 

One of the most important things to having a successful Aliyah journey is to find a good community of people that you connect with. For me, after asking around about different areas where religious young professionals are, I found out about Givat Shmuel. It’s the largest student community in Israel with over 1500 students. Living here and making close friends all while studying has really made it so much easier and enjoyable living in Israel.   

I’m at an exciting new stage in my life where I’m actually about to finish university and embark on the next chapter in my story. If you are considering making a life change and taking the plunge and actually making aliyah I would implore you to come knowing there will be bad days but know that if you are willing to make this work it is no dream!     

If I had to give you a few tips from my personal experience I would encourage you to:

-Be open to trying new experiences and new things. Having the mindset that Israel’s culture should be like the county you are from will only disappoint you.

-Try and be positive and easy going, in Hebrew we say zorem…or go with the flow.

-Learn about how to budget and manage your finances. 

-Do ulpan, but know it’s not enough to learn the language. You need to find a way to immerse yourself in it so that you can practice using conversational Hebrew.

-This last point is one that’s quite literally changed my life, it’s helped me to land the position in the army that I wanted, a full scholarship to a university, a large group of friends and many other things… it’s a general tip not connected to aliyah but one that has positive consequences in any area of your life. Learn to be charismatic, in other words, learn how to connect to many different types of people. If you can do this, then any problem you face in Israel you will be able to use your people skills to find the information and help that you need. A good place to start is by checking out “Charisma on Command” on YouTube.

Aliyah was just the first step but the rest of the journey is still ahead. The key is to try to embrace the ups and ride the lows, because at the end of the day all we can do is live and try.

Your Story: Andrew Fowler

When did you make Aliyah?

August 2018.

What made you decide to make Aliyah?

In 9th grade I watched the documentary Beneath the Helmet. Two of the soldiers were chayalim bodedim (lone soldiers), and I fell in love with the idea of moving to Israel and volunteering to serve in the IDF.

How did you decide which community to move to?

Since I am a lone soldier, I was taken in by an adopted family in Har Homa. It’s a predominately Israeli community, with secular and Dati Leumi neighborhoods. It’s close to Ramat Rachel and Gilo. A bus ride away from Shuk Mahane Yehuda.

Why did you want to be a lone soldier?

I’ve always wanted to serve in the military, and Israel has a greater need.

How is your Aliyah experience going so far?

I just finished a year at a mechina (pre-army program). I am now looking for a place to live on my own. I’ve had my Tzav Rishon (first summons) for the IDF, and I’m set to draft in August.

What tips do you have for someone who is considering Aliyah?

Learn Hebrew. If you know Hebrew, you can get through anything in Israel.

How to: Pack for Aliyah

The most important word when it comes to packing for Israel is DECLUTTER. This is true for any move anywhere. When we live in one place for many years, it’s natural to accumulate many things. But when it comes to moving to Israel, you don’t only have moving to a far away place working against you. The apartments and houses in Israel are a lot smaller than we are used to in America. In addition, many of the luxury items we enjoy here are also available in Israel, making it unnecessary to pack them from the US. With that said, decluttering is best performed in 3 stages:

Stage 1: Pre-Aliyah (about one year before Aliyah date)

Go through your house and take notice of things you would not bring with you to Israel. All of the junk you’re keeping in the garage or attic- if you haven’t used it in a year get rid of it. Adopt Marie Kondo’s method of decluttering: if it doesn’t spark joy when you see it, toss it out. Start with your clothes: get rid of anything that doesn’t fit you right now. Then be honest with yourself, are you really going to wear that? It can be hard to part with our possessions, but in order to organize a messy house you’re going to have to be ruthless in getting rid of clutter. After that, take a good hard look at your bookshelf. This may be the most painful part of the decluttering process. Take more expensive books like chumashim and siddurim with you to Israel (they may be harder to find with English translations). Then decide on just a few other books such as novels to take as well. Books take up a lot of space, and paper is heavy. Speaking of paper, the next step is to go though all of your paperwork. Save things you’ll need for Israel, such as birth certificates, marriage licenses, social security cards, proof of residency, etc. If you have piles of mail, bills, old business documents that are obsolete, then shred them. The final part of this process is to go through everything else in the house. Toys the kids don’t play with anymore, tools in the garage you never use, and pool supplies when you don’t even have a pool anymore all need to go. Remember with anything you are discarding, there are organizations you can donate to for the less fortunate.

Stage 2: Packing for Aliyah (six months – day before Aliyah date)

Note: A lot of the information in this section I learned from a NBN seminar hosted by Rebekah Saltzman, a personal organizer. Her business is called Balagan Be Gone, and she is very knowledgeable about packing for Aliyah. She has a free workbook on her website, and offers a free consultation so be sure to check it out!

In this stage you’ll want to examine very carefully each item if you really need it, or even be able to use it in Israel. Divide your packing into 4 sections: carry-on luggage, checked luggage, the lift (if you’re taking one), and before the lift. One of the first things you’ll need to know is whether or not you know the dimensions of your new home? This includes the dimensions of the doorways, so you’ll be able to fit things through them. Know how many steps leads up to/ are in your home. If you don’t know the size of your new home, limit oversized furniture, leave large appliances, and do bring big sturdy storage bins to protect your belongings from moisture (i.e. mold). Israeli power runs on 220 volts with European outlets, so you may need to get a transformer in addition to an adapter/converter. Transfer family photos, videos, and important documents to a USB drive as much as possible to save space.

Designate an empty room as the staging area for your packing. Take inventory, and video record the condition of your belongings as proof should you need to file an insurance claim. Assign colors or numbers to the boxes according to family member and/or category (Dishes, bathroom supplies, etc.) If you know where you are moving to, the lift should be packed as much as 3 weeks prior. Otherwise, wait as long as possible, because it can take a while to get your items back. In Israel, you are entitled to 3 tax free shipments. This can either be used for 3 lifts, or say 1 lift and 2 cargo boxes from FedEx. Depending on which company you use, the lift may be priced according to weight or volume so pack carefully!

You’ll want anything really important/valuable with you at all times, so pack these in your carry-on. Such items include: Important documents, medications, SMALL electronic devices, jewelry, food (TSA compliant), change of clothes, chargers (with adapters), SIM cards, and cash. For your checked luggage, have some changes of season-appropriate clothing for Israel in case it takes a month or two for your lift to arrive. Also include toilet paper, box cutters, a first aid kit, basic kitchen utensils, and shabbat supplies (kiddush cup, shabbat/havdalah candles, siddur, talit).

Stage 3: Post Aliyah

Once you land at Ben Gurion Airport, you arrive to your new apartment, and you take a look around, you may find yourself needing to get rid of even more things! Coming from Texas, we have a saying: everything is bigger in Texas. This statement could not be any more true. Our houses are bigger, our cars, our beds, our couches, pretty much everything is indeed bigger in Texas. This is so not the case in Israel- just the opposite. If you find yourself in this situation, it’s going to be okay. You can buy new smaller furniture in Israel if you need to- Ikea, anyone?

Your Story: The Stolovitskys

What made you decide to make Aliyah?

We considered ourselves Jewish communal workers all our lives. We wanted to strengthen Jewish learning and identity through our work and it was especially gratifying. We were proud to have been a part of building up so many future Jewish leaders. Some of our students are rabbis or leaders in the Jewish community, some were strong Zionists and now live in Israel. Others have fashioned meaningful Jewish lives and others have focused on needed goodness of a shared humanity. At some point, however, we decided to do something strictly for ourselves and live In the State of Israel where the next phase of Jewish history is being written. We love it here and while it is harder to make ends meet, my wife teaches English privately and I teach English full time in a great little elementary school in Haifa. I also edit articles for university professors and teach Russian lawyers via Skype. For them, I use the great American constitutional cases to teach English.

Are you still working in the same field you were in America? Did you have to change careers?

I haven’t changed careers so much as gone back to my first love of teaching. It’s actually great to be protected by a union. We are considered a successful Aliyah story.

How did you decide which community to move to?

We have found a great small community. We have not yet bought a house because our inexpensive Dallas homes don’t really go that far here.

Do you have any plans in place for retirement?

When you have a job being paid for what you love to do, you don’t really think that much about retirement.

What tips do you have for someone who is considering Aliyah?

Just know that houses are more expensive here and salaries are not that great. Hi-tech does well. But idealists will always find ways to do what they want and find tremendous satisfaction just being part of the incredible story here.

Your Story: The Tannenbaums

When did you make Aliyah?

August 1, 2018

What made you decide to make Aliyah?

😊

Really, before I got married

We had lived here for several years after we got married and planned on making Aliyah and coming back. Initially, we thought we would do so when we retired but for many reasons, we realized we didn’t want to wait that long. The idea that we have Israel to go to and we aren’t there was a dream that we didn’t want to push off any longer!
Different transitions and stages of life for our kids actually was a big part, being a Tanach teacher where Israel is THE focus of so much and working/learning in a ציוני school all contributed towards it.

How did you decide which community to move to?

We chose a place which would be a soft landing for our children.

Are you still working in the same field you were in America? Did you have to change careers? How did you enter the Israeli job market?

Pretty much- yes–Jewish education. Definitely had to figure out to make it work here. For my husband, the “shape and form” of Jewish educator is a very different one from what was. He was determined to come here with a job since this field can be quite full here and I am grateful to him for that. It means that he travels a lot which we don’t love but know that it part of the trade-off of adjusting career. This year gave me the opportunity to help settle us all in so I worked only part time. I applied to Seminaries from the U.S. and was fortunate to find a perfect start. Since being here and settling in, I have been fortunate to find more full-time work for the coming year. I had just started contacting NBN Employment to learn different options of how to branch out more when Hashem sent me a special opportunity! I am now involved in starting a new high school.

How is your Aliyah experience going so far?

BH, very grateful! It’s wonderful. Yes, there are some challenges but we are very blessed. I think the fact that we lived here for four years and have a decent Hebrew etc and REALLY want to be here are all contributing factors to our blessing but mostly, Hashem! Challenges can be in all forms – being new will always have its adjustments anywhere etc.

If you have children, how have they adjusted with the move? How did you decide which schools they should attend?

BH overall great. They definitely are on the ‘front lines’ with a lot of experiences and for the most part are doing really well. Working through challenges and planning ahead so some of them are limited or eliminated in a proactive way is critical. “Being there” for them and putting them in schools that match who each of them are etc are all important pieces.
Choosing schools has to do with both how a family is “hashkafically”-aligned and the type of learner the child is. Researching beforehand and if possible visiting are all important in making those decisions.

Do you have any plans in place for retirement?

Great question! Somewhat!

What tips do you have for someone who is considering Aliyah?

😊

I think really wanting to be here is key! I think putting yourself into situations (that you want to be in) to meet people is important. Those situations are different for everyone. Some people like social gatherings etc. I personally like meeting people organically as well. Showing up to shul or continuing with hobbies (running learning for me) helped me meet people that have common interests for example
Focus on the positive –in general in life—is a good one. We have a ‘line’ in our house that if people are complaining about something in Israel, we call out ‘meraglim’ – that doesn’t mean not being supportive of real issues to work with but the things that can make someone kvetchy…

Your Story: Yonah Taurog

When did you make Aliyah?

I made Aliyah in October, 2018.

What made you decide to make Aliyah?

After I finished a year of yeshiva in Israel, I knew that the Jewish State is the place to be and I would eventually make Aliyah. What made me make Aliyah now is Basia, my now-wife was already living here and I wanted to be closer to her.

How did you decide which community to move to?

I didn’t know that many American communities, and I wanted to be close to Americans when I first moved. I knew a few people in Givat Shmuel, and Basia is there studying at Bar Ilan. 

How did you enter the Israeli job market?

I graduated from Yeshiva University with a degree in computer science. I’m taking this boot camp program to teach data science in order to get into the computer science field.

How is your Aliyah experience going so far?

So far so good, but I haven’t had to face a lot of the challenges other olim have had to face yet.

Do you have any tips for someone who is considering making Aliyah?

Everyone says this, but have low expectations. Everyday there is something else to complain about, “In America it would be like this. In America we would have that. People would act like this….” Don’t expect Israel to be like America. The biggest challenge in Israel is the healthcare system. It’s really hard to get appointments to see a doctor. The easiest way to get care is to check yourself into an urgent care clinic.

Your Story: Simcha Lopez

When did you make Aliyah?

I made Aliyah November 15, 2017.

How did you decide which community to move to?

When I first came here, I was in Yeshiva. After I looked for places close to the center because that’s the location I was most familiar with. After living there for a year and a half, I moved to Katamon. It’s a very nice part of Jerusalem, quiet and a close bus ride into town.

How did you enter the Israeli job market?

I am not working in the same thing I was in America mainly because usually the only jobs a person who hasn’t done the army yet are in restaurants and cleaning. People don’t want to hire people that will only be working for a few months. Finding a job in Israel mostly comes from friends and contacts. There are also apps and Facebook.

Do you have any plans for retirement?

I barely have plans for tomorrow, much less retirement haha.

What tips do you have for someone who is planning to make Aliyah?

You have to have your values straight. Israel is a country where everyone struggles financially, culturally, and with the language. To move to Israel you have to be strong and ready to grow as a person. When it comes to potential, Israel can bring out the best in people.

What's Your Aliyah Story?