Getting approval, saying goodbye to family and friends, and stepping off the plane is only half the battle in making Aliyah. The other half is creating a new life here for yourself and your family. One of the first things you’ll need to do is find a place to live. It is preferable to know where you’ll be living beforehand, especially if you’re bringing a lift (shipping container). But if you don’t know where you’ll be living pre-Aliyah, don’t panic. My husband and I thought we knew where we would be living and well, things changed (for the better). We stayed at an Airbnb in Jerusalem for a couple of weeks while we scoured yad2 for apartments in Yehuda & Shomron. My parents did the same thing when they made Aliyah and put their lift in storage (expensive, not ideal). That said, here are some things to look for in a community:
1. Family & Friends Connection
In Israel, everything is all about who you know. And when you have any kind of advantage, use it. Having family and/or friends in Israel and living close to them is a game-changer. You have a built-in support system, which can only help you in the long run.
2. Presence of an Aliyah Coordinator
When you make Aliyah, there will be many things you won’t know how to do. That’s normal. You will be assigned to an agent working at Misrad HaKlita to go over your benefits, get your sal klita set up, talk about ulpan, etc. Having an Aliyah coordinator in your community is unbelievably helpful. They can help you get set up with utilities, figure out how to pay your bills, find an ulpan, and welcome you into the community.
3. Are There Any Incentives for Olim?
Some communities have incentives to attract new immigrants. This can mean a 90-100% discount on arnona (municipal taxes), affordable housing, or the presence of ulpanim. It’s worth looking into. If you’re having trouble choosing between two different communities, this x-factor can help you finalize your decision.
4. Proximity to Your Job
Getting around in Israel is a lot different than in Texas. In Texas, almost everyone could afford a vehicle (or 2,3, and so on), and people would rather drive their car for 5 minutes than walk for 15 minutes. In Israel, a lot of people cannot afford a car. Fortunately, public transportation is usually very good at getting you where you need to be. But if you live in a different city than where you work, you’ll have to fight traffic and missed/late busses to get to work on time. Plan accordingly.
5. Accessibility to Schools
The Israeli education system is very different from the American education system (Once I know more about how it works, I’ll write a post about it). It’s common in Israel to have your children split up into different schools, depending on age, gender, and religious observance. Older children may even attend boarding schools, some in a completely different part of the country. Doing your research really well in this area pays off if you have kids. You’ll want to find a school that’s the right fit for them. You’ll definitely want a school with a larger Anglo population so that they’ll have the support system they need (and fewer chances of bullying). If you have many kids of different ages, it may be worth finding a community that offers a wide range of schools for different ages.
It’s no secret that the cost of living in Israel is high. This is especially true if you live in central Israel, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, or one of the other major cities. Choosing to live in a community in Israel’s periphery will cost you significantly less money. Consider Nefesh B’Nefesh’s Go North and Go South programs. If you don’t mind living behind the “Green Line,” you should also check out communities in Yehuda & Shomron (Judea and Samaria). Here you’ll find some of the cheapest housing with the highest quality of life.
7. Level of Observance
If you’re a secular Jew, you won’t fit in with the Chareidi neighborhoods of Bnei Brak, Beit Shemesh, and Jerusalem’s Geula and Mea Shearim. Likewise, you won’t feel comfortable living in Tel Aviv if you are religious, where public transportation runs on Shabbat. In Israel, religious identity labels strongly affect the way people see and act around you. Unfortunately, strong boundaries exist, and there is not as much “love your neighbor as yourself” as there should be. Coming from the Diaspora, this can (and should) be shocking. But it is a fact of life living in Israel. Like tends to live with like. Even so, there are some communities that have a mixed secular-religious population.
You’ll want to research what kind of transportation options are available in the community you’re interested in. Major cities will provide you with all types of transportation, from cars, buses, and light-rails to public electric bicycles and scooters. Some smaller communities only have bus lines while others require you to have a car or share a ride with someone from the community.
9. Community Facebook Group
Some places have Facebook groups or even pages sharing what’s going on in the community. Here you can ask questions about that specific community, such as places for rent, schools in the area. Get a feel for the religious level and a sense of the overall vibe of that community.
10. Different Neighborhood Types
In major cities, it is very important to do your homework about each neighborhood. Neighborhoods can vary greatly, even from street to street. Ramat Beit Shemesh is a prime example. Ramat Beit Shemesh Alef is a mixed religious neighborhood, with Dati Leumi, Masorti, and Chareidim living there. Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet, Gimmel, and Daled are all primarily Chareidi dominant neighborhoods. Ramat Beit Shemesh Hey is mostly split between Dati Leumi and Chareidim, with more and more Chareidim buying houses here. The vibe of the community you live in is so important when choosing a home. This is why it’s important to take a pilot trip and see the different neighborhoods for yourself, and determine if it’s a good fit for you.
11. Life Cycle
If you’re making Aliyah as a young adult, you’re probably going to either serve in the army or attend university. In this case, you’ll want to find an apartment near your base/school. It’s common for people in this population bracket to live with roommates to ease the cost of their rent. If you are a lone soldier, or Chayal Boded, there is subsidized lone soldier housing available where you live with other lone soldiers.
If you are making Aliyah as a retiree or senior, you may want to check out communities in Israel for seniors of all types: Independent living, active lifestyle, assisted living, and nursing homes. Some communities have special discounts for seniors. You’ll also want to be in proximity to medical facilities, should you need it one day.
12. Marital Status
There are some small communities in Israel that only accept married couples or families with children. If you are married, pretty much all of Israel is your oyster. Make sure you and your spouse are on the same page regarding which type of community would best fit your family’s needs.
If you’re single, you’ll want to be in a community with a vibrant singles scene- or at least somewhere with active bus lines to get you to places singles meet-up. Keep in mind that Israel is very family-oriented, and it is easy for single people to feel left out of community events and neighborhood get-togethers. Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are considered the top two places in Israel for singles. Here there are lots of opportunities to meet new people, make friends, and date. Is it possible to live outside these two cities as a single and be perfectly content in life? Of course! Some people prefer to live elsewhere, for various reasons. The majority of these people will travel for social events.
13. Type of Community- Ir, Yishuv, Moshav, Kibbutz
There are several different types of communities, coming in all sizes. An עיר is a city, and most cities in Israel have a population between 10,000 and 100,000 people in Israel. Jerusalem is the biggest city by population with over 800,000 residents, Tel Aviv coming in second at over 400,000 residents. Cities have access to pretty much everything you need, all the government offices, jobs, schools, etc. But it can be pretty isolating. In a large city, you have more anonymity. Depending on you this can either be a good thing or a bad thing.
On the other hand, you can choose to live a more rural life. A yishuv is a more general community, kind of like a suburb but more rural and farther away from a city. The term yishuv is used a lot for developing communities in Yehuda & Shomron and the Negev. Moshavim and kibbutzim are both more agricultural-type rural communities. Moshavim are privately operated, each individual family owns property. Kibbutzim used to be all public- commune style. Nowadays, most kibbutzim have turned either private or semi-private.
In Israel, the synagogue is not the center of Jewish social life like it is in America. To better integrate into Israeli society and feel at home, finding groups and activities to have a social life is essential. When choosing a place to live, consider what kind of things will be available for you to do when you’re not working. For some, proximity to the beach or living in a community with a vibrant nightlife is a goal. For others, being able to drop in on a religious lecture at a yeshiva or joining tour groups to get to know this ancient land is an important factor. Still, others want to have lots of choices to do shopping.
15. Anglo communities vs. more Israeli
There is a great debate about whether people should make Aliyah to more Anglo (English speaking) or Israeli communities. The truth is it depends on the situation. Some prefer to dive right into an all-Hebrew speaking environment, immersing themselves in Israeli culture. If you can do this route, you will integrate much more quickly into Israeli society. Be careful though, as this can be too difficult and stressful for some people to adjust. The best candidates for these types of communities are young adult olim or olim families with young children who are able to adapt more easily to change.
On the flip side, living in an Anglo community has its pros and cons as well. There’s a phenomenon known as living in an “Anglo bubble.” Basically you surround yourself with English speakers, which can be familiar and comforting. But at the same time, you’ll learn Hebrew much slower and won’t fully adjust to Israeli culture. If you are making Aliyah with teenagers, this may be the preferable route for your family. Once they become young adults and either join the army or go to sherut leumi, they’ll have plenty of time to learn how to become Israeli. But moving across the world away from everything they’ve ever known and trying to graduate high school while speaking a foreign language is a lot of change for a teen. At least they’ll be able to make friends who speak English and can relate to what they’re going through.
If you have an idea of where you may want to live, ask yourself why you want to live there. In what way is this community the right place for you to start your new life in Israel? If you don’t have an idea of where you would like to live, start asking around. Reach out to family and friends, and ask them what makes their community great for olim. Go to a few Facebook groups and create a post looking for a community with everything you’re looking for. Before COVID-19, you could take a pilot trip to see if a community is the right fit.
Nowadays, you can have a virtual pilot trip for some communities. Check out community profiles on NBN. Search names of places on YouTube (sometimes real estate agents post on YouTube, giving you a look around the community).
Once you’ve narrowed down where you want to live to a few options, you can start looking for apartments/houses. One way to do this is through Facebook. I’m not a big fan of this method because there usually isn’t much information in the listing. You have to private message the original poster for details like price, which takes effort and is time-consuming. Instead, start looking on Israeli sites for listings:
Note that most of these are .co.il. You will need a VPN service to use them if you’re not already in Israel. If your Hebrew is a bit rusty, you can turn on Google Translate for the entire webpage. A little confusing, but it works.
Wishing everyone a soft landing!