Making Aliyah is an exciting and challenging process. It may well be the single most rewarding thing that you ever do. But life for Anglos in Israel isn’t always easy and you will need a support network if you’re going to make it as an Oleh Hadash. Even if you and your family are already well established, being an active member of Israel’s Anglo community can ease your way through day to day life and open up all kinds of new opportunities. It can also be a lot of fun!
Israel could be described as the ‘biggest little country in the world’. It’s land mass may seem tiny to anybody who grew up in the US, Canada or Australia, but the intensity of life here is something else. Israel is also an incredibly diverse country, both in terms of landscape and people. Where you choose to live will make a major difference to your quality of life as Anglos in Israel, and to how well you and your family integrate into your new country.
Anglo immigrants come from several countries and pretty much every background. The only thing they really have in common is that their mother tongue is English and that they made Aliyah. A family of Hassidim from Monsey in New York probably won’t have much in common with a young backpacker from Brisbane who fell in love with the nightlife and beach culture in Tel Aviv. An adventurous lone soldier who is trying out for the paratroops has very different goals to the South African couple who want a more stable future for their children.
Despite Israeli stereotypes that lump Anglos together as prosperous American or well-educated British Jews, the Anglo communities in Israel are diverse and often surprising. In terms of numbers, most Anglo immigrants are American, but there are plenty of British Olim plus some from the Republic of Ireland. Other countries that contribute to the Anglo communities include Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. If you think the old British Empire is well represented – you’re right. There are even Jewish Olim from India who see themselves as Anglos on the grounds that their first language is English and they received a traditional British style education.
Moving to Israel is not only a life changing commitment. It’s a life changing process that never really stops. Making Aliyah involves a lot more than selling your home, arranging shipping for your belongings and making the final trip to the airport. When you land at Ben Gurion Airport and get your teudat zehut, you’re officially an Israeli, but in fact you just stepped into a new world. In some cases, your only connection to your new world will be your Jewish identity – and even that perception will surprise and perplex you at times.
Many Anglo immigrants intend to fully integrate into Israeli society and become naturalised Israelis. An intensive residential ulpan will definitely help with your Hebrew. If you progress all the way to Ulpan Gimel, you’ll have a good command of the language that will be adequate for most situations. The problem is that everytime an Israeli hears your accent, they’ll immediately reply to you in English. They think they’re helping – and are proud of their own language skills – but in reality they are doing you no favors. If you want to improve your Hebrew and fit in, you’ll have to be assertive about using it.
Another issue is the army. Compulsory military service is a shared experience that binds a significant part of the Israeli population together. The rules about military service for Olim are complicated and subject to change. Generally speaking, if you’re a woman over 21 or a man older than 28, the army doesn’t want you. This immediately excludes a large number of Anglo immigrants and denies them a fundamentally Israeli experience. No doubt many will be privately relieved not to get drafted, but it will separate you on a subtle level from your Israeli friends and colleagues.
Even if you’re fluent in Hebrew, served in an IDF combat unit, have Israeli family, and are secure in your Jewish identity, there will still be an element of culture shock. This can continue to surprise you in small ways on a daily basis for as long as you remain in Israel. The simple reality is that Israel is a Middle Eastern Mediterranean country. It’s laws, traditions and institutions are an eclectic – some might say haphazard – hybrid of Turkish, British Mandate, Halachic and the post-independence Israeli ways of doing things. Or as it frequently seems, not doing things. Although the situation is gradually improving, bureaucracy is still an irritating reality in Israel.
However much you love Israel, and however great your personal, financial and emotional investment in your aliyah, it will always be a foreign country to you on a certain level. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Part of the charm of living here is that there is always something new to learn. Whether you’re discovering wonderful new food, learning new words, exploring Israel’s amazing history, or meeting kind and warm hearted people, life here can be a daily adventure – even for veteran Anglos in Israel.
If they’re honest, most Olim Hadashim never fully adapt to life in Israel, although their younger children grow up to be completely Israeli. The goal is to be happy in Israel and to get the most out of the many good things that the country has to offer. Paradoxically, one of the best ways to do this is to live in one of the Anglo communities in Israel and build strong ties with people who speak the same mother tongue.
The simplest reason is that you’ll be close to people you can communicate easily with in English. Whatever the differences in background or original nationality, there are some shared outlooks and cultural norms. More importantly, many of your friends and neighbors have the practical experience to guide you through the complexities of Israeli life and open your eyes to exciting new opportunities in the world of work, social activities, and housing.
They understand the issues and overcame their own problems adjusting to life in Israel. Whether you need advice about where to buy a new refrigerator, get the best deal on your internet and cell phone plan, or how to prepare your kids for military service. A friend or neighbour who’s already been through it is often the best source of information. Most of the time, you can’t beat local knowledge.
Throughout history, immigrants to any country have always gathered together in localised communities and Anglos in Israel are no different. Perhaps the main difference today is that most Israelis speak at least basic English and the internet allows people to connect freely. It’s less necessary to live in an immigrant neighborhood, but it can still make life easier for the first generation.
Israel’s Anglo Community is dotted around the country. Many 20th century Anglo immigrants gravitated to kibbutzim, or at least attended residential ulpans on kibbutzim, which meant that they didn’t necessarily concentrate in the three major cities of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv or Haifa. Good locations often spread by word of mouth and some small towns became popular with certain nationalities e.g. Ra’anana has one of Israel’s best-known Anglo communities and attracted a lot of South African immigrants during the1970s and 80s. The town is still a popular destination for SA and North American Olim.
Broadly speaking there are four types of Anglo communities in Israel. These are found in:
By far the most popular choice for Anglos these days is an ordinary urban or suburban neighborhood. People generally look for the Israeli equivalent of what they’re already familiar with. Any improvement in their quality of life is a bonus; any drop in their standard of living is a necessary compromise.
Tel Aviv may not be Israel’s capital, but it’s definitely it’s most energetic and cosmopolitan city. With a Mediterranean sea shore that includes a mile long strip of sandy beaches, and a world famous nightlife, Tel Aviv is often the first choice for young Olim. They are also attracted by the thriving high tech and business scene along Gush Dan and the coastal strip. The city has a thriving expat community – including many foreign embassy staff, contractors and visiting professionals, and many excellent employment opportunities for native English speakers. Tel Aviv municipality even has its own team for helping Olim to get the most out of the city.
Unfortunately, Tel Aviv is also one of the world’s most expensive cities. Olim usually share apartments in any neighborhood where rents are affordable. The ones that build a life in Israel, often leave the city when they marry and want to raise a family.
Anglo Immigrants in Jerusalem
Jerusalem is Israel’s ancient capital and is one of the world’s most beautiful cities. It is the center of government and home to many of the country’s major institutions. The city is a popular destination for both secular and religious Olim and is expected to experience a major construction boom in 2022. New housing is a priority for Jerusalem and the capital is set to grow.
Although Jerusalem has a reputation as a serious – even pious city – it also has some vibrant and youthful subcultures. The world famous Hebrew University has a campus on Mount Scopus and the National Library is on Givat Ram. The prestigious Bezalel Academy attracts budding artists and there are also some well regarded teacher training colleges. Any Anglo immigrants who are also looking for some intellectual stimulation or nightlife won’t be disappointed by Jerusalem.
Overall, the city offers a good quality of life and is a great place to raise kids. If you’re not a big city dweller at heart, there are many smaller communities within a short drive of Jerusalem that offer the best of both worlds. A popular community for religious Anglos is Efrat, set on a beautiful hillside in Gush Etzion. Efrat is small enough to have a neighborly atmosphere, but big enough to offer a good level of services. The community is welcoming to Anglo immigrants.
There is an old Israeli saying that Jerusalem prays, Tel Aviv parties and Haifa works. That was never strictly true, but Haifa did have its origins as a secular industrial city that also has a sizable Arab Christian population. Built on the slopes of Mount Carmel, Haifa is literally where the hills meet the sea. There are five excellent beaches, restaurants, theatres and the famous Technion institute -described as Israel’s MIT. One advantage for secular Olim is that there is public transport on Shabat.
Haifa doesn’t have the biggest Anglo communities in Israel – which is a pity. The city offers some solid employment opportunities, has great schools and gives easy access to the amazing natural beauty of Mount Carmel and the surrounding area. Housing is still cheaper than Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. If you are thinking about settling in Haifa, there is a 90% discount on municipal taxes for Olim!
Israel’s three big cities all have a lot to offer, but many Anglo immigrants are looking for a quieter life away from the urban bustle. There are several smaller towns with good transport links to major economic centers. Places like Ra’anana, Modiin, Ashdod and Ashkelon.
Ra’anana regularly wins the award for being Israel’s cleanest and most beautiful city. It’s a short commute from the economic hubs of Tel Aviv and Herzliya Pituach and offers fairly easy access to most of the Centre. There are an estimated 20,000 Olim in the city, mainly located in neighborhoods around its best schools. The municipality understands the needs of Anglo communities in Israel and is keen to reach out to them. If you’re looking for a quiet, medium sized city to raise a family, Ra’anana is potentially a good choice. There is also a religious Anglo community in the south of the town.
Modi’in is one of the success stories of Israeli planning and design. The city began as an architect’s vision a quarter of a century ago. It now has almost 100,000 residents and is still growing. Modi’in, or properly Modi’in Maccabim Re’ut is set in the hills midway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. There are good transport links to both cities, and some interesting employment opportunities in the town itself. Housing in Modi’in is modern and the municipality welcomes new immigrants with discounts on taxes and other benefits.
The cities of Ashkelon and Ashdod are fiercely proud of their identities and would probably resent being lumped together. But for the purposes of Israel’s Anglo communities, it’s convenient to consider them as a pair. Both are coastal towns with some good housing developments and great beaches. They’re situated on the southern end of Israel’s Mediterranean coastline.
Ashdod is Israel’s sixth largest city with over 250,000 inhabitants, and is well-known for its port and industry. Housing prices are still cheaper than some of the other local towns and there is an easy commute to Tel Aviv and Rishon le Zion by road and rail. Ashdod isn’t as popular with Olim and Anglos in Israel, but there is a large religious community and the city has a lot to offer its residents. There is surprisingly good nightlife, a sports scene and plenty of golden beaches. A volunteer Anglo coordinator is happy to help anybody who is considering a move to Ashdod.
Ashkelon – once home to the fearsome Philistines – is now inhabited by rather more civilized people. The town attracted South African immigrants, almost from the birth of the State of Israel. They were followed by British immigrants and there is now a solid Anglo community. The Anglos in Ashkelon have their own community organisation called ESOA – English Speakers of Ashkelon. It organises all kinds of cultural and social events and extends a warm welcome to new Anglo immigrants.
Ashkelon is a moderately sized city of around 145,000 people. In addition to South African and English Olim and their descendents, there are also Mizrachi Jewish, Russian and Ethiopian communities. If you’re looking for a reasonably quiet life, with access to beaches, parks and a superb indoor sports arena, Ashkelon may be worth a visit.
We’ll continue to explore the best communities for Anglos in Israel later this month with a look at the Negev and the North. If you’re interested in venturing farther afield, or want to find out more about some of the country’s most beautiful desert and hilltop communities, check back regularly.