In our previous post we looked at the challenges – and opportunities – that come with making aliyah. One of the keys to making a successful aliyah, and enjoying a great quality of life in Israel, is finding the right place to live. You might think that in such a small country, your location isn’t especially important; maybe just a simple choice between a big city, suburb, or rural settlement. In fact, Israel is hugely diverse, in terms of climate, landscape and the local vibes. It really pays to research possible neighborhoods and choose a place to live that suits you and your family.
Even native Israelis are hard pressed when it comes to defining the different districts in Israel. About the only thing they’ll agree on is that the desert is hot. The big three cities (Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa) are all well-known and have their own networks of satellite cities and dormitory towns. These are connected by a reasonably efficient rail and road system and are often referred to generically though not really accurately as ‘the center’. There’s actually quite a lot of cultural and economic variation between the different towns and cities. Each has its own pros and cons for new Olim.
For economic and historical reasons, the bulk of Israel’s population lives in the central belt (over 3 million citizens in the Central Districts and Haifa alone). The major cities, and more recently start-up and tech hubs like Herzliya Pituach, provide good employment opportunities. The North of Israel is less densely populated, but is arguably the most beautiful part of the country. Many residents believe that it offers the best balance between urban and rural living and an excellent quality of life.
When Israelis speak of ‘HaTzafon’ they usually mean the Galilee or the Golan, or even the Carmel area. Officially the Northern District is the Mehoz HaTzafon. It follows the length of the Lebanese and Syrian borders to the north and north west, loops around the Haifa area and encompasses the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) and the land to the south.
Once you get away from the coastal plain between Haifa and Rosh ha Nikra, the North rapidly becomes hilly. If you continue all the way to the Golan Heights, you’ll eventually see the imposing Mount Hermon. The Hermon, surrounded by Druze villages, is frequently snow capped in winter and is Israel’s only ski resort. If you journey south, your next big treat is Yam Ha Kinneret – the Biblical Sea of Galilee. It’s a major destination for foreign tourists and a popular resort for vacationing Israelis who love to camp and barbecue next to the water.
Mount Hermon and the Kinneret may be the North’s best known attractions, but there are plenty of less well-known gems in the Mehoz HaTzafon. Some of them are also great places to live and work. We’ll take a look at a variety of northern towns and cities and check out their viability for anybody hoping to make a new start in the hills.
|Population||Approximately 1.5 million|
|Sub Districts||Safed, Kinneret, Yizre’el, Akko, Golan|
|Climate||The climate of Northern Israel is cooler than the rest of the country – although you might not believe it in July or August! The other seasons balance things out and the average temperature is 23℃ or 73℉. The further inland you go, the more you’ll feel a distinct change between the seasons. Winters can be cold, especially on high ground like Safed or the Golan Heights.|
|Scenery||The North ranges from a flat coastal plain with beautiful beaches, to hills, mountains and sometimes an almost sub-alpine landscape with forests and meadows. Israelis will argue for hours about which part of the country is the most beautiful, but the North has some truly stunning views.|
|History and Tourism||The historical and tourist sites in the North of Israel are worth a separate blog post in themselves. Akko, Nimrod Castle, Safed, the Kinneret and Beit Shean get a special mention. Apologies to the fans of scores of other amazing places who now feel neglected…|
Many Olim from previous generations were drawn to the kibbutzim and moshavim of Northern Israel. They offered a laid back communal life that was close to nature and away from the problems and bustle of the big cities. The agricultural settlements have evolved and diversified considerably over the last twenty years. Many now offer bungalows or houses to non-members on a rental basis. They also offer employment to non-members in light industry, agriculture and even new high tech ventures. If you’re looking for an affordable rental in a quiet community, it might be worth checking out the local kibbutzim and moshavim, especially if they allow access to facilities like swimming pools and gyms etc.
We’ve chosen 13 of the best known towns in the North of Israel. They range from the workaday routine of Afula, to the beautiful, historical Safed, to the touristy seaside resort of Nahariya. Check out the basic info for each town and the pros and cons of moving there.
Akko (Acre) is an ancient historical city and port with around 50,000 people – Jews and Arabs. It lies midway between Haifa and Nahariya. Akko has a famous Crusader city with tunnels, a citadel, hamam, khan and a variety of Baha’i sites. There are also some great seafood restaurants and the nationally famous Humus Said restaurant. Akko is an easy commute by train or road from the Haifa district, with plenty of employment opportunities. The coastal strip has golden beaches and there is hiking inland.
Afula is a small industrial town with about 50,000 inhabitants. There are some employment opportunities in the Alon Tavor industrial zone and plenty of affordable housing, both in the town and in surrounding communities. Afula sometimes has a sleepy feel to it and is probably not Israel’s most exciting city… However, if you’re looking for a quiet life, you may be satisfied. The Kinneret is only 30 kms away and Haifa is also within easy reach.
Nestled down at the junction of the Jordan River Valley and the Yizre’el Valley, Bet She’an is kind of off the beaten track – which is a shame. Even by Israeli standards, Bet She’an has a long and rich history. Although Bet She’an is a beautiful little corner of Israel, it’s a small town of less than 20,000 people and the economy is built around cotton growing and manufacturing. Employment prospects aren’t the best, but there is now a rail link to Haifa and other cities.
Karmiel (God’s Vineyards) is a rapidly growing city set in the Shagur mountain range. It’s diverse population is a mixture of native Israelis, Russian immigrants, Haredim and a sprinkling of others. The city has a well deserved reputation for a clean environment and environmental protection, and is proud of its quality of life. Employment opportunities in Karmiel aren’t especially good, but Highway 85 puts residents within easy reach of the coast and Haifa, Akko and Nahariya.
Kiryat Shmona is (almost) the last stop before Lebanon. It sits in the Hula Valley in the north east of the country and has a population of approximately 20,000, many of whom are of Morroccan Jewish origin. Kiryat Shmona is not a rich town and many of the people find work on neighboring kibbutzim. Although the Hula Valley is a truly picturesque area, it can be a challenge to find well paid employment. The nearest big cities are not convenient for commuting. Kiryat Shmona and the surrounding area would probably only suit Olim who are self- employed or who work remotely.
Ma’alot-Tarshiha was formed by the merger of two Arab and Jewish towns. It’s a small community of 20,000 people set in the Northern hills, close to the Lebanese border. The Tefen Industrial Zone provides a high level of employment. Although Ma’alot-Tarshiha isn’t a rich city, it is reasonably prosperous. The town is conveniently located for Karmiel, Akko and Nahariya, improving employment prospects for residents. Generally, it offers a quiet life, with some scenic hills and good food.
Migdal HaEmek is an interesting little town near Nazareth. Although part of the North, it’s actually south east of Haifa.Although there are fewer than 30,000 residents, Migdal HaEmek has some good employment opportunities with three industrial parks and some prestigious high tech companies. The town was mainly settled by North African immigrants in the 1950s, but has grown to include Russian and Caucasian immigrants, Ethiopians, Iraqis and South Americans. Olim who are looking for a quiet place with good opportunities, should check out Migdal HaEmek.
Nahariya was originally a German settlement. Situated on the Mediterranean coast, it grew to become one of Israel’s original tourist resorts. Nahariya is one of Israel’s northernmost towns and is well known for its restaurants and hotels. It’s the last stop on the coastal rail line, giving ready access to Haifa and other cities. Many of the locals make a daily rail commute to Haifa for work. Nahariya also has plenty of job opportunities outside the tourism field, although salaries are lower than in the major cities. There is plenty of accomodation in the town and in the surrounding settlements.
Nazareth is an Arab city of 77,000 with some neighboring Jewish communities. Interestingly, Nazareth has a burgeoning high tech scene and many startups. The city has considerable economic potential and has caught the eye of Jewish investors and the Israeli government. Although most Olim probably wouldn’t be interested in living in Nazareth, the nearby communities of Migdal HaEmek and Nof HaGalil (formerly Nazareth Ilit) may well be worth checking out.
Nof HaGalil is a mixed town near Nazareth with a population of 42,000, approximately 70% of whom are Jews. The town has suffered from some demographic decline in recent years due to economic problems. Although Nof HaGalil struggles with its image, the Strauss factory offers some employment opportunities and there are some good schools. While Nof HaGalil (which used to be called Nazareth Ilit) attracted a lot of Olim in the 1990s, it is not currently a popular choice. On the plus side, there is fairly cheap housing in the town.
Safed (Tsfat) is the jewel in the crown of Northern Israel. It is also the highest town in the Upper Galilee with an elevation of 900 meters. Safed’s height is definitely noticeable in winter when it is often cold enough for snow to settle on the ground. Summers are warm and the town’s population of 36,000 is welcoming to both Israeli and foreign tourists. Safed is a truly beautiful – some might say magical – place to live with spectacular views of Mount Meron and the Kinneret. Unfortunately, employment opportunities in Safed are limited. Commuting to other towns is possible but involves a drive.
Tiberias is a historical city on the Kinneret with a population of 45,000. The local economy is built mainly on tourism and the town attracts thousands of visitors every year. Restaurants and hotels are major local employers. Tiberias is only 50 kilometers from Haifa (as the crow flies) and a daily commute is certainly possible. If you love watersports, and want to live in a small town, Tiberias may be an option, although it’s not especially popular with Olim Hadashim.
Yokneam is one of Israel’s most interesting cities. Although it has little more than 20,000 inhabitants, it’s industrial parks created a thriving high tech hub. The town is connected to the arterial Highway 6 and is also something of a green city with plenty of parks and outdoor spaces. Property prices are higher than the regional average, but the city has a good reputation for quality of life. It is also a short drive from Haifa. Any ambitious Oleh, who wants to live in a pleasant town, could do a lot worse than to check out Yokneam.
We’ll be continuing our exploration of Anglo communities in Israel with a detailed look at life in the Negev and Eilat. Check back for a quick and convenient guide to the best places for Anglos to settle in Israel and make a real success of their new life.