Overcoming Aliyah Obstacles – The Top Ten Challenges of Making Aliyah
The year was 1969 and the parents of one of the top managers at TCS Israel had just made Aliyah. Everything went smoothly. The paperwork was relatively simple to fill out and it wasn’t long before the happy couple had settled into their new home.
There was just one problem.
They didn’t have a phone.
With no phone, they couldn’t make calls to their loved ones back in the United States, or even make calls to friends in Israel. “Not a big problem,” they thought. “We can just have a phone installed and we’ll be connected with the rest of the world in no time.”
“No time” turned out to be five years.
It took half a decade for their phone to finally be connected, meaning they spent years without having an easy way to contact their loved ones.
Thankfully, making Aliyah has changed a lot since 1969, meaning those who make it today aren’t going to have to worry about feeling like they’re disconnected from the rest of the world for years. However, that doesn’t mean that Aliyah is without its challenges. As streamlined as the process now is, here are 10 obstacles you’ll have to overcome when you make Aliyah.
Challenge 1 – Mastering Hebrew
Once you arrive in Israel, you’re quickly going to discover that the majority of the population speaks Hebrew as their first language. That shouldn’t be a surprise – Hebrew is the official language of the Jewish people. By speaking it, Israelis not only express themselves in ways that only Jewish people can, but they feel like they’re closer to their roots.
As an Oleh Chadash entering the country, we understand that your native language likely isn’t Hebrew. In fact, there’s a good chance you haven’t spoken it beyond a handful of experiences in school or maybe a Torah reading when you were younger. We know this not only because we came to Israel the same way that you did but even according to the World Population Review, only 206,000 people in the United States (and 83,200 in Canada) can speak Hebrew fluently. That’s a fairly small number given that America’s Jewish population is estimated to be about 8 million people and there are about 140,000 Israelis that call the US home.
So, you’ll likely want to learn Hebrew to ensure you get along as easily as possible once you arrive in Israel.
Thankfully, you’ll have time, both before and after you arrive, to do so. There are plenty of resources available in Israel to help you learn the language, such as the free five months of intensive Hebrew language training the government provides to new Olim. Beyond that training – which you can continue in your own time – the majority of the population (about 85%) speak English as a second language. You won’t be left unable to speak to anybody when you arrive. All it takes is a little time and dedication, and you’ll be able to learn Hebrew and make communication easier with your new friends.
Challenge 2 – Leaving Family Behind
This challenge is less about the actual process of making Aliyah, and more about the emotional impact that doing so can have. There’s no getting around it – leaving your life behind to begin anew is tough. You’re likely leaving a lot of friends, as well as some family, to move to Israel. It’s often the case that new Olim feel like they’ve completely severed the bonds of the past in the process.
That’s not the case.
Indeed, the friends and family you’ve left behind aren’t physically in Israel with you. But the country’s telecom infrastructures are among the best in the world, making staying in touch a breeze.
According to the International Trade Administration, Israel has an extremely advanced telecommunications network. Far from being in a situation where you’re left without a phone for five years, you’ll get instant access to digitally-powered landlines and cellular phones. Plus, Israel was an early adopter of 5G technology – it launched in 2020 – so you won’t have any issues getting the quality signal you need to make video calls and stay connected online.
You’ll also find that Israel has English-speaking Telecom help and special deals on calls to the United States from Israel. These packages exist predominantly to serve Olim who want to be able to make cheap calls back home.
Granted, you won’t be able to physically spend time with those you’ve left behind once you arrive. But you’re not cut off. Plenty of services exist to help you stay in touch, and you’ll soon find you’re making new friends once you’ve moved to Israel.
Challenge 3 – Completing Your Aliyah Paperwork
When you make Aliyah, you’re permanently immigrating to a new country. That comes with challenges. Visas have to be obtained and paperwork needs to be completed, all of which needs to be in order before you can make the move.
That’s a challenge.
The application process can feel overwhelming due to the sheer volume of questions you need to answer, which is enough to make some potential Olim feel wary. Plus, when you hear news about the potential measures to make new Olim wait for a year before they receive a permanent passport, you might feel even more concerned.
There’s no getting around the fact that immigrating to a new country can come with quite a bit of hassle.
However, Israel does try to make it as easy as possible. For instance, the bill that proposes restrictions on permanent passports comes with the proviso that new Olim will receive temporary passports for 12 months. So, you’re not prevented from leaving Israel. You just have to wait a little longer for a full official Israeli e-passport with that fancy chip that can track you anywhere you go 😉.
Plus, several organizations offer support – and even direct Aliyah consultants – to help you get through the process. For instance, The Jewish Agency for Israel operates the “Global Aliyah Center” hotline, which is available in six languages and offers all of the support you need as you prepare to make your journey.
The point is that you’re not alone. Resources are available to help you to handle your Aliyah paperwork to make your trip as painless as possible.
Challenge 4 – Finding Affordable Housing
Housing in Israel is expensive.
There’s no beating around the bush when it comes to that fact. The Jerusalem Post even points out that prices have increased by 8% every year for the last 15 years, meaning Israel now has one of the highest costs of living in the entire world.
But as with so many of these challenges, the Israeli government has measures in place to help.
For instance, the country is actively investing in creating new affordable housing, both for Olim and current residents. For instance, the country’s Housing Ministry developed 30,000 affordable housing units in 2022 – made available through a lottery system – in an attempt to alleviate the burden for those who are struggling to afford property.
Olim also receive special concessions. Those making Aliyah get access to a special mortgage offer worth 200,000 shekels at a rate of between 4% and 4.5%. In some areas, you may also be able to receive a further interest-free loan of 50,000 shekels to help you buy a home. Granted, these offers are only available to Olim who don’t currently own any real estate in the country. But having access to these cut-price loans should make finding somewhere to live a little easier.
Challenge 5 – Finding Work
When you make Aliyah, you have to accept that every aspect of your life changes. That includes your working life – the job you held before you moved likely no longer exists unless you’re lucky enough to be able to work remotely. If that’s not the case, you need to find work quickly so you can handle the financial responsibilities that come with living in such a high-cost-of-living country.
Thankfully, you’re walking into a job market that’s not too different from what you see in the United States.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment in the States was 3.9% in November 2023. That matches up fairly well with the rates in Israel, which stood at 3.24% in September 2023. So, you can feel some comfort knowing that you’re walking into a job market that’s about as competitive as the one you’re already familiar with.
Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah and Integration also operates employment centers for new Olim, providing them with a range of services including:
- Vocational training related to work and learning Hebrew
- Job-finding workshops
- Guidance through Israeli employment practices
Again, help is available. Plus, those who already have specific professional skills have an obvious advantage as those skills often transfer directly into new roles in Israel. That’s particularly the case in the high-tech field, in which there are many career opportunities.
Challenge 6 – Preparing Your Children for the Move
While you’ll likely undergo your own feelings of separation from some of your loved ones when you make Aliyah, those with children have an extra burden to face. Children thrive when they have a routine. Making Aliyah shakes up that routine and separates them from the life they once knew.
You may find that your children object to making the move because it naturally feels uncomfortable for them. That’s especially the case for school-aged children – they have friends and teachers with whom they feel deep connections. Making Aliyah means losing those connections, with some children likely feeling like they’re being “forced” into losing a comfortable lifestyle.
Sadly, there’s no easy way to confront this challenge.
Communication is critical, especially when it comes to explaining what Aliyah is and your reasoning for making it. It’s also a good idea to encourage your children to talk about Aliyah with their friends at school, preparing all involved for what will inevitably be a difficult goodbye. Don’t shy away from this aspect of making Aliyah. Respect your children’s feelings and make time to be there for them whenever they wish to talk about their impending journey.
When it comes to talking about Aliyah itself, focus on helping children to envision the life that lies ahead of them. Talk about their new school, including what it will look like and who their teachers will be, as well as the home and the city in which you intend to live. Doing so removes a layer of uncertainty, making the prospect of moving away from “home” feel less scary.
Finally, remember that the same telecoms and internet resources you use to stay connected can also be used by your children. Online gaming, mobile phones, and instant messaging apps are all ways for your kids to stay connected to the friends they’ve left behind. Encourage your children to use this technology while also gently prompting them to take part in social activities in their new home.
Challenge 7 – Opening a Bank Account
New Olim receive several financial benefits upon entering Israel, some of which have already been covered. But perhaps the most important of these benefits is Sal Klita – financial assistance offered by Israel’s Ministry of Absorption that varies depending on the size of your family. You’ll typically schedule a meeting with the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration within a week of your arrival to discuss your Sal Klita entitlement. And during that meeting, you’ll be asked to provide bank details so the money can be transferred into your account.
So, you need to open a bank account fairly soon after your arrival.
To do that, you need to arrange a meeting at a branch of your chosen bank and ensure you have the following documents to hand:
- Your Te’udat Oleh and, if you’ve received it, your Teudat Zehut to demonstrate your citizenship.
- The “Note of Future Bank Account” that you received upon landing in Israel.
- Your foreign tax identification number.
- Those emigrating from the U.S. can use their Social Security Number, whereas people emigrating from other countries should provide the tax identification number they received in their country of origin.
- A completed W-9 form, assuming you’ve emigrated from the U.S.
Beyond these documents, you should also bring a check for a small amount of money so you can make a deposit, thus activating the account. Finally, you need time. A lot of it. The most challenging aspect of opening your new bank account is that you have to complete a lot of forms. Give yourself at least an hour – ideally more – so you’re not left stuck without an account when you go to claim Sal Klita.
Challenge 8 – Adjusting to Israeli Work Schedules
Israel generally has a longer working week than the United States, with most full-time employees working a minimum of 43 hours per week, and many work longer hours. General working hours are usually 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, with all workers being entitled to 36 consecutive hours of rest per week. You’ll also often find that many Israelis work on Fridays, though typically only until noon.
That work schedule is a little bit of a culture shock, with many immigrants discovering they’ll spend more time at work than they did in their country of origin.
On the plus side, vacation entitlement is fairly strong. You’ll receive nine paid vacation days per year for national Jewish holidays, as well as 16 days of paid leave for the first five years of your employment at a company. Assuming you stay with the same company, that entitlement rises to 18 in the sixth year and 21 days in the seventh. From your eighth year, you get an additional day of leave per year up to a maximum of 28 plus national holidays.
Still, you’ll have to adjust to working longer hours when you first arrive. Plus, the holiday system resets if you find a new employer.
Challenge 9 – The Overall Culture Shock
Beyond the differences in work culture, there are other aspects of Israeli culture that may come as a shock to your system when you arrive. For instance, haggling is a key part of the culture – the price of everything you buy can be negotiated. Of course, it’s difficult to haggle if you don’t know Hebrew, so you may find yourself spending more than you need to on goods and services, at least at first.
You may also find that people are more willing to get personal with conversation, even if you don’t know them. One Olim, writing for Business Insider, even tells a tale of a cab driver asking if everything was okay because they’d asked to be picked up at the hospital. So, people who value their privacy may find what they might view as incessant “gossip” a tad difficult to handle.
These are challenges you can overcome with time and adapting to your new country.
However, it’s recommended that you make a trip to Israel (or several) before committing to Aliyah. At least then, you’ll have an idea of what you’re getting into rather than being overwhelmed by cultural differences once you arrive permanently.
Challenge 10 – The Red Tape
Finally, the sheer level of bureaucracy you face when making Aliyah can be a challenge in itself.
That starts with filing for your visa and completing the necessary paperwork before you arrive. But once you’re in the country, you’ll find that paperwork accompanies almost everything that you try to do. Bank accounts have already been mentioned. But there’s also health insurance – you’re entitled to it but it can take a long time to set up. You’ll also complete a background check before you arrive and must provide proof of your Judaism to even make Aliyah.
In simple terms, there’s a lot of red tape.
Appointment scheduling with the Interior Ministry is also a problem, especially for Olim who need to get their Teudat Zehut, which are their identification cards. With such high volumes of Olim to handle, the ministry often finds itself overburdened to the point where you may not get an appointment for weeks. Thankfully, measures are in place to relieve this particular issue, with Teudat Zehut now available at the airport when you arrive in the country.
Still, be prepared to invest a lot of time in getting anything done, especially during your first year in Israel.
Challenges Exist, But You Can Overcome
Making Aliyah is difficult.
For all the measures the Israeli government puts in place to support those making a permanent move to Israel, you’re still undertaking a permanent move to a new country. That move comes with a culture shock – the way you live will change. You’ll also face challenges when searching for housing and work. And, of course, there are the emotional challenges that come with leaving friends and family behind to make Aliyah in the first place.
Still, at least you won’t have to wait five years for a phone anymore.
And even when facing these challenges, you’ll find that the majority of people you meet in Israel are helpful and willing to guide new Olim. As long as you don’t make assumptions about how “easy” it is to make the move, you can prepare for any challenge that lies ahead.