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Monday, July 21, 2008

Dreams vs. Reality

Long before Zahava and I were introduced to each other, we had both decided we would only date people who wanted to live in Israel.  This certainly placed a lot of potential partners off limits (and don't think I didn't catch hell from friends thought I was just being difficult!), but we had both come to the conclusion that it would be silly to start a relationship with someone who didn't see their life's journey leading to the same destination as ours.

Many people limit themselves in similar ways when it comes to dating;  Religious practices, the number of children they want, political affiliations and even preferences for/against pets... and countless other things can be deal breakers for the finicky dater.   

Oh sure, you could conceivably learn to become more or less observant.  You could strike a bargain on the number of kids you'll have (G-d loves when people do this.  That's why he created fertility specialists!). 

You can learn to ignore a spouse's politics, and there are certainly plenty of people who find themselves five years into a relationship, vacuuming up piles of hair from a Labrador retriever they swore they would never own... all for the sake of love.  But moving to another country... another culture... another world!..., that isn't something one can easily come to terms with, no matter what combination of time, devotion or arm-twisting is brought to bear. 

Sadly, in the 5 years since we moved to Israel we have seen several families return to the US because one spouse was never completely on-board with the idea of aliyah.

In our case we were both completely sold on moving to Israel.  When we got married we had a bright shiny 'Five Year Plan' that included saving some money, having a couple of kids and then making the move.  But we quickly found out that the dream of making aliyah and the reality of making it happen are very different animals.

Somewhere around year seven or eight we found ourselves sitting on the back deck of our Connecticut home, grilling steaks with good friends and watching fireflies flit across our spacious back yard.  As the cicadas went to bed for the night and the crickets took over on ambiance duty, we looked at each other and asked ourselves what had happened. 

There were plenty of valid excuses on which to hang our continued presence in the US; We had both gone through financial set-backs over the years in the form of untimely lay-offs (thankfully not at the same time), and there were other family and financial things that had landed in our laps.  But none of that had kept us from trading our Brooklyn Co-op for a nice house in the 'burbs. 

Just a few days short of our 10th wedding anniversary we finally admitted to ourselves the folly of our 'five year plan.'  It wasn't that we didn't want to move to Israel... we did!  Desperately!!!  But we had created a complex constellation of stars that were supposed to perfectly align before we actually went:

  • We were going to save 'more' money
  • We needed to pay off student loans
  • We wanted to have more professional experience
  • We were going to become fluent in Hebrew
  • We had to make sure the kids weren't too young
  • We had to make sure the kids weren't too old
  • We had to give our respective families time to come to terms with the idea of us moving so far away

I'm sure there were other things holding us back... but looking over our shoulder from where we are today, I can assure you it was all a bunch of crap.   None of that stuff ever falls perfectly into place... or if it does, we fail to notice it and take the next step.  And as time flies by it just gets harder, not easier, to extricate oneself from our comfortable urban or suburban lives once they are well underway.

Face it, you never seem to have enough money to make aliyah.  I have never met anyone who could tell me what the right amount of money is to have in the bank before moving to Israel... and who actually attained that amount and then got on a plane.  Chances are, if there ever was such a person, he/she probably had the letters 'CPA' after their name.  But for the rest of us mortals, having enough money to close up shop and make aliyah is like a drunk having enough booze to call it a night and go home.   

Obviously I'm not saying one should move to Israel penniless and become indigent.  'B'siyata Dishmaya' (placing one's faith in heaven) is all well and good, but must be balanced by taking a certain amount of personal responsibility for one's welfare. 

But few people are wise or disciplined enough to set a price tag on their aliyah plans and stick to it ruthlessly.  There will always be new things to buy, vacations to take and tuitions to pay.   And all those things become like roots and vines, robbing you of your mobility and your solvency.

Remember that date I mentioned earlier, when things finally hit us... the date just a few days short of our tenth anniversary?  That date was September 11th, 2001. 

As I stood in my midtown office watching the smoke rising from lower Manhattan, I called my wife in her Connecticut design studio.  After sharing our horror over the still-unfolding events of the day, I finally said, "Sweetie, what the hell are we waiting for?"  And she knew exactly what I was talking about.  It was one of those moments of perfect understanding.

That was the turning point.  At the time, the 'Al Aksa' Intifada was in full swing and Israel was groaning under a tsunami of terror that, on a per-capita basis, was like experiencing a 9/11 attack every few weeks! 

But that evening, after I'd finally made it home and had finished hanging a big American flag from the neatly painted white porch of our Connecticut house, Zahava and I sat down to discuss starting life over again... under a different flag.

[This is the first in a series of treppenwitz posts that will conclude with a (pleasant) surprise ending.  Stay tuned.

Posted by David Bogner on July 21, 2008 | Permalink

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Wow, a series. Can't wait to see how this unfolds!

Posted by: Baila | Jul 21, 2008 6:35:53 AM

while we were already in aliya discussion mode, having already spoken to a shaliach to get the ball rolling, 9/11 was our kick in the head too. add to that our main post office in nj being the epicenter for anthrax distribution... well, that was that.

Posted by: nikki | Jul 21, 2008 7:56:49 AM

In my experience (in case anyone relevant is reading this) the best time to make aliya is after high school.

If your parents can help a bit, you can finish college in 3 years working only summers, and end up with no debts. (otherwise, you'll have to find jobs during the year, but if you can tutor in English and eat a lot of rice... you can usually make ends meet.)

Going to college in Israel puts you in a position to have friends here, job opportunities here, and most importantly, NO DEBT.

The other great time to make aliya is when you're retired and have no debts (if such a thing ever happens)
Any other phase is much harder, though nothing is impossible!

Posted by: triLcat | Jul 21, 2008 8:39:50 AM

My wife and I had a similar "what are we still doing here" moment after we had been married about 5 1/2 years. We had the good fortune to have a friend babysit for us on Kol Nidre, and a friend of ours spoke about "Timahon levav" from the Vidui (confessional prayer). In the end, he described it as the sin of "refraining from doing that which you know to be correct because it is easier to remain with the status quo." When my wife and I discussed it afterwords, we looked at each other and said "Aliyah", and started the process in earnest.

It also helped that our eldest child was going to be starting kindergarten the next year, and we had a $15,000 tuition bill staring us in the face if we were going to send her to one of the local day schools.

Regardless, now almost a day doesn't go by when we don't think about how glad we are to be here!

Posted by: Jonathan | Jul 21, 2008 9:07:19 AM

Most of our friends made the mistake of buying real estate with their wedding money. Then the market went down and they could not recoup their initial investment.

When Number 1 Son was born, a friend said to me: the clock is now ticking. The moment you have to put him in a Jewish day school, your aliyah plans are shot.

Very dramatic but it worked - we were in Israel before his 3rd birthday.

Posted by: Ben-David | Jul 21, 2008 11:48:50 AM

How about those of us still in chu"l in our mid 40's? Is it too late to make aliya? What monthly income would a large family need to live comfortably, after accommodation has been taken care off?

Posted by: Chaim | Jul 21, 2008 12:00:29 PM

OK, now you've got me hooked with that series and surprise ending thingy.
I returned to Israel after having grown up in the US. Being single, I had nothing to tie me down so it was much easier. Besides, as a brand new philosophy major with no prospects, joining the army seemed like a job, sort of.

Posted by: QuietusLeo | Jul 21, 2008 12:11:43 PM

I'm sure you'll get to this later in the series, but it would be much scarier for me, personally, to go without a job lined up, than without enough money in hand. Did you already have your job, and/or did Zahava have clients/connections for her design work?

Posted by: Tanya | Jul 21, 2008 5:43:01 PM

David, you are so right. Those who are waiting for all the stars to align just right, never seem to get on the plane. That being said, one of the wisest comments made to us while we were deciding whether or not to come was that we need to be sure we are running towards something we want, not away from something we want to be rid of.

Posted by: Rachel | Jul 21, 2008 6:00:25 PM

There's something cosmically ironic, and satisfying, about aliya kick-started by a cabal of terrorist slimeballs. I doubt those thugs -- may their names and memories be blotted out for all time -- intended for that to happen. If anyone ever doubted that, in the end, there is true justice, well, then, ol' Trep is Exhibit A.

Posted by: Ari | Jul 21, 2008 6:41:55 PM

My parents are finally (hopefully!) making aliyah this summer after 43 years of marriage in which they always "wanted" to go. We actually did make one aborted attempt in 1973-74, allowing me to brag to friends about spending the Yom Kippur War in a bomb shelter.

There are always reasons, lulei demistafina, not to move to Israel. Interestingly, over the past few years, with the holy triad of tuition, mortgage, and healthcare skyrocketing in the US, many made Aliyah to SAVE money. Nefesh B'Nefesh also helped. Today with the Shekel soaring against the dollar, those savings are muted but still there.

As for breaking family ties, that unfortunately is part of the reality and all the time in the world won't help kin "come to terms" with your leaving.

Posted by: ClooJew | Jul 21, 2008 7:10:27 PM

Terrific post. I bet those 9/11 terrorists never thought they would be the ones to push you to aliyah.

Posted by: SaraK | Jul 21, 2008 7:39:14 PM

"I have never met anyone who could tell me what the right amount of money is to have in the bank before moving to Israel... and who actually attained that amount and then got on a plane. Chances are, if there ever was such a person, he/she probably had the letters 'CPA' after their name. "

I have. One of my graduate school classmates announced that he would save $10,000 and move. He got through school on scholarships, saved that requisite amount of money, and left about 2 months after graduation. He is doing fine now; we consider him the posterboy for making the leap.

One of my most beloved "only in YU" stories.

Posted by: Yael | Jul 21, 2008 8:03:25 PM

I always admire people who make their (positive) dreams a reality. Kol Hakavod.
Btw - don't know how I missed it, but I just noticed your Twitter updates section. Love it!
Mata

Posted by: mata hari | Jul 21, 2008 8:51:04 PM

Kol ha'kavod! I'm sure coming on aliya with kids is difficult, and coming after settling into a comfy life in the US is even harder. Publicising your experiences may help others make the move!

According to family friends, it has *always* been expensive to live in Israel. The cost of living is simply high relative to people's salaries. Not moving because the material quality of life is a realistic concern but, in the end, there are so many benefits to living in Israel...and I know many people who have moved, from many different countries (S. Africa, Australia, Canada, France, Argentina) in many different periods (60s, 70s, last year), religious and not... so I feel confident saying that if it's a dream, you can make it happen.
I :)

Posted by: Idit | Jul 21, 2008 10:29:54 PM

ooh ooh - can i guess your surprise ending? is nbn also flying you into the US to accompany and blog an oleh family on their aliyah journey??

Posted by: tzip | Jul 21, 2008 11:09:38 PM

David,

Love it - look forward to the next installment.

In the meantime I'm sending this to all my colleagues.

Gilly

Posted by: Gilly | Jul 21, 2008 11:41:14 PM

I was the first to comment on this post, and now maybe the last.

Just wanted to say to Chaim that we are in our "mid-40's" and made Aliya 10 months ago. It has been extremely difficult (socially) for our teenage daughter. There are other challenges, but I think those may be common to all ages (i.e. financial), but what sets us apart from most of the others making Aliyah are the ages of our children. We are very hopeful that she will adjust, but it is not easy...

If you are thinking about coming Aliya, don't wait. Do it before the kids come, or when they are young...

Posted by: Baila | Jul 21, 2008 11:45:17 PM

Having just returned from Israel after being absent 2o years, I can definitely say that folks who are making aliyah now have it so easy to those of us who did it back then. We made aliyah in 1983 and life in Israel was very difficult. You couldn't keep a savings or checking account because the money wasn't worth anything from one week to the next. You were lucky if you could find a flat that actually had a telephone, or else you were put on a waiting list, you didn't have NBN holding your hand through all the bureaucracy, there was only one tv channel and it was VERY expensive to buy almost everything and anything other than food (which was subsidized - not sure if it still is) and public transportation. It was very expensive to call overseas and if you didn't have a phone you had to wait in a long line to use the public phone. You didn't have the internet to help you when you were lonely and want to instantly reach out to the other side of the world or to find someone local to meet or help you out or sell or buy something, you didn't have cell phones or any of the American products that help soothe homesickness. Stores didn't stay open late and they rarely heard of a return policy or customer service. And to leave the country you had to pay exhorbiant exit fees. There was no such thing as telecommuting back and forth to the States as a normal routine.

Of course there was lots of positive things that at least back then, I thought was so special. That only in Israel would a new immigrant be set up in an absorption center and to give a living allowance and language lessons and free education and tax breaks and the works (which I am not sure they still do or not).

Securing a job and having enough money is and will always be important and the responsible thing to do especially when you have a family, but as for being difficult, Israel today is so much stronger economically, their social, environmental and health awareness is right on cue with the US, clothing and other goods are actually affordable, concepts that are common to the average yuppie is the same there, the road system and public transportation system is fantastic and they have fresh veggies and fruits that ACTUALLY have flavor!!! There is of course many aspects of the country that is not on the pretty side, but it's not a utopia and it's easy enough to adjust to.

Just my humble opinion.

Posted by: jaime | Jul 22, 2008 1:28:29 AM

I just had to add this little comment that my 6 year old son said to me today. He heard someone beeping a car horn and so he asked me, "Momma, why are they beeping their horn." I told him that I didn't know. So he then said to me (which totally made me snort with laughter), "hmm, maybe they are Israelie."

: )

Posted by: jaime | Jul 22, 2008 1:35:06 AM

I came right after college. All my Zionist friends were waiting until they got married. I figured the best place to meet someone who wants to live in Israel was... in Israel. My friends thought it would be harder to make Aliyah single... but I am here and most of them are not.

I had no money, but I also had no responsibilities besides my own basic living requirements (food and a roof over my head). I lived with three roommates, in a small apartment, in a cheap (read: lousy) neighborhood. The furniture was old and breaking, the neighbors were so nearby that they stared at us through our living room window, and we were the only English speakers in a five block radius.

I could not afford to attend ulpan, because I was busy working. I worked all over the place (once year, I worked for four different organizations at once!). I grew up in Israel. I even achieved financial independence in Israel.... (that is, until I wanted to purchase a home)

Ironically, A few years after I made Aliyah, I married an old friend, from my home-town. (but that is another story)

The bottom line is: If you want to live in Israel, just come. Don't wait! It doesn't get easier! Just come.

I never regretted my decision to move here. It's a crazy country, but I wouldn't want to raise my children anywhere else.

Posted by: Rivka with a capital A | Jul 22, 2008 2:24:13 AM

Great post. I'm always struggling with Aliyah. But on the flip side of what everyone is saying, there is something to be said about waiting until you're ready to make Aliyah to some degree, even if things aren't perfectly in place (because, like you said, nothing will ever be perfectly in place). I've heard of a bunch of stories where people make Aliyah and then have to come back.

Someone in the comments mentioned that the best time to make Aliyah is after high school. On paper, maybe. But not every 17 or 18 year old is ready to just go across the Atlantic and start a new life so far away from her family, etc. Not everyone has a network of friends in Israel, not everyone is mentally or emotionally ready at such a young age. It's scary. Some people can do it, not everyone can. I guess what I'm trying to say is, to some extent, you have to have faith and you have to go when you're still free enough in the world to be able to do it, but everyone is ready at different times and I really do believe in there being some concept of feeling "ready" - whatever that may mean for each, individual person. So whether you're 18 or 25 or 40 or any age in between or before or after, they're all the right age. It all depends on the person.

Posted by: Erachet | Jul 22, 2008 4:54:50 AM

Nice post.

At the end of the day, it just depends on the individual. I moved here 2 years ago at the relatively old age of 31 (old compared to most single olim.) I am sure that some things would have been easier at a younger age (more patience to learn the language, less life experiences in America to compare to) but at the end of the day, only I decide whether to stay or return to the States. Some 18 year olds stay, some return, some 45 year olds stay, and I'm sure some return. There are pros and cons of every place but if you want to stay here...you stay here.

Posted by: Benji Lovitt | Jul 22, 2008 11:37:35 AM

Various things pushed me here and various things have kept me here. Somewhat ironically (seeing that I live in a Jewish country) the one thing I could see pushing me back would be meeting Mr. Right and Mr. Right living in the US. If it came down to spending the rest of my life in Israel, alone or spending the rest of my life in exile, with....

Wow--even thinking about it in a theoretical manner is difficult.

And even that would be an extremely tough sale.

Posted by: gila | Jul 22, 2008 12:14:08 PM

"having enough money to close up shop and make aliyah is like a drunk having enough booze to call it a night and go home."

I'll drink to that.

LOL!

Posted by: Gidon Ariel | Jul 23, 2008 5:05:49 PM

On the micro level, I think everyone has their own story, and their own level of connection to their Jewish/Israel identity.

On a macro level, I agree with Jaime in a way. Today, more and more people are coming, so there is more of a chance of finding a community that you feel comfortable with, thereby growing that community, so it becomes more attractive to potential olim, etc etc. Call me tunnel visioned, but I think that very soon Israel will be the default place to live for American Jews, certainly those with any committed Jewish identity. (now THAT's a resolution that I'd like to see debated!)

I personally came in 10th grade, after Moshava (Machal to be specific), and expected that it would just be a continuation of summer camp. I don't remember at which point I stopped thinking that - I think I never did.

Posted by: Gidon Ariel | Jul 23, 2008 5:20:15 PM

I personally came in 10th grade, after Moshava (Machal to be specific), and expected that it would just be a continuation of summer camp. I don't remember at which point I stopped thinking that - I think I never did.

Good ol' Moshava! :D

Posted by: Erachet | Jul 23, 2008 6:24:10 PM

It's not even having more Americans there that make it easier, but the fact with the Internet and cable, etc, it's much easier to instantly reach out and feel connected and therefore feeling less lonely or so far away from one family.

Posted by: jaime | Jul 23, 2008 11:32:17 PM

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