It was my first week in Israel as a newly minted Olah Chadasha and the time had come for me to open my bank account. I walked into the nearest bank and stood in the middle of the lobby and looked around waiting for someone to offer to help me. After about 15 minutes of complete confusion, I got overwhelmed and started to cry. Just as I was about to give up and leave the bank, a man wearing a name tag walked up to me and after understanding very quickly that I did not speak Hebrew, he asked me in that classic broken Israeli English if I needed help. I explained through my tears that I was there to open my bank account. He smiled broadly, shook my hand and said, “Welcome to Israel! My name is Dudu Kadosh and I will be you banker.”
I worked hard to maintain myself but after a few seconds I burst out laughing. Dudu looked very confused but I didn’t have the heart to explain. As we moved further into the bank to start opening my account, all I could think to myself was, “Well, if my banker’s name is holy ****, I think I’ll be ok here.”
In my five years since making Aliyah I have learned and grown a lot (although I still don’t know what I am doing when I go to the bank) and during those years I have carried that story with me as a reminder of my start as Olah and how far I have come since that day.
Learning to be effective as an Oleh takes work and it takes time. I have compiled a list of what I believe are the 7 habits of highly effective Olim so you can learn from my experience and don’t end up like me, clueless and crying in the bank lobby.
Brace Yourself for Bumps
When planning for your Aliyah, it is of vital importance to be prepared for your new life in Israel. Aliyah can be like a wild roller coaster. It has its highs; it has its lows and its plateaus. The important thing it to be prepared for each part before it comes and to know that if something is not going the way you planned, a change can be just around the corner.
The high of making Aliyah and fulfilling a dream is incredible- you step off the plane after months or maybe years of work towards this moment and it has finally arrived! You reunite with family and friends, set off to your first destination and everything is picture perfect.
After day 1, real life begins. The job hunt, the apartment search, learning Hebrew- life in Israel begins and it’s time to buckle down and get to work.
The ups and downs of life in Israel are like that of the ups and downs of life in North America. Sometimes life is all smiles and joy but sometimes, life can throw you for a loop. The important thing is remembering that this is normal- not everything goes a s smoothly as we want all the time.
Put yourself out there and be proactive:
Being proactive means more than merely taking initiative. It means acknowledging that we as Olim are responsible for our own lives. We are in the drivers’ seat and we are expected to be our own best advocates.
Being proactive does not mean being pushy, obnoxious, or aggressive. It does mean recognizing our responsibility to make things happen and asking for help when help is needed.
You are in charge of your life after Aliyah. Know your rights, know your benefits and most importantly, know when to ask for help. I learned this lesson the hard way at the bank- I walked in with the hope that someone would notice me and help me out rather than walking up to a teller to ask for help. It took tears and panic to get someone to finally notice me and come over to help. I had my expectations set at an unrealistic level where I assumed someone would read my mind and come help me.
People want to help- they like to help. You may find yourself surprised by how quickly people will volunteer to help you make a phone call in Hebrew, help you navigate your health care or offer up a piece of advice on how to move forward in your job search. People are willing and ready to help- you just need to be willing to ask for it. Just follow this motto: when in doubt, reach out!
If you find yourself in need of help, our Post-Aliyah Department is always here to lend a hand!
Set goals and celebrate your accomplishments:
When you set goals, you start off with a clear understanding of your intended result. Knowing what the end should look like will keep you on track and motivated every time you move one step closer towards that goal.
I find that if I take baby steps towards my goal, I am less likely to throw my hands up in the air and give up at the first sign of difficulty. When learning Hebrew for example, I could not expect myself to walk out of Ulpan fully fluent and ready to go- I would have given up on Hebrew long ago and blamed the Ulpan system for failing me.
Ulpan will set you up with a good foundation for Hebrew and make you feel comfortable with the basics – the true skill comes after when you take the lessons you learned in Ulpan and apply it to your daily life.
At the beginning, anytime I answered someone in Hebrew rather than revert to English I rewarded myself with a piece of chocolate. The first time I actively made a phone call in Hebrew, I got a new dress! When I started speaking to people on the street in Hebrew and refused to switch to English even where they did, I got a trip to the beach.
Small accomplishments matter- celebrate them and recognize how far you have come! It will keep you motivated to keep moving forward and keep progressing.
Learn to Speak the Culture
While learning the Hebrew language is an important part of your Aliyah, learning the cultural slang can be almost as important.
When someone calls you “Achi,” (literally, my brother), even though he has never met you, it is important to know he is referring to you this way because in Israel, we are all brothers. It is a term of endearment and a way to make a connection with someone, even if you have never met.
I have found that Israelis tend to live with a “yehiyeh b’seder” (it will be ok) mentality and while I find that sometimes that theory stresses me out more than it calms me, it helps me recognize that the lack of urgency I sense in some people is not laziness but rather a cultural difference.
Learning the laid-back nature of Israeli culture can prepare you for a lot of situations that may otherwise frustrate you.
At Nefesh B’Nefesh we have a saying that comes up around the office every now and then; “No is really just the beginning of a negotiation.”
In Israeli society, no never means no. You’ll see it almost daily on the street of your town. Israeli’s hear no and do not accept that as an answer.
Whether it is connected to getting admitted to a University (“What do you mean I didn’t get accepted to the University. What can I do to prove to you that I can do it?”), getting your internet set up in a new apartment (“You can’t send me a technician until Tuesday? No. That is unacceptable. Find someone to come sooner or I will cancel my service!”), or even just haggling the prices at the Shuk (“This costs 10 shekels? I’ll give you 5.”), Israelis have mastered the art of negotiation.
As a new Olah, this was a skill I had a hard time learning. In America, no meant no and nothing else. My friends called me a “frier” (a sucker) as I always paid full price and accepted that the internet guy just wasn’t going to come until next week. I had to learn to stick up for myself and fight for the things I wanted or needed. It is important to stick up for yourself at all time or you may get walked over. It is a weird habit to learn- it felt totally out of my comfort zone- and I still find myself struggling with this 5 years later, but, when I needed service on my internet connection last week, I got it within 24 hours.
Adapt without losing yourself
I had a weird encounter on the bus one day. I got on the bus at my usual stop, said good morning to my bus driver, paid the fare and said thank you before heading off to find my seat. The bus driver looked at me and said “You are obviously an American.”
I was a little thrown off- how did he figure out I was American after I spoke only one word? “how did you know,” I asked.
“The Americans are the only ones who say thank you,” he said. “It makes me smile.”
Since that day I actively make sure I say thank you to my bus drivers. Why shouldn’t I make someone else smile in midst of morning traffic? If it points me out as an American, so be it. I may be able to haggle prices and not take no for an answer but my manners and gratitude that were instilled in me in childhood have stayed the same with no negative impact on my Klita (absorption) to Israeli society.
Recognize your only in Israel moments:
Make it a habit to find those “Only in Israel Moments.” Take note of the small thing like the bus signs wishing you a chag sameach, the grocery stores stocking up on the fanciest of cheeses only right before Shavuot, the sufganiot that appear earlier and earlier each year as we approach hanukka. Appreciate the big things like a stranger offering to help you move into your new apartment, someone inviting you over for Shabbat dinner because you are single and they have a handsome and brilliant son, or the amazing unity the country experiences during a national crisis. It is these moment that will carry you through the rough times.
Remembering these moments will keep you feeling positive when you are having a bad day. Recognizing that you are in a place where brotherhood comes first above all else makes the challenges so much simpler to overcome.
There you have it! These are the 7 habits I believe can help your Aliyah be more successful and can help you not only live in Israel, but thrive at the same time. Always remember, Nefesh B’Nefesh is here to help even in after the Aliyah high wears off. Please feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.