By: Hillel Kuttler
It’s late on a Tuesday afternoon, and four-year-old Elisha Muller and his two-year-old sister Gefen sit quietly on a sofa, watching cartoons on a tablet. Cake and a pitcher of water beckon on the dining-room table for the children’s parents and their two visitors. The quartet are natives of the East Coast of the United States who settled in Migdal HaEmek, population 28,000, in the central Jezreel Valley.
The town is an unlikely landing spot for English-speaking Olim. They are in the minuscule minority of a town built on immigration, going back to the early 1950s, when newcomers, primarily from Arabic-speaking countries, were housed in a Ma’abara (a tent community). The Mullers live in a sparkling-new complex in the neighborhood of Ya’arat HaEmek, around a bend in the road that’s lined with old apartment buildings.
They, and their friends, said they’re happy to be here.
Rafi Muller (age 34, from Silver Spring, Maryland): Our greatest asset here is the people. By way of an illustrative story: We had terrible movers, who refused to put together our furniture, and they left. We didn’t know anyone yet, and we were stuck and ready to cry. One of the neighbors came with a cake to see how we were doing. We told them we were doing terribly. Six or seven people showed up with their power tools, and within 30 minutes they had everything done. More than anything else, that’s what brought us and what’s going to keep us here for many years.
It’s a very scenic area, a very relaxed place. The pace of life, the quality of life, the affordability, speak to us. It has all the amenities you need: grocery stores, doctors, shopping centers, parks.
Tova Muller, Rafi’s wife (30, New York): We knew that we didn’t want to live in the Merkaz [center of the country]. Anyone who makes Aliyah and lives here is making a difference. We wanted to be in a place that can actually use our help. I have a degree in education, so I could find a job anywhere. My husband is a children’s psychologist, so he could find a job anywhere. Our good friends live here, and we came for coffee. We didn’t hear much about it before. We thought we’d give it a shot – a trial for a year. A year later, we decided to buy here.
Avraham Lifshitz (31, New York): There’s a garin torani – a [national-religious,] social-education-activism group – here that I’m the director of. The goal is to bring families to the North through a strengthening of Jewish-Zionist values. There’s a complex population of people in this city. I really believe that Migdal HaEmek wants to have more Olim. The mayor has gone to America and recruited. I feel wanted here.
Rafi: Those we met in the garin torani were people we could really relate to. I wasn’t looking for some sort of English-American community.
Katie Lazarus (30; Norfolk, Virginia): My husband, two children and I must have visited 30-plus communities. We found that in many communities, there was a total separation between Anglos and Israelis, or they were much older. Someone told us about the concept of garin torani, which we really liked. Our daily lives are busy, but it is important for us to make an impact on our community, to meet our neighbors. We came to visit Migdal HaEmek. The scenery of the North is beautiful, and we also have some of the conveniences of city life. We liked what we saw, so we moved here. We like that on Fridays, we can hike and be in nature. My husband and a group of friends go bike riding or running on Friday mornings.
Tova: There are water hikes at Nahal HaShofet, Nahal HaKibutzim and Nahal Kishon. There’s a beautiful hilltop by Alonim that’s stroller-accessible. There’s Beit Zaid, by Tivon. All those are free. There’s Beit Shearim, an archaeological site, and hikes and horseback riding by Hoshaya.
Avraham: Tiberias is 40 minutes away; Haifa is 35 minutes. We’re in a strategic location – about equidistant to both sides of Israel.
Tova: This whole area behind our house is an archaeological site, with [ancient] wine presses. There’s a really nice path that goes along fruit trees.
Katie: There’s a lot for kids to do in the summer. They have amazing parks here – Park Rishonim and Park Rabin – that are huge, shaded and well maintained. My kids play there for hours.
Tova: They really work hard for the children. They put in the effort and a lot of money in parks and shows and the library.
Avraham: For adults, the community center has lectures, concerts and other cultural events.
Rafi: Within a half-hour drive are shows and comedy shows, like at Kibbutz Yifat.
Tova: Afula is our go-to city, 20 minutes from here.
Rafi: We just started a WhatsApp group for English speakers.
Katie: I’d venture to say that people who move here don’t want an exclusive Anglo community, but there are enough people that you do feel you have support. I can ask where to find American products I might need. This year, we are planning on making Thanksgiving dinner that could be organized through the WhatsApp group. But we’re not lacking the American lifestyle. We have it all. I’d rather throw myself into the Hebrew culture. We’re looking more to integrate into society.
Photo caption: For (l-r) Katie Lazarus, Tova and Rafi Muller and Avraham Lifshitz, settling in Migdal HaEmek has been a good move.
Photo credit: Hillel Kuttler