5 Dirty Secrets About Life In Israel Aliyah Promoters Probably Won’t Tell You

Israel’s shoreline at Tel Aviv. While attractive, a place on it doesn’t come cheap. Photo by Naya Shaw from Pexels

I’m all in favor of the process of Jews moving to Israel to start new lives here — at least in theory.

In Jewish circles, that process is known as aliyah (the word literally means ‘ascension’ and derives from the idea that for Jews to move from Diaspora communities to Israel is a spiritually elevating experience).

Zionism is the ideology that underpins the world’s only Jewish state. And Olim (plural for ‘immigrants’) are Jews who come to live in Israel — whether through persecution or ideological fervor.

And while my perspective on Israel has changed massively over the course of my time here, I think that participating in the story of the State of Israel is massively exciting for those prepared to take the leap and uproot themselves to new climes.

All that being said, I’m increasingly finding myself increasingly ticked-off by some facets of life in Israel that are — frankly — pretty ridiculous. Many feel the same way — although not everybody is prepared to put their byline on a public blog.

But that’s not really what I take issue with.

Every country has its selling points and facets that make is less attractive. In this respect Israel is no more unique than Turkey or Singapore. And as a place to live, it is objectively more attractive than many other counties, especially in its region.

What seems more unique, in Israel’s case, is a prevalent feeling among many that speaking ill of the country is traitorous anathema that must be silenced.

This leads to what might be accurately described as a culture of toxic positivity among immigrants here — and more perplexingly to me, often among Jews living in the diaspora. In my opinion, it does absolutely no good for the future of the country. Nor for those living here who feel shunned into silence, their lived experiences devalidated (sometimes, ironically, by those who have never spent more than a week in the country).

Just as pertinently, all this ends up doing instead is creating an image of what life in Israel is life that’s discordant with reality on the ground.

If every positive must be hyped — see hasbara and the culture it has spawned — and every negative cloaked in silence, we end up with something that looks an awful lot like North Korean propaganda. Just a much milder version of it.

Like North Korean expats who were enticed to the homeland by ridiculous propaganda only to find a scraggly wasteland in its place, we merely end up with a lot of disillusioned immigrants who return in a few years to their countries of origin, brokenhearted by how the flawed country they lived in ended up bearing little resemblance to the one written up in brochures.

Speaking about that (returning immigrants): nobody’s keeping numbers, it seems (that fact alone is baffling). Or if they are, they’re doing an excellent job at making them hard to find.

But if anecdotal reports are anything to go by, I’ve seen estimates as to how many Jewish immigrants to Israel end up packing their bags range from as low as 20% to as high as 50%. Personally I can vouch for the fact that many friends that I made in Israel have already moved to new climes. It’s difficult here. Many end up voting with their feet in recognition of that fact.

There are some real problems here — alongside lots of opportunity. This is a (very) partial list of issues that I’d love to see entering the fold of acceptable discussion.

Customer Service In Israel Is Often Appallingly Bad

American immigrants to Israel are often shocked to find that the “yes, ma’am” culture that pervades in the States doesn’t exist here. Nor does the maxim that “the customer is always right.”

I don’t take issue with any of that although some basic manners would be great in many aspects of life here, customer service being only one of them.

What I’m talking about, instead, is a business culture that regards Israeli customers as suckers who must be milked for every last shekel they’re worth. It’s predatory. It’s abusive. And for way too long it’s been something that only people living in Israel discuss.

Far too many companies in Israel exploit their position of market and geographic dominance — it’s not like we can buy internet in Jordan — to deliver a level of service to their customers that is at best negligent and sometimes even downright abusive.

Often the local representatives of international brands are the worst offenders. If you have a great experience with a logistics provider that began with ‘D’ in Japan, don’t expect that the same will automatically hold true in Israel.

I’d love to go into more detail but….

Israel’s Defamation Laws Also Prevent You From Talking About Aforementioned Lousy Businesses

I’m — generally speaking — not a fan of shaming companies into providing service through posting the sordid details of your experience on social media. Although I have done this on multiple occasions when Israeli businesses simply refused to provide service (one more grievance: an apology — or the magic words “we’re sorry for the inconvenience” — are so rarely uttered by companies here).

Nevertheless, Israel takes muzzling to its farthest extreme with a defamation code that makes it a potentially illegal offence to so much as state an opinion about a derelict service provider anywhere on the internet.That includes, naturally, Facebook.

Groups have been founded by English speakers — The Israel Blacklist is the best known — that exist solely to try to warn others which businesses not to buy from. That group sadly had to close down because running the group was too much of a potential legal quagmire for the group owner.

Customer protection law — like the laws intended to provide renters that are regularly run over roughshod by uncaring agents — aren’t much better.

Salaries By And Large Don’t Keep Up With The Cost Of Living

While it’s true that Israel does have a strong technology sector, the much underdiscussed fact is that the vast majority of the workforce does not work in it.

It’s great to talk about the success of high-tech. But if want to have an honest conversation about what standards of living in Israel are like, we also need to talk about non-participation rates — and salary disparity within companies. Otherwise, we’re merely cherry-picking information.

But to cherry-pick some details to inject a little realism into the debate: it was recently revealed that the nucleus of the entire sector consists of only 20,000 people. Israel’s population now numbers more than nine million.

Outside of the much hyped “high tech” world may workers are attempting to survive in a country with the eighth highest cost of living in the developed world on a paltry minimum wage that equates to only 29 NIS per hour — causing them to loose close on 3,000 shekels per month.

This was the highest second deficit in the world according to the personal finance website that compiled the data.

Israeli Real Estate Is Exorbitantly Expensive And Unaffordable For Many Young People And Immigrants

Even the coronavirus can’t arrest the seemingly inevitable rise of real estate prices in Israel which were last year revealed to be the second highest per square meter in the world.

This may be vaunted as a good think or hailed as a hallmark of Israel’s rising economic dominance. Naturally, if you’re trying to buy property, the situation is flipped on its head.

The problem? Many Israelis are neither independently wealthy nor in a position to afford the downpayments.

This is a global dynamic of course, but the crunch is being felt particularly strongly here in Israel. For those interested in exploring the dynamic in more depth, Alan Rosenbaum’s piece for The Jerusalem Post is worth a read.

The summary version (without disrespecting the writer or those quoted; it was a worthwhile and important piece): perspectives from a few real estate professionals asserting what every dog on the street in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv already knows — namely that demand from foreign investors is shoring up prices, alongside a government whose only answer seems to provide very modest subsidies for those looking to live in less developed (but also for many less attractive) parts of the country.

The Cost Of Living Is Sky High (…But None Of Our Politicians, Perplexingly, Seem That Bothered By It)

Among those who grew up taking holidays in Israel, this is apparently a well-known fact. The sky is blue, did you hear?

But sometimes one just feels that the gung-ho literature produced in mass by organizations trying to encourage immigration to Israel fails to really capture the extent of how expensive living in Israel can be.

What’s cheap — or rather affordable? Healthcare is excellent. Falafel — as you’d expect — doesn’t cost much. Hang on, there’s more…

The stranger dynamic? Neither the Israeli voter nor the entirety of the Knesset seem particularly non-plussed about this phenomenon even though it frequently makes domestic headlines.

I still personally believe that those with means, energy, and volition to do so should make aliyah. Even when that means a lowering of one’s standard of living.

Living in Israel presents an opportunity to start one’s life from a blank canvas, make whatever one wants of it — and leave an impression on the trajectory of the country at the same time.

There’s a feeling — sometimes — that every immigrant matters in Israel. That nobody is too singular to make a difference. That’s a feeling that it’s hard to replicate in more evolved countries.

Nevertheless, I’ve begun to really hate the fairytale version of what life in Israel is like that far too many insist on peddling in at every opportunity. It’s deceptive, misleading, and very liable to create massive disappointment.

There are real challenges here.

But therein, paradoxically, also lies the great opportunity: that means that there’s also a great chance to contribute towards the betterment of the world’s only Jewish state.

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Daniel Rosehill

Daniel Rosehill

Daytime: writing for other people. Nighttime: writing for me. Or the other way round. Enjoys: Linux, tech, beer, random things. https://www.danielrosehill.com