Living In Israel: How Things Look From Abroad
For the first time since the pandemic kicked off, I’m on the road.
Specifically, I’m visiting in-laws in the North-East via a short stopover in New York City.
I seem to have finally gotten over my home office hang-up (how I love my home office!) and am typing this from the most unergonomic of setups possible, while perched on a bed, hunched over my laptop, in an un-airconditioned room.
The writing must go on and being a little bit flexible about where you work from seems like an adaptive trait for anybody — like me — interested in forging a career as a remote worker.
It’s all good experience and it’s kicked me out of my COVID comfort zone. Which is a good thing.
Because this is also the first time I’ve been out of Israel in more than two years — the last time I was abroad was both before my wedding and before the pandemic kicked off — it’s also given me pause for thought about how I perceive living in the country when I get a break from it.
So before I forget here are some simplified ‘pros’ and ‘cons’. Or at least those as they appear from the lens of an Irish-born Jew living in Israel and visiting the USA.
Compared To Israel, America Is A Consumer Paradise
Those who live in the USA are familiar with a website called Amazon and an express delivery service called Prime.
Being able to order what you need to your door and to know that it’s being backed by quality service is virtually inconceivable if you live in Israel (Amazon briefly experimented with doing business in the country but ended a free shipping promo shortly after the pandemic).
Customer service in Israel is often downright abusive. The cost of living is ferocious and — for reasons probably attributable to some combination of exploitation low economies of scale — everything seems to cost a multiple of what it should.
Import restrictions and Israel’s rather enthusiastic customs authority means that everything about $75 incurs VAT and can get stuck in bureaucracy. Finally, at least post pandemic, Amazon only ships a tiny portion of its inventory there.
Various YouTube videos have satirized Israelis’ propensity to use trips abroad to stock up on just about everything minus the kitchen sink. But it’s hard to appreciate why without actually living there.
For $30, my 8 year old backpack that was falling apart at the seams has been replaced for an amazing one. It arrived one day after I ordered it. And if it were defective, I know I’d be able to rely on Amazon to make it right. Such a combination of factors is virtually inconceivable in today’s Israel.
Israel Punches Well Above Its Weight In Many Things Tech-Related
Visiting New York City last week, I was surprised to learn that the city still relies upon the MetroCard for transportation.
Boarding a Delta flight, I was also surprised to learn that the TSA enforces its rather illogical liquid on flight restrictions with extra-territorial effect. On the other end of the 12 hour journey, biometric scanning was being advertised on glossy billboards as the latest thing in security. This technology has been the norm at Ben Gurion Airport for years already.
Israel’s fervor for technology is borne in part out of circumstances: graduates of many of the IDF’s units go on to deploy their talents in the private sector and Israel is home to a massive array of startups.
Beyond actual use, however, embracing technology is something of a mindset. Compared to many countries, Israel doesn’t have much in the way of natural resources to tap. So it taps those of its people and silicon chips to create technologies that solve problems around the world.
Israel May Be Blossoming, But For Many, Professional Opportunity, And Better Salaries, Often Still Lie Elsewhere (Or Remotely)
During the first leg of my trip, Avi Golan — the CEO of AnyVision — courted controversy with a LinkedIn post calling upon many of his “CEO colleagues” to stop indulging top talent in what he termed “salary madness.” (What others would probably call competitive pay.)
Israeli startup CEO says 'stop the salary madness'
"You look at the CV and you see that candidates have jumped around between four and five jobs within five years because…
Color me a contrarian, but I was unsurprised by the remarks.
Israeli salaries have remained stagnant for years despite one of the highest costs of living in the world and a real estate bubble that shows no signs of slowing down.
But in an ecosystem flush with IPO cash, one sometimes has to wonder where all the money is going outside of a certain clique within the world of “high tech” (IT). A large part of the explanation, I believe, has to do with mindset and attitudes.
Golan’s comments reflect an attitude that I have seen countless times from Israeli employers and clients: we demand to pay as little as possible for the very best resources we can get our hands on. I was glad to finally see that attitude called out as exploitative and unrealistic.
Israel’s employment landscape is buoyed by a constant influx of well-educated talent from the Jewish diaspora — and as is often the case, a steady stream of replaceable immigrants encourages the unscrupulous to behave exploitatively.
It’s time for the job market here to begin paying livable and competitive salaries for the 90% of the economy that doesn’t work in high tech and software development.
Until it does, many will seek professional opportunities in other countries.
Healthcare In Israel Is Both Affordable And Universal
As I’ve shared here recently, about one year ago, I was diagnosed with ADHD.
The medication I’m taking — Vyvanse — has made such a positive difference in my life that (like many ADHD patients with residual anxiety) my thoughts quickly turned from “this is amazing!” to “okay this may be amazing, but what can I do if I can’t get this anywhere else?”
And so I did some research.
Adult ADHD care in Ireland is in its infancy. Patients report massively frustrating wait times trying to see the few psychiatrists in the country prepared to diagnose and treat the condition.
In the US, the cost of many medications for those who fall between the cracks of insurance providers — or fail to receive their approval on treatment plans — is prohibitively expensive.
Walking the streets of New York City, I saw what looked like a lot of untreated mental illness and alcoholism — considerably more than I’m used to encountering in Jerusalem. Paradoxically, the serious crime rates in Israeli cities is also remarkably low. New York, in general, felt a lot less safe than Jerusalem.
The Israel of 2021 is an unusual hybrid that has bought into the US model of unfettered capitalism to a significant extent
But which has tempered that with vestiges of socialism such as universal and affordable healthcare (add public transport to the list too; while the cost of gas in the US is trivial compared to Israel taking the train in Israel seemed far cheaper.)
It’s a mixture that’s still being concocted.
Israel Is… Outrageously Overpriced
My biggest frustration about living in Israel?
The fact that it’s unreasonably overpriced which for many makes living there a struggle.
After spending a few days in downtown Manhattan and running currency conversions to the Israeli Shekel, periodically I found myself more often than not either pleasantly surprised or paying an amount that seemed familiar to me.
The price of beer, in many New York City pubs, seemed cheap by Israeli standards. Our boutique hotel room in midtown Manhattan cost us considerably less than what a comparable accommodation in Tel Aviv would have set us back for — and came replete with what felt like easily double the floor size.
Using Amazon, I was able to source products for a fraction of the price that they would have cost in Israel.
When New York City starts to seem reasonably priced, you know you’re living somewhere pricey.
Israel can be a frustrating place to live in.
It’s relentlessly expensive, seemingly filled with insane drivers, and there’s a certain directness to its culture that often — though not always — crosses the limit from frank to grating rudeness.
For Zionists like me, it will always be the singular and optimal place to live.
From a practical standpoint, comparing its merits with other countries in the world, a more nuanced picture emerges.