Now, on to aliyah. Almost Eden made aliyah in the summer of 2008, via Nefesh b'Nefesh, with her husband and son. Her blog is subtitled "an aliyah handbook", and when she's not forwarding commentary on the weekly Torah portion, she writes about her experiences and offers her advice. Not surprisingly, she's still seeing Israel through rose-colored glasses. Why shouldn't she? Her family got a considerable sum from NbN [the loan converts to a grant if they stay in Israel for three years], they are getting another grant, called the sal klita, from the Israeli government, they aren't paying income tax [by now they are probably paying a small fraction of what a veteran Israeli pays], property taxes are drastically reduced, and there are a variety of other perks and discounts. Reality begins to bite when one is entering the second half of one's third year and all this dries up.
Almost Eden once posted a spreadsheet totalling the monthly expenses for two American immigrant families. One [I suspect hers] was for three people, the other for four. The expenses totalled between NIS 13k and NIS 18+k per month. The average gross income, for a family of four, with two wage-earners, according to the Bureau of Statistics, is about NIS 12k. The Bureau also publishes a figure for a "basket" of goods and services which it regards as average for the same size family, which says familial expenses are about the same amount. In other words, what comes in, goes out. Almost immediately. And more than half Israeli families are in overdraft.
Translated into dollar terms, neither NIS 13 or 18 k sounds huge, especially when one is used to a dollar income. A take home wage of either, however, in Israel, is huge. In order to have this sum in one's pocket one has to be making, before taxes, more than twice that amount. Income tax is computed roughly as follows: up to a certain ceiling, about NIS 4000, one pays no tax. Then, the next NIS 4000 is taxed at 38%, and everything after that is taxed at 50%. Further, there are two involuntary deductions at source: Bituach Leumi and "Health Law". Each is a percentage of gross income [5 and 4% respectively, I think; it changes from time to time]. So the tax bite is big. The new oleh barely, if at all, feels this. That NIS 15k income sounds very respectable indeed. But my sister-in-law, who had a gross income of NIS 24,000 per month because she was the head of an entire department in Bezeq [our Ma Bell], took home less than NIS 10, ooo. So someone who needs NIS 18k per month needs a family income in excess of NIS 40k. Compare that with myself: working half time for a Sick Fund, I get a gross income of NIS 3500 per month. Nurses who work full-time in hospital, all shifts and Shabbatot, will gross about NIS 9k per month.
Almost Eden also makes a big thing of just how similar Israel is to the US. Ace Hardware! Office Depot! Toys R Us! This is also classic "newbie" behavior, and especially where food items are concerned, nostalgia for the Old Country is usually acute in the beginning. But the answer, in my experience is not to indulge it, except on rare occasions, but seek local -- and cheaper -- equivalents. Or that adjustment to what I call "genteel poverty" will be all the harder.
I admit it's easy to scoff from a distance of 35 years to her one and a bit. But the naivete often amuses me. Stating that an immigrant child is eligible for 45 hours of free language tutoring in school ignores the reality that most schools simply don't have it. Comparing private Jewish education costs in the States with public education here [which is supposed to be free, by law, but is anything but] is comparing apples with oranges. My parents never paid anything for my education in the States, because when I was growing up, private Jewish education wasn't an option. Moreover, the Israeli school system becomes increasingly inadequate as the grades progress and it's a rare family that doesn't have substantial educational costs by high school. $1700 [Almost Eden often quotes prices in dollars] doesn't sound like much when tuition in a private school in the States is $10,000 or more, but when you've got 3 children in the school system and you're living on $2000 per month, $5100 sounds a lot more impressive [and I think Almost Eden's estimates of the cost of the "free education" are low, in my own experience, which is now a decade out of date and undoubtedly higher now.]
I often wish I could revisit olim 10 years after they arrive -- those who are still here -- and see how they've fared. Some, of course, do adapt. They either arrive with a degree of Hebrew fluency, or pick up the language easily. They have friends or family that can give them support and help them navigate an unfamiliar culture. Some are just too stubborn to consider the idea of failure. But a very substantial number cut their losses and leave*, because it just wasn't what they had expected, or prepared [assuming they prepared at all] themselves for. There is a certain hubris in attempting to be an expert on aliyah after a year; I've been here for 35, and I'm not one yet.
*There is an internet message board in the Jerusalem area called Janglo. I keep an ongoing rough estimate of "complete house contents sales" or "moving sales" which are obviously, from what's on offer, sales of people selling up and leaving the country. Now, I'm not saying that these are olim who came into the country via NbN. NbN maintains that 99% of "their" olim stay, but they do not publish any definite figures. But NbN these days is bringing in just about all the North American olim who are coming, and the number of families leaving, according to this rough and highly unscientific survey I'm keeping, is cancelling out more than half the families coming. Traditionally, there are estimates that somewhere between 30% and 70% of all American olim return to the US within 10 years.
|Your Brain is Green|