How to Have a Successful Aliyah: Part One – Expectation Setting

After seeing countless olim come and go during my nine months in Israel, I felt I had to do something. I’ve always been a planner, and making Aliyah (immigrating to Israel, for the uninitiated) is the craziest thing I have done to date and also the best thing. Out of all my friends who are recent olim I feel like I’m among the happiest and most well-adjusted, and as I speak to many of them I am beginning to see a pattern of common mistakes new olim make. None of the solutions I am about to propose are mandatory and they might vary from person to person, but these are the things that worked for me.

Problem #1: Unrealistic expectations

A lot of olim come to Israel thinking it will be a macrocosm of their own Jewish community back home. They are often shocked to find such is not the case. This isn’t a country where everything works hunky dory because it’s run by Jews. In fact, it’s a lot more chaotic than most western olim are accustomed to, people are more direct and invade personal space, the bureaucracy is hard to navigate for some, and no matter how involved in your Jewish community back home you were, it’s going to be a culture shock. You’ll also find that people are more open, kinder, more caring even if it can border on intrusion, and radiate the essence of Judaism.

Solution: Make a pilot trip

Don’t just make it a vacation. Live as you would after making Aliyah. Most of us have pilot trips anywhere from two weeks to a year. Take the opportunity to live among Israelis, or maybe attend an Ulpan, a seminary/yeshiva, an internship program, or even all of the above. I know financially this might not be feasible for everyone but it will erase your unrealistic expectations pretty quickly. Birthright and vacations are not good indicators of your life in Israel just as it wouldn’t be in any other country. It’s simply not representative because being a tourist is not the same as living in a country, so to have a successful pilot you must go beyond tourism.

Some good pilot trip programs to consider:

  • Masa Israel Journey (one year, ages 18-30, usually taken straight out of undergrad).
    • This program has more internship options than I can count, of all kinds. Anything from teaching children English to saving the environment to working for an NGO, to picking tomatoes on a kibbutz, to working in a lab – Masa probably has the option.
    • Financially, Masa programs also vary. Some are very expensive, while others give you room, board, and pay you. It highly depends on the placement. At Masa, you have an entire year to build strong connections in your field, work on your Hebrew, and gain valuable experience in the Israeli workplace.
  • Onward Israel (8 weeks during the summer, ages 18-30 but most participants are in college)
    • The great thing about Onward Israel is that it’s like Masa except Onward cohorts live together and become a community, with a lot of excursions, professional workshops, and opportunities to get to know Israel. The program costs 400$, which includes accommodations and tours for the entire summer but does not include airfare. There are groups based on university clubs, region, synagogue membership, and special interest / college major. Onward pairs you up with an internship in your field and you get to gain valuable connections and work experiences.

Here is some important information about pilot trips from Nefesh B’Nefesh.

My pilot trip was two weeks long. I lived with Israelis from all walks of life – Ashkenazi and Sephardi, rich and poor, married and single, new olim, veteran olim, and sabras. I dealt with bureaucratic nightmares, a broken heart, and even an emergency room visit. Yet, as bad as things got, I still knew that Israel was where I needed to be, from somewhere deep inside. You know you’re meant to make Aliyah when everything goes totally wrong yet you still find yourself inexplicably happy to be here. Just make sure you really know what you’re getting into, so that you don’t end up with some unpleasant surprises.

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Lex is a trained comedy actor who is Montreal's second-favourite export aside from poutine.

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