How to Have a Successful Aliyah: Part Two – Hebrew Preparation
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.
Previous instalments: 1
Problem #2: “My Hebrew was so bad and it’s such a pain in the neck to speak!”
I get it. It’s hard. But with lots of exposure and practice you’ll get there eventually.
Solution: Learn the language for at least one year before making aliyah.
This sounds like a total chore and many might not have time, but I promise you it pays off so much and puts you at a huge advantage to get a dream job upon making aliyah. Before you protest, ask yourself: do you want to be a cloistered Anglo for the rest of your life or an Israeli? Do you want to truly blend in and feel at home? I know this might not be realistic for everyone, and there are many nice Anglo communities in Israel, but learning Hebrew will maximize your job prospects, spouse prospects, and just about every other prospects there are. You’ll be less likely to be taken advantage of, be able to better navigate contracts and the complicated bureaucracy, and reach your full potential, if you master Hebrew. Mastering the language is especially important if you are young and just starting out.
In the year leading up to aliyah I made it a point to study and speak Hebrew as much as I could. I went to Hebrew language exchanges (Café Ivrit at Hillel is helpful, among other events organized by your local JCC – Jewish Community Center and IAC – Israeli American Council), completed the Hebrew course in Duolingo (it’s free!) and spoke to my Israeli friends in Hebrew as much as possible, encouraging them to correct me when needed. Don’t be afraid to embarrass yourself – it’s how you learn – and Israelis tend to be totally cool with people who are trying to learn the language even if they stumble.
Other tools for those who might not have the Jewish Day School foundation I had in Hebrew: take a Hebrew class at a synagogue or Jewish community centre or if you’re a student, at your college as an elective. Anything to make sure you’re at least above Level Aleph when you get here (ideally Bet or higher).
I know people frequently say “but everyone understands English!” First of all that’s not even true – I’ve met more Israelis who were abysmal at English than good at it. For example, the other day I went shopping for linens and couldn’t find a single salesperson who knew what “bed sheets” were (and I still don’t know how to say it in Hebrew – oops!). Second, most people feel way more comfortable conversing in their native language especially when you’re the only foreigner – it’s a great way to connect with Israelis and integrate yourself into an Israeli friend network which tend to be hard to penetrate as a newcomer.
Right now I’m in level heh (five of six) and am at about the level where I can start to work at a place that is entirely Hebrew-speaking, but sometimes need a word translated from time to time (like bed sheets). It helped me a lot in connecting to the people here, and I have my Hebrew to thank for my integration into a Hebrew-speaking Israeli friend group. Also remember that your free degree is only free if you do it in Hebrew – let that be an incentive!