Israel ain't what it used to be

This land that we call home needs to be more than a mere ideological vision; I need to be able to afford to live here.

By ADAM SEGAL
June 29, 2011 22:08
Apartment in Tel Aviv

Apartment in Tel Aviv 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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In 2001, I moved to Israel with my parents and sister.

As a 15-year-old South African who had encountered violence firsthand, I was excited to arrive in the Promised Land. The shaliach guaranteed us that our every need would be met. Family friends living in Israel assured us that it was a great move, a wonderful decision and the best possible choice. To this day, I do not regret coming, but I’m beginning to doubt that I will be able to stay.

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A decade has passed since we arrived on that hot June morning, and in that decade I have matured from an excited teenager with little responsibility into a working adult who is starting to build a life and plan for the future.

With that change, the reality has dawned on me: Israel ain’t what it used to be.

Either that, or it’s not what was promised to us it would be.

This land that we call home needs to be more than a mere ideological vision; I need to be able to afford to live here.

I read the news every day and see the prices of everything, from gas to property to cottage cheese, increase. I also notice that the average salary is not moving in the same direction, and I’m beginning to worry.



In January, I will be married.

I will be looking for a place to build a life with my wife, and have children.

Under present circumstances, this is impossible.

Yes, I can get married. Yes, I can have children. But I will not have a home. Every month, I will pay someone for a box in which I can store my life. And if I remain “average,” I will never have my own home.

THERE ARE countless excuses for the high cost of living in Israel: “It’s the price we pay for being safe”; “There is a low supply of housing and a high demand”; “It’s a free market, which is a good thing.”

I have heard this over and over, yet it still makes no sense to me.

There is no lack of supply; there is a lack of affordable supply.

Why? Because land owners are greedy and investors have no negative incentives.

In this free market, there is no reason for a land owner to sell to the average Israeli for half of what he can get from a foreign investor. I look outside my window at work and see a piece of land that could house thousands of people, but instead sits empty and fenced off. Meanwhile, the investor knows that real estate is a sure bet and that prices are being driven up, so they can buy low and sell high in a relatively short time And with all this, the average Israeli cannot afford to live in an average household.

Ten years ago, the people pushing hardest for me to come to Israel were the Zionist Federation and the Jewish Agency, despite their knowledge that many olim would not learn fluent Hebrew, and that many would be unemployed for months or even years. Many immigrants do not survive in their professions due to over-saturation, protektsia (connections), or language issues. Many immigrant children drop out of school, develop behavioral problems and, due to the elitist nature of the education system, may not get a university- level education. And still, the recommendation from the shaliach is the same: “Come home to Israel.”

DESPITE THIS scary reality (and a few bumps in the road), I learned the language, finished high school and university, and have a full-time job where I earn an above-average salary. Yet I look at the housing prices every day, and shake my head in disbelief. It will take me 30 years to buy a property if I put a third of my salary into it. If I can get a 30-year mortgage, the amount of money I lose on interest will be huge. And I’m in a relatively good position for a first-generation Israeli.

What about those who didn’t beat the odds? My other option is to move out of the center of the country. That seems to be the go-to solution of the fat cats: “Stop being a spoiled brat who wants to party in Tel Aviv.” Well, that’s all fine and good, but we may find that salaries drop along with real estate prices as we reach the periphery. Furthermore, the transportation infrastructure leaves much to be desired. I can still work in the center and commute 90 minutes each way; when my kids are old enough, I’m sure they will understand why they never saw their father.

 At the moment, however, living further away is not an option, so what is the average oleh to do? For Israel to survive and flourish as a Jewish, democratic society, aliya remains imperative; Israel must become home to more Jews.

The Jewish Agency is committed to ensuring the future of a committed, global Jewish people with a strong Israel at its heart.

For olim to survive, affordable housing remains imperative. The Jewish Agency must accept a certain level of responsibility for helping. This can be done through informing them about the realities of housing in this country, and by lobbying for harsher measures against those who seek to make property prices soar for their own personal gain.

I call on the Jewish Agency to get involved in the housing crisis and create feasible solutions for the people who gave up everything to be here. Zionism will not pay the bills or put food on my table, and it definitely won’t provide me with the capital I need to house my family in the land that is supposedly my home. If you ask me to choose between Zionism and the well-being of my family, I will choose my family. They are my responsibility.

Keeping me here is yours.

The writer blogs at www.theadamsegal.posterous.com

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