UNAFFORDABLE.FOR some Israelis, no matter how much they work they can’t afford to live well in the country and have considered moving abroad..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A recent demographic report has sparked a spate of articles and a Jerusalem Post editorial (August 23, 2017, “Emigration worries”). The data do not capture the pain of separation, but they highlight a drastic national security threat to the future of Israel.
My wife and I can describe the pain firsthand, but who else cares? Our younger son gave up last month after eight years of hoping and struggling to build a life in the Jewish state. He, his wife and our grandchildren returned to live abroad. They join the 1.2 million-1.5 million Jewish Israelis (about 15% of the Jewish population) already there. Israeli ex-pats publish their Israeli newspapers and online blogs, support their own synagogues, social welfare and Israel advocacy organizations. Our daughter-in-law is in touch with a former- Israeli women’s network helping her assimilate.
Terrorism, wars and the prospect of sending their children off to the IDF factored little into the decision. It’s all about the light in the attic, as Shel Silverstein put it, flickering and burning out. The “big fortune” he was warned to bring on aliya was exhausted after studying a year in ulpan learning to speak Hebrew followed by months of unemployment, and moldering underemployment, throughout the eight years. The family stressed out.
Concomitantly, they don’t blame Israel; however, our son remembers the better standard of living and demands for his skills in his hometown. He brought those memories with him. An inspiring single mom, first-generation immigrant of Mizrahi descent, the kind about which national activists tell stories and make movies, raised his Israeli-born wife and her siblings in public housing. His wife dreams about the opportunities overseas for her husband and children. They lived modestly in Israel but on the edge of an economic precipice compounded by the proverbial culture clash and the frustrations of Israel’s bureaucracy.
Another son of ours and his family thrive in Israel. After some 20 years they have no intentions of moving anywhere else. But it hasn’t been easy. Both sons, as I reported on Life in Israel (June 19, 2017), are poster boys for the consumer debt rising at a rapid pace approaching “out of control,” according to the Bank of Israel supervisor.
Our emigrant son had respectable jobs in Israel, several at the same time to make ends meet, but failed to unshackle himself from Israel’s immersive low wages and pitiable purchasing power. He was told not to put on his résumé that he is a graduate of Northwestern University, lest he appear too smart and high priced.
“Dad,” he told me when it came time, “I gave it my best shot. I tried to do everything right. I spent a full year in ulpan. I took low paying teaching jobs just to break into the world of work. I made eight good friends, and built a small but close social network.
Every one of my friends returned home including the two doctors. I drained my American savings to support us. I have to do what’s best for my family.”
“I was paid a third of the money I made in America. There I worked 40 hours a week here 60 or more. No complaints, that’s the Israeli system. I just can’t save any money here. I’m just worn out. Exhausted and frustrated....
“You don’t even realize that those of us who are secular have added expenses more than those in the religious communities like where you live. We pay six or eight times more a month for day care, because the government doesn’t subsidize us like in designated religious cities. We pay higher arnona [property tax]. I drive 12-year-old cars constantly needing repairs, because I don’t have NIS 200, 000 for a new one [$56,000]. Everything costs me more: food, clothing, restaurants... and I make less money.”
He speaks admiringly about Mizrahi, Russian and Ethiopian immigrants and other Israelis. They come to Israel with nothing, make subsistence salaries, build lives and make do. He worships his brother and sister-in-law living in Israel raising their children with a sense of belonging raising eight kids in a tiny apartment.
Our polymath son is not an ingrate, is by nature not a quitter, and is not alone in his decision. American ex-pats make up 1% to 2% of the population living abroad for family, work or retirement. Israel government officials ought to worry that 36% of secular Israelis Jews would move abroad given the opportunity, according to Masa Israel. I’ve read that 30% of olim leave after three to five years. Numbers don’t matter to parents and family, but they ought to matter to the government. If the US lowers its corporate tax rate to 15%, Israel’s business community will drain away from a country already needing a surgical remix.
Nearly every friend I painfully tell about our emigrant children has a similar story to tell. It’s like having a bad back. We are close to our older son and his family living in Israel, but now we understand what Alice said, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
Dr. Harold Goldmeier is a university instructor, public speaker, businessman and consultant.