This week on Café Oleh, we ask our panelist to weigh in on the challenges and joys of building their homes and communities in Israel. The first obstacle: finding that apartment, house and community to turn into a home. For many new Olim, housing proves to be a particularly challenging hurdle, both financially and logistically.
Each week you''ll hear from our resident aliya and Judaism bloggers about their experiences, their hardships, and the gratifications of moving to Israel.
What kind of community do you live in in Israel now? A kibbutz? In the city? Briefly describe your housing and community situation.
I currently live in Tel Aviv. I live in a shared flat (or apartment depending on where you come from) with two other roommates. We live in a block of flats on the fifth floor right in the center of the city
I live in a 3.5 bedroom apartment with one roommate in Tel Aviv. He''s Israeli and in fact was on my Birthright trip! Although I don''t live in any kind of intentional community, I live in Florentin, a lively, young, "urban-gritty-chique" neighborhood. Many of my friends live close by, which is nice.
B"H, we live in Jerusalem. We lived in an attached home, called a "townhouse" in the New World, and, I believe, called a "cottage" here, in the Old World.
Our community is a mixture of secular, national religious, and ultra-Orthodox Jews. Our neighborhood is filled, as well, with native Israelis and immigrants. Additionally, here, we have synagogues and yeshivas of various flavors. it was important for my family to living an area where an array of Jews also lived. Our friends are all types of Jews; we wanted them to be comfortable visiting us.
How did you decide on this community? Why a city instead of a smaller town? Why urban instead of rural? North instead of south? What factors informed your decision on where to live?
For as long as I can remember I have wanted to live in Tel Aviv. On my gap year in Israel, I was the one that everyone could see living in Tel Aviv in the future. I just could not stop talking about it then and I still can''t stop now. For me at my stage in my life as a young single man, I can''t see me living anywhere else. Tel Aviv just feels right because it is so open and the most international city in the country. I think one day I would love to live in a moshav or a smaller town but for now there is no other option other than Tel Aviv.
I decided to live where I do for a variety of factors: 1) My job is in Tel Aviv, so I preferred to live within Tel Aviv if I could find an affordable enough apartment (a slight oxymoron.) 2) Well, I just love Tel Aviv. So I also partially chose my job because it was in Tel Aviv. I''m young and still prefer living in cities where culture''s at my fingertips. Plus, Tel Aviv in my opinion is one of the best cities in the world. There''s a reason Lonely Planet listed it at #3 in the world! 3) The first year I was living here, I was living in a worse area of Tel Aviv, called Schona Hatikva. Although the people there were very nice and warm, and there''s a great market there, well, I was looking for a nicer place and could thankfully afford it. Florentin''s in South Tel Aviv, and although it''s also a little rough (it''s cheaper than central/North Tel Aviv), it''s much hipper. Like, it has cafes and bars, which was an anathema to Schona Hatikva. So when I moved, I had Florentin or a neighborhood similar to it in mind.
A rabbi from our New World Vaad recommended our community to us. We had been praying for a shaliach. B"H, The Boss sent one. If possible, we wanted to live in Jerusalem.
Did you use a real estate agent or find housing on your own?
I was very lucky in the fact that my very good friend was already living in the apartment and a room opened up. She asked me if I wanted to move in and a month later I was living there. Quite a lot of people I know find rooms in this way. There is a whole community of Anglos who share apartments and there are always people looking.
My roommate and I searched for apartments through Yad2 and homeless. We found our current apartment through a Yad2 listing. Word to the wise: if you find a place you like, just take it! Because if you don''t, the person that''ll come 10 seconds after you will.
We used an agent. The first year, we rented. We sought a part of our community that was more mixed than was populated by one end of the array or another. There was exactly one available apartment in that section of our neighborhood, at our rental price. Thereafter, having fallen in love with the members of our shul, we wanted to stay and so made our purchase.
What are neighbor-neighbor relations like where you live?
We couldn''t ask for anything better. We live on the top floor and in the apartment opposite lives a very sweet old couple who quite often drop round home-baked goodies on the holidays or offer us their old home-wares when they do a clear-out. We even invite them to our crazy roof parties - and they usually come and dance the night away longer than most of other guests.
Friendly although not super involved. I say hi to my neighbors and occasionally have longer chats. I mostly hang out with people I know through other places.
Like anywhere; some good, some better. Sadly, we chutzniks often come burdened with an entitlement attitude of which we are not aware and which can be off putting to natives. Fortunately, people can learn to act differently and each of us can be a "good'' ambassador instead of a problematic one.
Is life in Israel as challenging financially as everyone says it is? Would you say your standard of living—in terms of housing and space—has dropped significantly since moving to the Israel?
I think it''s hard to compare. I would say that I don''t think I would be able to afford anything much bigger or fancier if I went to live in London or even Manchester where I am originally from. I think my standard of living has improved because of where I live. Even though I pay a huge premium to live in the center of the city I think it''s worth every penny because I can step out of my door and be right in the thick of everything that is going on in Tel Aviv. That is worth much more than having a garage, big back garden or a nice private driveway.
Yes, life is definitely financially challenging in Israel. I have a full time gig in Israel (at the Jerusalem Post, in fact), but my way of getting around without suffering financially has been to do freelance telecommuting work to the US on the side. To be honest, because of this additional income, my standard of living is actually quite good for the time being; it''s comparable to what my standard of living would be in the US, and in fact, right now it''s somewhat higher. However, as you can see, this means that I work more here than I did in the US. So that''s the trade-off.
As per "stuff," gushnius, don''t miss it and wish we had had the wisdom to make do with less earlier in life.
How did you first find housing upon moving to Israel? Did you prearrange permanent housing? Rent and then buy? What did prearranging housing entail?
I lived in uplan for the first five months, which I prearranged before I moved through the Jewish agency. I think it was a good decision because it took away a lot of potential stress. It was not luxury living but it was more than satisfactory and I think it was good value for money.
I found my first housing through Israeli friends. Specifically, I stayed on their couch in Schona Hatikva while I was looking for apartments. While I was desperately looking for apartments with no Hebrew at that time, one of their roommates thankfully was moving out soon. They then saved me the headache of finding another apartment and I just stayed. That in large part made my first year here very memorable. And boy did it help my Hebrew!
We spent part of two or three days on our pilot trip seeking rentals. My husband gets the credit for suggesting renting before buying. A good-hearted lawyer, who suggested we not sign a certain lease, gets the merit for our not settling in another, albeit somewhat seedy (not good for raising kids) neighborhood.