Making aliya, by the numbers

Baruch Lubinsky helps new immigrants avoid debt, negotiate the banking system and plan for the future.

Money Shekels bills 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Money Shekels bills 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Shortly after making aliya from Toronto 19 years ago as a newlywed, Baruch Labinsky signed a contract to rent half of an apartment. It wasn’t until five months later that Labinsky – with a master’s of business administration and a background in finance – realized he had been paying for the landlord’s electricity as well as his own.
He tells this story to illustrate why immigrants can benefit from the accumulated knowledge he put into his newly released book, A Financial Guide to Aliyah and Life in Israel.
“I wasn’t at all well prepared for the Israeli system of finance,” he admits. “I had to be re-educated, like most immigrants.
Unless you’re in international finance, the type of finances you’re exposed to are always country-centric.”
The how-to book spans a range of topics, from pre-aliya financial planning, real-estate decisions and asset management to post-aliya employment benefits, banking, budgeting, tax planning, investments, insurance and pension options.
An independent financial planner and investment manager, Labinsky says that to the best of his knowledge no similar book exists for immigrant populations in Israel.
“I’ve been working in finances in this country well over 15 years,” Labinsky says. “At first I was lecturing and working with investment management and estate planning, which tends to only reach the top 10 or 20 percent of the population. About 10 years ago I realized the average person was not getting enough financial information – even more so for English speakers in Israel, because the system is so different than what they are used to.”
So he devised a course that he began offering through a local organization in his hometown of Beit Shemesh, and eventually began teaching it in other English-speaking areas in Jerusalem and Modi’in. In the past three years, he has been traveling to North American cities in cooperation with Nefesh B’Nefesh, giving talks on financial considerations for people contemplating aliya.
“I saw that the information is just not available,” says Labinsky. “I was always hearing the same basic concerns: People don’t understand how things work, and the average person cannot work on learning multiple areas of finance simultaneously. It’s just too overwhelming.”
He structured the book’s chapters as self-contained units so that readers can concentrate on the particular issues relevant to them at any given time. Each chapter ends with a “to do” list and many of them include sample forms to help readers organize themselves.
“I tried to simplify and compartmentalize an apparently chaotic system, which is really just a system we do not understand,” says Labinsky. “Many people are scared of math, and money has such deep implications for people that they tend to shove everything under the carpet, but if I can break it down into bite-size pieces, they can deal with it.”
There’s no underestimating the importance of finances in a successful aliya, he points out in the book.
“Whatever financial issues one is struggling with will be exacerbated after moving to Israel... Financial stress not only breaks apart the family unit, the core fabric of society, but it causes us to avoid making decisions, or to ‘freeze up.’ Financial inactivity does more than just prevent us from getting ahead; it too often causes us to fall backwards into a bigger and bigger hole, thus perpetuating a cycle of financial instability.”
The news is not all bad. Labinsky writes, “while Israeli wages are lower than elsewhere, Israeli labor law is, historically, very worker-oriented, with significant legal and cultural precedent to protect workers’ rights. Furthermore, there are many other financial benefits that Israeli workers receive.” In addition to explaining the many aspects of the Israeli financial system, he also dispenses lots of practical advice.
For example, he reveals that bank fees, which make up the majority of Israeli banks’ income, unlike in Western banks, are generally negotiable.
Though Israelis do not have to file tax returns, it can be wise to do so if you make many charitable donations because you are entitled to a tax credit of 35% of your contributions.
And he urges readers to check every bill and every receipt for mistakes.
“My wife is a great at picking up mistakes,” he says. In the book, he writes that errors are common in his family’s mortgage statements, bank charges, phone, electricity and water bills. “Anybody not checking bills and making sure clerks didn’t put in the wrong codes is leaving a tremendous amount of money on the table, which is going into somebody else’s pocket,” he says.
Labinsky shared his manuscript-in-progress with veteran immigrants, potential immigrants and employees of Nefesh B’Nefesh and AACI. He’ll be taking along copies when he goes on his next Nefesh B’Nefesh trip to eight North American cities in January and February 2013.