Aliyah from Chicagoland to Haifa
By: Gershom Lichtenberg
My wife and I made Aliyah to Haifa in July, 2007. We came from Chicagoland, having spent much of our lives in the New York/New Jersey area. Our two children are grown enough to have remained in the U.S., so there is still a major part of our lives in the U.S. But all our physical belongings that were not sold or given away came with us. That was quite a sorting process!!
We came to Haifa because I am one of the small percentage of Olim who could be reasonably sure to have a job here, thanks to Protekzia (also called Vitamin P). For those who have not learned the word, it simply means that I know someone who opened an employment door for me. And we visited Haifa on our Pilot Trip in 2006 and found that it would be a very nice place for us to live. We liked the urban setting in that it has all that we need and much of what we would want to do easily available. The very good public transportation system made it easy for us to decide not to get a car. The mixed population which lives together relatively harmoniously is another plus for us.
We decided not to fall into a common Oleh pitfall of trying to live our American lifestyle here in Israel. We made a point of trying to live on less money than we had planned. Our original plan was to assume that we would have no outside income for one full year after arrival. After the 42nd time that someone told us the joke, “How do you get a small fortune in Israel? You come with a large one,” we pledged not to overdue it financially. So we picked Hadar as our neighborhood to live in for a number of reasons:
1) inexpensive apartments,
2) ability to get buses and sherut (shared taxi) service to anyplace in Haifa and many places outside of it,
3) proximity to the Shuk for lots of fresh food,
4) deficit of English speakers so that we would have to speak Hebrew to perform normal life functions,
5) opportunity to interact with other groups and cultures so that we don’t just stay within our comfort zone.
We arrived in Israel knowing that Ulpan would be a critical part of our first few months here. We contacted them within the first few days and found that our class would start about two weeks later. We treated this as our full-time job until the class finished at the end of December. We did our best to do homework and study regularly, and as a friend told us, at the end of Ulpan Aleph we were ready to learn Hebrew. Or to put it more precisely, we understood many of the basics and were ready to learn to speak Hebrew by using it as much as we could manage in our daily lives. We also continued for some months after the Aleph level in additional classes at the Ulpan. Many of the Olim we see realize that they can do many things here in English, but when they restrict themselves to this we see them on the fringes of the society (and ourselves as well at times) because they do not understand the Hebrew that surrounds them. I often remember the Mexicans that I saw around me in Chicago who had trouble operating outside their own communities because they did not speak English. Now that is us.
One of the places that we are accepted well is at Or Hadash, our Reform synagogue here in Haifa. Rabbi Edgar Nof (also known as the rabbi with the guitar) is a warm, high energy leader of the community here. But it took me a while to understand the difference in organized religion here. In the U.S., we attended a Reform synagogue to be part of the Jewish community inside a largely Christian community. To be part of the Jewish community here, all we have to do is to walk out of our front door. Almost anyplace we go, we are part of the Jewish community. So it took time to understand that the synagogue serves as a center of Jewish values, of promoting them within the community, as well as participating in Jewish observance and education. Or Hadash is also very active in promoting ties to the Jewish community outside of Israel, and to giving visitors a sense of connection.
Now, more than two years after Aliyah, we have settled into a regular routine of work (I am a technologist at Rambam Medical Center, my wife works at Madatech (Science Museum) and socializing. We have some wonderful friends who helped us get oriented at the beginning and we continue to enjoy their company. Occasionally, we do some traveling within the country. In May ’09, we visited family and friends in the U.S…….. and were happy to return home to Haifa.
We continue to recognize the importance of our Zionism, doing our small part to make sure that Israel’s existence persists for future generations. We try to help to provide information and guidance to those English speakers, Olim By Choice, who continue to come. It is important that all know as much as possible about what they are getting into and how to manage the challenges that we all encounter.
So we continue to live with laughter and determination for the daily challenges that we encounter. And we see wonderful people like the founders of Anglo-list who put a great deal of effort into making this all work for us. Best of luck to all of you who decide to embark on this journey together.