Don’t let Your Aliyah Experience Become Soured by Unmet Expectations
By Ariella Bracha Waldinger
I have heard it said that expectations are like a glass of milk. Sometimes it’s refreshing, satisfying and energizing and other times, it goes sour and leaves a bad taste. Aliyah to Israel automatically comes with its own set of expectations, some of which are unrealistic. This causes unnecessary pain and frustration. David Rock, CEO of Neuro-Leadership Group, states in a recent Psychology Today article, “Unmet and unrealistic expectations are one of the important life experiences to AVOID as they generate a strong threat response which causes fear, frustration and anger. Focus on positive expectations you know will be met for sure, as this allows you to keep your emotions on an even keel.” He continues,”…consciously altering what you expect can have a surprisingly positive impact…we must learn to improve how we manage our expectations. When we minimize our expectations, we can receive positive rewards because it leaves us open to new experiences.”
Realistic Expectations Part One: Renting an Apartment in Israel
Remember, Israel is in the Middle East, on the continent of Asia, and is only 67 years old, as a modern nation. In other words, Israel is a teenager on the stage of older established countries. It is a remarkable country with extraordinary scientific and technological advances along with wonderful Yeshivas and learning institutions. Yet when it comes to rentals, it is a bit backwards. This is due to the fact that it is a new/old country and the rental industry reflects this.
Before we arrived in Israel on Aliyah with the Jewish Agency, we rented an apartment in the Old City of Jerusalem. We went straight to the apartment from the airport. I was beyond excited to get to our new home, but was truly emotionally and physically drained on all levels. When we walked into the apartment, I went into shock as I walked from room to room and saw that the apartment had not been cleaned. Additionally, there were no light fixtures; only bare light bulbs. I flipped out and went into a tirade totally losing myself and what little energy I had left. What was going on here? I asked my husband. Surely, our landlady, who had been born in America, knew the reality of having an apartment cleaned from top to bottom for the new tenant. Did she not? And to add insult to injury, the apartment rent was costly! Well, I didn’t like it and I huffed and puffed for quite awhile.
Suddenly, amidst my tears and disappointment, the realization and reminder that Eretz Yisrael is only earned by tests and toil hit me full force. I got it! Even though I had just arrived and would have liked a few days of no tests and challenges, I had voluntarily entered the real life classroom of Eretz Yisrael….THE HOLY LAND and there was no turning back. I was here to stay and I had signed up for Torah refinement 101 without even realizing it. As the realization struck me that I was living in The Holy City in The Holy Land and the privilege of being here began to sink in, I regained my balance and went out and bought what I needed to clean my new apartment. I set about the work with reverence and gratitude for the gift of awareness that had begun to settle into my mind and heart.
Eretz Yisrael is the Holy Land with an inherent sanctity that is to be acknowledged and held in esteem. Additionally, the Jewish nation is a holy nation and must manifest high standards in the realm of behavior especially towards our fellow Jews. The Ben Ish Chai commenting on the Gemara in Ketuvot 112, says “One must never say anything bad about Eretz Yisrael or its inhabitants. We must guard our speech from negative utterances and not condemn one cubit of Eretz Yisrael; whether its air, weather, fruits, people or buildings”. We want your needs met on all levels but don’t want anyone to spread negativity, as a result of their unrealistic expectations. Negativity is bad for Israel.
As a result of my personal rental challenges, I wish to state the honest truth about the Real Facts of Rental Realities in Israel. It is my hope to save others from pain, frustration and disappointments.
FACT NUMBER (1) chances are your apartment or house rental will not be clean (A) at all or (B) only somewhat when you take possession. RECOMMENDATION: Let your landlord or leasing agent know your expectations but don’t be in shock if it is not done or not to your expectations. Additionally, if you have friends or family who can check on the progress, have them do so. Or, you can ask them to have a cleaning person lined up for you to do the work before you arrive!
FACT NUMBER (2) lighting in Israel does not meet American standards. Most rentals will not have light fixtures in place. Instead there will be light bulbs in sockets. Do not get worried when you see the light bulb connectors several inches from the ceiling. It is not dangerous and is standard in Israel. You will need to buy your own light fixtures unless you negotiate with the landlord to provide them. REMEMBER, everything in Israel is negotiable. Additionally, there are beautiful light fixture stores in Israel and they have sales and deliver for a small fee. If you need to move, you can take the fixtures with you to your next house. Yeah!
FACT NUMBER (3) most rentals are unfurnished, which means, EMPTY! There is no law in Israel requiring that apartments be rented with a refrigerator, stove, oven, microwave, etc. So, do not be shocked if you enter your new home in Israel and find yourself with a complete barebones apartment. Thus, it is important to check with the landlord and get the facts. Unless you have leased a furnished apartment (and be sure to go over the list of what is furnished with the landlord before arrival and again upon arrival), one of your first fun trips is going to be to the furniture and appliance store. There are lots of second hand outlets for everything, so if need be, you can purchase used for the time being until you fully settle into your new home. Be aware that the stoves here are smaller than in America, generally due to limited space, and Israelis do not use dryers.
FACT NUMBER (4) some apartments, especially older ones, do not have screens in the windows. Ours did not and we had to buy them if we wanted them. Once again, I was in shock. Are we in the 21st century I wondered? When I asked my landlady, she said she never had a problem with bugs coming in. Beside she said, if you have screens, the bugs won’t be able to get out and you’ll be stuck with them in your house. Go figure!
FACT NUMBER (5) In Israel, homes and apartments have individual heating/air conditioning units (called mazganim) on the wall in each room. Some rentals do not have heating/air conditioning units in all the rooms. This depends on where you live in Israel due to the weather conditions. For example, in the hot climate areas, they may not have heating units because it does not get very cold. Additionally don’t be surprised if the chord to the mazgan is far from the electrical outlet. This is an unsightly reality and one of the great mysteries of buildings in Israel.
FACT NUMBER (6) Beware of rentals with high ceilings! They look very cool, but they are very expensive to heat and Americans need heat. Electricity in Israel is extremely expensive.
FACT NUMBER (7) older apartments, may frequently have an absence of kitchen cabinets. Make sure you get your needs met and don’t settle for a rental out of desperation. These missing components can come back to haunt you.
FACT NUMBER (8) electrical outlets are very limited in houses in Israel.
FACT NUMBER (9) upgrade your home repair skills before coming to Israel due to landlord unreliability. This aspect is not uncommon, though many olim have had good experiences and relationships in this realm. Landlords are required to have working plumbing and electricity. The best piece of advice is to learn the location of your neighborhood hardware store because you may be required to fix things yourself.
FACT NUMBER (10) YOU SHOULD HAVE A LAWYER LOOK OVER YOUR AGREEMENT! Also, IT IS MY UNDERSTANDING THAT CONTRACTS MUST BE TRANSLATED OR EXPLAINED IN THE LANGUAGE YOU UNDERSTAND. Also, check out the landlord, to verify he follows through on repairs etc. in a timely manner. In other words, take precautions to get your needs met and always consult with others. There is a good summary on renting apartments on our blog page: Helpful Knowledge & Insights: “Renting an Apartment in Israel.”
Realistic Expectations, Adaptations, Sense of Humor, and Breathe
Settling into a new country is a huge adjustment on every level. It is brave souls who make the choice and we salute your courage. Adapting to change is always difficult! However, the upsets and disappointments that occur during the settling in process, should not drive us to a place of negativity or judgment against Aliyah or Israel. As we discuss our Aliyah experiences, let’s try to be positive and share words of encouragement, and remember that everyone’s experience is unique and colored by their own expectations of their absorption. Aliyah provides us with the opportunity to make our name great by living in our Biblical homeland. We never achieve greatness by tearing down the reputation of this Holy Land.
In spite of the challenges that always arise, be clear that you have great merit to be residing in the Holiest place on earth. The Zohar HaKodesh in Bamidbar 118 states, “There is no happiness but only when Israel settles in the Holy Land.” Rabbi Elimelech of Lizensk says, “Only in Eretz Yisrael can happiness be complete because it is possible to sanctify yourself with its great Keddusha, something that is impossible in foreign lands.” HKBH said, “Eretz Yisrael is more beloved to me than everything.” Bamidbar Rabba 23. The Alter Rebbe brings down in the Sefer Mishnat Yoel the following, “Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard? The beauty, the glory and the greatness of the Mitzvah of strengthening the settlement of Eretz Yisrael, for it is a great mitzvah, to awaken the old love and the desire for the Holy Land and to renew the love as former days, so that the love burns like a flame of fire.” Remember, you have come home to build up your nation in your ancestral homeland. It is exciting and yes, challenging but it is worth it.
Sending Blessings for great success in your settling in process. You have increased the might of our holy nation in our beloved homeland. Best of luck in all your endeavors, With Love, Ariella Bracha.