Yshai Amichai
Yshai AmichaiCourtesy

I have a trick up my sleeve today, a bit of a spectacle to display. I will paint a dire picture of life in Israel and then use this gloomy image to make a case for Aliyah. I’m sure you’re thinking that is an unusual route to take, like a realtor who markets a house by focuses on its faults. I assure you though that my reasoning is sound.

Israel needs you, and it provides benefits to new immigrants, but you should expect to pay for them with interest. How so? Israel is still a bit of a socialist country, which means national health insurance, free day care, free Jewish education, highly subsidized higher education, and other benefits, but also a higher tax burden.

The sales tax is 17%, and it is a value added tax, which is worse. You pay it on nearly everything, including essentials such as food, which means a higher cost of living, even for the poor.

The public transportation is decent in the big cities and cheap, but most people still prefer to drive a private car. If you’re one of them, expect to pay double what you’re used to, both for the car and for the fuel to drive it. Luckily for you though, as a new immigrant, there’s a bit of a tax benefit if you buy a new car fast enough. It’s a nice gimmick, but obviously one with a catch. Only you can drive the car and if you want to sell it within five years, you’ll probably have to pay the tax. Perhaps another way of locking you into the plan.

Of course, the main idea of making Aliyah is to live in Israel, which means you’ll need housing, and don’t expect that to be affordable, especially if you’re looking to own a very small piece of the Holy Land. One of the biggest taxes you should expect to pay in Israel is related to housing, because the government owns and controls almost all the land, and it makes a fortune off this monopoly, one that you should expect to pay in due time.

Then there’s that thing called the army. Since you’re making Aliyah you’re probably in the mood to serve the country, but it doesn’t really matter what mood you’re in on the day the army drafts you for up to three years. And it doesn’t end there, there’s something called miluim, which means even after being released, the army can call on you to serve for up to 42 days a year, usually until the age of 40.

But 40 is a young age, don’t expect the country to release you that early. By then you should already be married and perhaps locked into a nice mortgage to last until retirement. Now you will truly serve the country by paying for it.

There are two main options for you: Either you live in central Israel where a modest condo can cost more than a private house where you come from, but where you can find a job to pay for it by the time you’re old and tired, or live in the periphery where you will pay for that property in other ways. Those ways could include poorer economic prospects, a lower standard of living, and even a higher risk of life.

You can expect that the State of Israel takes these things into consideration when it offers discounts or benefits, and that you will be paying for them in full. You probably don’t speak the language well enough or know the system, so don’t expect to find it in your favor. Perhaps where you come from you are a first-class citizen, but unless you’re loaded with cash don’t expect such preferential treatment in Israel. Expect any warm welcome you are given here to be followed by a cold shoulder.

Now if I were marketing any other country you could call me a horrible salesman, but we’re talking about Israel. You shouldn’t be coming here for the money. You should come here because it is your country.

Sure, we’re promised a land flowing with milk and honey, but the ones looking for free fish and watermelons were the ones planning to return to Egypt. Israel is a challenge. The milk and honey flowing here don’t come for free, you must earn them and earn your place in Israel. But more importantly, you must help make Israel a better place, as God Envisioned it.

I don’t see a need to hide anything. In fact, I think it’s healthy to focus on the faults as well, to help avoid the disappointments. You should come here with full knowledge and without preconditions. Israel is a great place and the only place for Jews in my opinion, but it doesn’t come easy. Is it worth fighting for? Absolutely!

I’m not one of the 10 spies. They said great things about Israel but called it a Land that consumes its inhabitants. I think quite the opposite. The Jews who came to Israel this round found it to be a desert, but it was brought back to life under the sweat of their brows and now it is a truly beautiful place. Many of those pioneers have become wealthy landowners, but the Jews who do not come will die in the desert.

Yes, if you’re looking for the easy life without responsibilities then Israel is not the place, but if you want a future for yourself and for your children, and especially for your nation, that future is in Israel, and it is certainly worth fighting for.

If the faults are a turn off for you that is your fault, because you have unrealistic expectations. Good things come with time and with hard work, but they are worth fighting for. Israel should be on the top of your list in that regard. Don’t give up on it and don’t give up on yourself.

In Pesach you said: “Next Year in Jerusalem!” Well, Happy New Year, the bill is due. I look forward to seeing you in Israel.

Yshai Amichai made Aliyah from Los Angeles in 2001, settling in Israel, where he met his wife and where they raise their six children. He may be contacted at: [email protected]