Thursday, May 26, 2022

Reasons not to move to Israel from the USA

I'm not giving a verdict here. Each person must decide for him or herself. But one should go with eyes open. There are aliyah salespeople who put out a lot of propaganda, making it seem that everyone should and must move to Israel, that it's some kind of Jewish paradise. To me, this is reprehensible. There are pluses and minuses to living here, like all places. Be informed. Some people prosper here, some get ruined. Some reasons not to move here:

 1. The draft. I know that many Americans and British glamorize/idolize the Israel military, but the reality is that the 3 years of military servitude is a kind of hell for many people. I have spoken to numerous Israelis who have told me that they never recovered from the experience. Imagine an angry Israeli bus driver howling at you on a bus that you can't leave for 2 years and 7 months or whatever the ridiculously long military servitude is these days. They take young impressionable people and own them for that entire time. The indoctrination is intense when people are holding you in place with a gun - literally. The atmosphere even in the so-called Charedi units is not so religious. There's mixing of young men and pretty young women and a value system that says might makes right. I went to a shiva the other night for maariv. I saw then about 10 IDF kinds of guys, in t-shirts, no tzitsis, shorts, and sandals. All glared and tried to look so tough. It was the weirdest maariv I have ever attended. These are what they call the religious soldiers in the military. 

I see the religious soldiers trudging through the streets on Friday afternoon, their faces in a knot, their walk stiff and arrogant. In my opinion, the Israeli military experience is one of the worst things to ever happen to the Jewish people. The only alternative to that is full time Gemara study, which is not for everybody. That's the only way out of it. There's no option of earning a parnassah. The primary cause of Charedi unemployment in Israel is the draft, as any kind of work, even a day's worth, nullifies the draft exemption. The system is problematic and by moving your family to Israel you subject your sons to this.

However, I must offer an alternative view that I have heard from some young men that they know people who enjoyed the military experience, that it gave them a chance to train in computers and some other skills, that it gave them discipline. I never met anyone like that, but I have heard about it.

But I wouldn't give the military so much credit for this. The reason these guys are so rough in the first place is because of the military culture in Israel. 

I think the resolution is this, for hard core Charedim, it's not a good place to be. It's never going to be a truly religious environment. For sensitive and refined people, it's not a good place to be. For more rough types that don't want to be in yeshiva anyway, it might be a different matter. So it depends on your sons. What kind of people are they? If they holding very frum, forget about it. If they are not so frum, maybe that's different; although the experience could make them even less frum. That happens too.

2. High prices/low wages. You can buy a nice house with a yard in the frum part of Cleveland for $150,000. In Israel, you need $450,000 for a small apartment outside of Jerusalem. Food prices are just as high. Prices for furniture, clothes, and electronics are way higher for goods that are far less reliable. I bought itchy polyester pants for $50. In America, I could buy nice comfy cotton pants for $20. But the salaries are low by comparison, particularly if your Hebrew is weak. Americans who had jobs earning $200,000 a year in America earn $12 an hour in Israel in jobs that are borderline sweatshop. All the talk you hear about Startup nation is exaggeration. There is a high tech economy here, but it's not massive. It exists and I know people who work in it. But it's not like there are jobs all over the place. And the jobs are in the Tel Aviv area. Also, they are very stressful jobs and layoffs are common.

3. Fighting. Oh my gosh. Come to Israel if you want to long for what you had in America. People here fight constantly. The squabbles between groups, even religious groups, can be actually downright violent. They beat each other up. I have seen it. It's nuts. I know a few people who have been assaulted. And then there's all the fighting among individuals in the grocery store, at the government office, in the hospital. People here can be very angry, and arrogant. The concept of tolerance is not to be found. Come home to family the Zionist salesmen will say. This is not how families act. It's pathology. 

4. Medical care. There is passable medical care, but it's not the same. There are many competent doctors. Some are quite good. But you want to wait 5 months for an MRI or mammogram? There are cities in the center of the country that are 1 hour from a hospital. Visits with the doctor last 5 minutes. On the good side, it is universal care, so everybody gets it and you don't wind up with $10,000 copays for surgery.

4. Safety. The violent crime rate is lower than America's in general, but it's still not safe. People talk about kids being independent on the streets. I know a little girl who was almost dragged into a car by a kidnapper. There are lots of robberies about which the police do nothing. I belong to a shul that's been broken into 3 times. My apartment building was robbed numerous times. There are way less police here and they don't do very much. And there are other kinds of dangers. The standards for other kinds of safety are low. Teenagers barrel down the streets in electric bikes. I was knocked over once. A little girl in my neighborhood was knocked over and bloodied. The teens weave in and out where children walk. There are near misses daily that cause hearts to miss beats. Also, you'll see open holes, weak fences, heavy wood leaning against walls. People blow cigarette smoke in your face. Smoking rates are very high here. The whole concept of safety has a different meaning here.

5. Extremism. People here tend to be extreme. They are either radical lefties or gun slinging right wingers. There's not much in the way of moderation. That's the secular people. Religious people are also very extreme. The Modern Orthodox/Dati Leumi are very modern. Oftentimes, you stare at them and look for any signs of religion. The only right-wing YU are people from America. The Charedim are also quite extreme with their views about secular studies, parnassah, and many other matters. It's quite hard to be a Hirschian in Israel. You walk alone.

6. Anti-religious government and press. America has a tradition of freedom of religion and respect for it. The government here is anti-religious and the press is even worse. You experience the hostility on a daily basis. It's nothing for an Israeli journalist to call Charedim parasites. They talk like Goebbels over here. Government ministers will do it too. If you walk with Charedi clothing into Kentucky, they bless you because "anyone who blesses a Jew is blessed." Here they give you hate stares. And how about a government that is trying to eliminate kosher phones? Read all about that here. When you come to Israel you say, wow I used to live in a country that respected religious freedom. Why didn't I appreciate that? 

However, there are some very big religious neighborhoods, the kind you find in Lakewood or Brooklyn. And that can be a very nice thing. 

7. Schools. The teachers yell a lot. The military culture extends to everything here and many of the teachers are like drill sergeants. If your children are delicate, don't subject them to it. The schools pound them with work. More than a few kids have gone off the derech from all of this. Yes, tuition is way lower, but the schools are not as good. You get what you pay for. I would say that Israel in general can have an abusive culture. There's a distinct lack of patience. I'm not saying that you'll never have nice encounters. There are good moments. Some of the people are charming. But there are so many bad encounters. You have to be able to deal with it.

The Charedi yeshivas are pressure cookers.  The boys go from 7:30 at night until 9:30 PM. The pressure is insane. It's six days a week because they go Friday mornings too. The material thrown at them is way over their heads. They crush the students. The goal is to produce gadolim, which means 99% of students feel like they are failing. I would describe the atmosphere as inhuman. 

The Beis Yaakovs and Seminaries (other than those for the real Yerushalmis) also go six days a week. The pressure is insane there too. In general, Israel is a pressure cooker. 

8. Hebrew. It is not an easily language for Westerners to learn. I know you heard all about roots as if that makes Hebrew an easy language. That's the only thing easy about it. Most Hebrew here is written without vowels. You are always guessing how a word is said. Prefixes are attached to words so you don't even know how to look a word up. Hebrew is a Mideastern language, very different from English and French. And Israelis speak very quickly. Aliyah sales people will tell you that the children can understand by Chanukah and speak by Purim. This is a lie. They sit in school and stare at the walls. The Charedi schools don't even participate in the city ulpan. You really shouldn't bring kids over 10 here. The younger ones will learn Hebrew, but they might also learn to space out and to feel terrible about themselves. Adults have a much harder time. I haven't really seen anyone over 40 learn Hebrew. You are thinking that Ulpan is some kind of magic for after all it's a language program that has a special name. It's not magic. In fact, it's less effective than the language learning programs found in universities, where the instruction takes place in your native language. It's just more painful, like many things here. And know that all letters from the government and banks are in Hebrew. The rental car companies may have contracts in English because their primary client base is English speaking. The utility company isn't so kind. And Ulpan doesn't even teach you how to read bills. Rather, they hand you Zionist poetry.

9. Lack of derech eretz. Want a 100 stories of not only rude Israelis but heartless ones? The line is that they are rude but they'll give you the shirts off of their backs. This is a myth. Many of these people won't give you the shirt off of your back. I could tell you so many stories like that of bus drivers who kick families off the bus at 12 midnight because they don't want to finish their routes, like a bus driver who wouldn't let a girl off the bus even though she needed badly to use the restroom. She wound up peeing all over herself on the bus. Another story, a bus stopped short and my friend's kid went flying into the post. He was bleeding all over the place. Driver didn't stop for medical care and didn't care at all. And it's not just the bus drivers, it's pretty much anyone who has power over you : clerks, nurses, doctors, and especially police. Not every one of them, but a very high percentage. For a visual, I'll show you what an Israeli company has to do to attract clients:

Tells you what you need to know about the Israeli style.

However, on the plus side, Israelis are not pretentious or long-winded. Monday morning you don't have to answer the question "How was your weekend?" 400 times. You don't have to feign smiles all day long or say have a good day. You can get away with grumpiness. 

10. Cramped living conditions. The line is that the apartments are small but the kids play outside. Actually, they can get bullied outside. There is lots of bullying here. The kids all play in the same parking lots. The boys play soccer and little girls get balls smashed into their heads. The boys -- not Chassidisheh or Yerushalmi boys -- but the Dati Leumi, Litvish, and Chiloni boys are really wild and brazen. Girls get kicked, punched, knocked to the floor, sexually propositioned. The parents do nothing about it. It's not happening every second, but it happens often. 

I'm not saying it's pure hell living here. It's a functioning society. The bus system is very good even if many of the drivers zoom around like maniacs. You can live without a car here, and cars are dangerous. The land is lovely, so is the sea. The universities are decent. There are some important academics here like Benny Morris. There is much corruption but show me a country that isn't very corrupt these days. It's a weak democracy. The current Prime Minister received 5% of the vote. What kind of democracy is that? The same people run the country decade after decade. But Biden stole the election -- in my opinion. And the US government put people who wandered around the Capital on Jan. 6 in prison for a year and a half without a trial. So America has a weak democracy these days too. The independence of the courts is superior in America. During the COVID hysteria, judges did limit some of the government actions. That didn't happen in Israel, which is really a single branch system.

You are under no obligation to live in Israel. God did not command us to move here as he did the Jews in the midbar so don't compare me to the spies. As Rav Soloveitchik and the Lub. Rebbe said, live where you can do the most good. Even if living in Israel is some kind of mitzvah (kiyumis according to Rav Feinstein), you don't wreck your whole yiddishkite and life for an optional mitzvah.

Ah, you want to tell me about the Ramban? The Ramban didn't move to Israel until the last 2 years of his life. What it was dangerous then? It's not dangerous now? Every day they tell me we are surrounded by enemies, most notably Iran. If it's not dangerous, why do they have a universal draft. I don't know anybody in America who was ever stabbed. Here I know a guy who was stabbed and I know of several that were killed by terrorists. Not dangerous? And would the Ramban have moved to a country run by heretics? It was run by religious Arabs in his day.

The Gemara says that we should not ascend Israel like a wall and should not take the land by force, which is exactly what the Zionists did. 

Not in order to shine as a nation among nations do we raise our prayers and hopes for a reunion in our land, but in order to find a soil for the better fulfilment of our spiritual vocation in that reunion and in the land which was promised, and given, and again promised for our observance of the Torah. But this very vocation obliges us, until God shall call us back to the Holy Land, to live and to work as patriots wherever He has placed us, to collect all the physical, material and spiritual forces and all that is noble in Israel to further the weal of the nations which have given us shelter. It obliges us, further, to allow our longing for the far-off land to express itself only in mourning, in wishing and hoping; and only through the honest fulfilment of all Jewish duties to await the realization of this hope. But it forbids us to strive for the reunion or the possession of the land by any but spiritual means.' Our Sages say God imposed three vows when He sent Israel into the wilderness: (I) that the children of Israel shall never seek to re-establish their nation by themselves; (2) that they shall never be disloyal to the, nations which have given them shelter; (3) that these nations shall not oppress them excessively (Kethuboth, III, I). The fulfilment of the first two vows is confirmed in the pages of history; about the third, the nations concerned must judge themselves.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Horeb 608

Ascending like a wall has caused enormous problems, most notably a militaristic society and much callousness. 

Living in fantasy can bring you to great harm. Your first obligation is to do what's best for your family, not to live out fantasies. My advice, don't move to Israel if you live in the USA. But you should make your own choices. Just know, that it's not Disneyland. Know what you are getting yourself into. Once here, leaving is very complicated. 

There are some good things about the place. People are less materialistic even though many of them are dishonest. There is a kind of kiddushah in the air, in frum areas, not in chloni ones. But that's true in Lakewood, Monsey, Williamsburg too. You will find some special tzadickim walking around, particularly in Meah She'arim. Maybe you'll see that as reason enough to come. I doubt that's reason enough (Chutz has tzadickim too), but if you do come, do it with eyes opened. 

Now all of this applies to moving from the USA. Canada and Oceania (Australia and NZ) are another matter because those counties are verging on dictatorship. American could get there too -- Biden is trying -- but America has a better political system with three branches of government that keep some check on one another. Plus the USA has 300 million guns, which are the best defense against tyranny. Here's some interesting data for you:

So America is one thing. The former colonies of the UK, and maybe the UK itself, are another matter.

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