Israel is a small but extremely diverse country on the Mediterranean coast. The holy land of three world religions: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. A unique place where ancient traditions meet innovation and progress. Each year, hundreds of thousands of people of various backgrounds consider moving to Israel and starting a new life in this unique country in the Middle East. If you are among them, the information in this article will be helpful to you before you start packing your things for a one-way journey to the Promised Land.
Requirements for Jews and Non-Jews Moving to Israel
First of all, bear in mind that Israel is a 75% Jewish country. They do not very eagerly accept non-Jewish newcomers too. This does not mean that its doors for non-Jews are completely shut. There are simply different moving requirements for Jews and non-Jews. According to Israeli law, you are considered Jewish if your mother is of Jewish descent, or if you have converted to Judaism. If this is your case, you are eligible to move to Israel according to the country’s Law of Return. You can also apply for Israeli citizenship as a person with Jewish roots. It is important to prepare all required documents at least six months before your Aliyah (journey to the Promised Land). Take a look at the Nefesh B’Nefesh website. It will guide you through the entire Aliyah process, from application to your arrival in Israel.
The majority of immigration to Israel falls under the Law of Return mentioned above. Thus the situation is much more difficult if you are not Jewish. In this case, many Israelis would recommend you the two simplest ways. Either convert to Judaism or marry a Jew to acquire a right to move to Israel more easily. Another option is to get a work permit and a work visa. Upon being accepted to a job in Israel, the employing company will apply for your work permit and your working visa. When you receive these, you are free to move to Israel.
Dos and Don’ts after Moving to Israel
A must-do even before moving to Israel is to learn the Hebrew language at least on a basic level. Although English is widely spoken here, especially in large cities like Tel-Aviv or Jerusalem, a lot of important legal information (including some government websites) is available only in Hebrew. It is also crucial for daily communication with locals. Therefore, the knowledge of Hebrew is essential, especially in the first months upon arrival to the Holy Land. Search for your closest Ulpan (intensive Hebrew courses) institution, which is plenty in the USA. Arabic language proficiency is also a great benefit, especially if you are moving to Jerusalem or the West Bank cities.
The ethnic-religious diversity of Israel that makes the country so attractive and unique is also the reason why you need to be cautious and well-prepared before moving to Israel. First of all, because conflicts, clashes, and terrorist attacks are unfortunately frequent here. For this reason, the US Bureau of Consular Affairs even recommends thinking again before making even a tourist visit to Israel. It names the Palestinian territories (West Bank and Gaza strip) as the most dangerous for Americans. However, unfortunately, trouble can happen anywhere and anytime.
Thus, when you already are in Israel, it is very important to frequently check security updates from the US embassy or consulate (the USA has diplomatic missions in three Israeli cities: Tel-Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa) and also to know their addresses and phone numbers in case of emergency or if you need any other help. It is also highly recommended to avoid large gatherings of people, especially on religious holidays.
Know the Local Diversity
Being familiar with local cultural diversity is essential also because some unpleasant misunderstandings can take place if you are not. Ever since the founding of Israel Jews and Arabs have been in conflict with each other. The hostility between them is noticeable even between ordinary people. Of course, if you are friendly and respectful to everyone around you, it is less likely you will have these problems. Nevertheless, you need to get insight into history and ethnopsychology of the country before you move. You can read books or articles about it. For example, Maya Kahanoff’s “Jews and Arabs in Israel Encountering Their Identities” will be an interesting read for you. You can also chat online with American expats in Israel and learn their experiences. They will surely give you a couple of useful tips too.
Israelis, especially Jews, love to speak of their society as of “one big family”. Mutual help and solidarity are very common here, even between strangers. That’s why you need to be friendly and helpful when you relocate to Israel. But be careful: the segregation in Israeli society is extremely high. Expect to receive at least a disapproval from your Jewish friends if you decide to hang out with an Arab, and vice versa. There are different groups and classes even among Jews who are not always friendly to each other. One more reason why advanced intercultural competence is so important in the Holy Land.
Planning Your Leisure after Moving to Israel
As an exceptional blending pot of cultures and opportunities, Israel offers a wide variety of spare time activities. If you are into religion and history, make sure you visit Jerusalem and its top attractions. These include the Temple Mount, the Wailing Wall, Via Dolorosa and many other iconic holy sites. For nature lovers, Israel offers plenty of lifetime hiking experiences in the Eilat mountains, Negev and Dead Sea regions. Do not miss the chance to swim in the famous salty waters of the Dead Sea after moving to Israel. And party people can enjoy the dazzling nightlife in a plenty of nightclubs and discos, especially in Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem. If you are a fan of classic art and theatre, you will not be bored either. Tel-Aviv alone has a dozen theatres, Jewish and Arabic, and the Beit Lessen Theatre frequently shows modern American plays too.
All in all, behats la’kha! – or, good luck! – to you with your new life in Israel!