Not exactly the topic in the title is controversial. Consequently, there are different positions about the topic. One can discuss the various views. Not really node their heads in agreement with your narrative about a topic of controversy.
A Move to Israel A New York couple finds a new life in a land defined by its faith
By STEPHEN J. KOHN
May 19, 2013 4:00 p.m. ET
In June 1991, at age 51, I grabbed the opportunity for early retirement.
Three days later, after a two-minute conversation, my wife and I decided to move to Israel. But it was a decision that had been percolating since we were children.
A family from the synagogue I attended moved here when I was a teenager. I spent a year in the country after high school, and my wife spent two summers in Israel. Each of us had made close to a dozen trips here over the intervening years, some on business.
The move itself involved a two-week exploratory trip and six months of detailed planning. We knew that relocating here from Manhattan would be far different from moving to a New York suburb. We wanted to continue working, and we wanted to integrate into the country and society.
LOCAL FLAVOR Each of Israel's major cities is distinctive. Here, Tel Aviv as seen from the ancient port city of Jaffa. AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
Today, things have worked out almost exactly as we planned.
The diversity of Israel's residential options is surprising given the country's size. Each major city—Be'er Sheva, Haifa, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv—is distinct, as are options in smaller communities. They range from the pastoral north to the desert south. We even have our Miami Beach—Eilat. Depending on one's vocational and lifestyle choices, the list can be narrowed quickly.
We settled in Ra'anana, a well-run suburban town (12 miles north of Tel Aviv, population 80,000) with effective urban planning, an accomplished professional symphonette, beautiful parks and excellent shopping. Living on the coastal plain, we have cool winters (but no snow) and hot and dry summers. Rain typically falls only from October to April.
We have moved four times within Ra'anana and today live in a 3,200-square-foot home. Houses of similar size range between $750,000 and $1.5 million. Living space and lot size in Israel are smaller than in the U.S., and virtually all homes and apartments are built from reinforced concrete.
I am 73 years old and have been gradually stepping away from work. The bulk of my first 15 years here was spent with start-up companies, primarily on strategic and funding issues. Today, I teach English writing; I'm putting the final touches on a book of romantic short stories; I'm an active photographer; and I'm working my way through the Talmud and Old Testament, which keeps my mind fit. A well-equipped gym 300 yards from our house takes care of my body.
My wife, who developed an English tutoring business here, started singing in choirs (an important leisure activity in Israel) shortly after we moved and has become a soloist. About 12 years ago she acted on her dream of learning to play the cello (she had been proficient on the piano) and now is a member of two amateur orchestras and a string quartet.
While there are a small number of non-Jewish immigrants and expats in Israel, most of us are Jewish. From the first, my wife and I wanted to be immersed in Israeli culture and thought. Many of our closest friends are Israelis, and we are comfortable with Hebrew. We took a six-month immersion course when we arrived. One can live here without speaking Hebrew, but language is key to culture. And many Israelis don't speak English. On many practical questions, from dealing with traffic police to finding the sugar in a supermarket, not speaking Hebrew can make life more difficult.
Anyone contemplating emigrating to Israel should contact Nefesh b'Nefesh (nbn.org.il), a nonprofit organization that helps make the process easier. After arriving, the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel (aaci.org.il) provides practical solutions. Later on, the English Speaking Residents Association (esra.org.il) has an array of programs and opportunities for volunteer activities. For additional information, see anglo-list.com.
The rhythm of life here is set by the Jewish calendar—from the crowds in supermarkets before the Sabbath and holidays, to the quiet on the streets, to the picnics in the park and the sanctity of synagogues, to the clubs and restaurants that may be open. Yom Kippur, for example, finds about 60% of the population fasting and 45% in synagogues. The country shuts down, including our airports and highways.
Israel's culture is far more open, intrusive and argumentative than America's. Questions that you would never be asked in the U.S. aren't uncommon. (Example: "How much did you pay for your house?") And ducking behind, "I don't answer questions like this" is rude. If someone wants to give you advice, there is no holding them back, although personal issues—for instance, smoking where prohibited—usually aren't challenged. Driving is aggressive (unless you come from Boston).
However, there is a sweetness, kindness and joining together in crises that is extraordinary. If someone trips on the street, hands are extended to help. When an old person wants to start a conversation with a passerby, most recognize the need. Family plays a regal role in the lives of Israelis. We have become a part of our daughter-in-law's family and vice versa. Weekly visits to parents are common.
Children are regarded as a national treasure; in most locations, seeing kids on streets late at night doesn't mean bad parenting but safe streets. Don't be surprised to see hard-bitten corporate executives and military officers with tears in their eyes as they watch their children's presentations.
Living With Danger
We are often asked by visitors and friends in the U.S. about the dangers of living here. Yes, there are attacks, but living in Israel gives one a different perspective on security. We grieve our casualties, have great confidence in our security forces, but do not live in fear. Most of us have a realistic and not exaggerated view of risk (perhaps analogous to frequent fliers, who usually are oblivious to the idea when airborne).
On a more practical level, the cost of living in Israel isn't significantly different than in the U.S. Electronics, gas and autos, in particular, are expensive. On the bright side: health care. Four competitive government-recognized plans provide the same basic services for less than $40 a month for retirees. Payments are made through a Social Security-like taxing mechanism. Supplementary insurance is available. We find the care to be good and, usually, extremely efficient.
I travel to the States regularly (two daughters and four grandchildren live there.) Sadly, the price for living 5,700 miles and seven time zones from New York is not seeing family and friends, particularly when they fall ill.
Has it been worth it? We arrived here in November 1991—and have felt fulfilled from the first. We have enjoyed our professional lives and, now, our new pursuits. We continue to tour Israel and discover new corners of this country. Most important, we believe that we have come home.