I’m asking a big question this week, but I want to preface it by saying the real answer is: I don’t have a clue.
What does it take to make it in Israel?
It’s something I think about all the time. But let’s first define terms.
Making it in Israel
What do I mean by “making it”?
I mean three things:
First, you come here and stay here. For the long run. And that might be longer than you think. I suspect we can all agree that if someone comes here for a year to study, then decides to stay, they haven’t yet made it in Israel. It’s going to take more time than that. And more experiences.
Second, you’ve faced hardships and still chose to stay.
I left Israel after living here for eight years and suffering countless hardships. You might say that eight years was already impressive. It is not. I loved Israel when I was in school. When I was young and had few responsibilities. Then the challenges started compounding and it was no longer Disney Land for me.
So I left. It wasn’t fun anymore, and I didn’t want to be here. Eight years alone didn’t constitute “making it”.
Finally, you’ve figured things out. You know where you want to live. You have a community you are comfortable in. You can pay the bills, and life is generally sailing smoothly enough. There’s food on the table, and there will be tomorrow as well.
The Philosophy of Israel
Now, that all being said, there are two philosophical approaches that make it much easier to be here as well. If you maintain one or both of them, you are at a decided advantage over those of us who don’t.
If you truly believe that (a) this is God’s chosen place for the Jewish people and we all belong here, or you believe (b) this is historically the only place a Jewish person can be safe, can feel “at home”, then the whole process is easier. Your attitude will color everything else previously mentioned.
You will have great motivation to live here and not want to live elsewhere. You will be able to tolerate the hardships with greater comfort. And you will redefine the comfort you require to have a good life, since it ultimately doesn’t matter. You’re here, so you’re more than willing to make some sacrifices.
But that’s just philosophy.
What are character traits that anyone can develop that I believe are essential for living here?
1) Patience in Israel
First and foremost, patience.
Things don’t happen as quickly as they might elsewhere. Your letter might take two weeks to arrive even though it was sent from a block away. Your paperwork at a government office might get stalled for months. And so many other cases like these. If you have iron patience, you will be able to take it all in stride.
I’m not the most patient person in the world, but there are odd things I’ve learned to like. For example, waiting for an Amazon package. In the States, it might arrive in a couple of days, and exactly when it’s supposed to. Here it might take a couple of weeks to reach its destination, on any random day. It ends up feeling like a surprise present you delivered to yourself and forgot about.
If you are impatient, all of this might drive you crazy.
2) Adaptability is Everything
Adaptability is key. Things are different. Some bizarrely so. And if you dwell too much on those differences, or you let them get to you, you will not be able to survive here. Possibly anywhere other than what you’re fully and completely used to.
There’s nothing wrong with yearning for a few comforts from elsewhere. And you’re allowed to get excited when those comforts finally arrive.
But if you wake up every morning annoyed that there’s no Starbucks, frustrated that people will push to get on a bus, and freaking out because people yell on their cellphone right next to you all day long, you’re in for a lousy ride. If you can learn to just accept the reality and not be bothered if it remains that way, that is classic adaptability.
You don’t have to like it. And you absolutely can hope for changes and even work toward them. But you need to learn to accept that they might not happen. This is just the way it is.
3) Assert Yourself
It’s very easy to be ignored or get walked all over in Israel. Just because you’re at the front of the line (or what loosely resembles a line), doesn’t mean you’re automatically next. And just because you’re in the right, doesn’t mean justice will be served.
So, if it’s your turn and someone goes ahead of you, you’ll need to speak up. If the phone company is telling you they didn’t bill you twice or some government office is telling you an unpaid 13 shekel bill from three decades ago is now 3000 shekels, take a deep breath, and then vigorously argue your case. You may have to cross the line from assertive to aggressive. Your voice might need to be raised. But to survive the Holy Land, don’t get off that phone until you’ve come out on top.
4) Careful and Vigilant
On that topic, it’s a really good idea in Israel to be completely on top of all things. Don’t assume the electric company isn’t double billing you or that your cell provider isn’t charging you monthly for some “perk” you never agreed to.
Sadly, these kinds of things happen. And the only way to deal with them is to be constantly careful and vigilant. Read all the paperwork, save everything, and don’t hesitate to make all the necessary calls to fix the problems when they arise. Don’t stall. If you’re paying close attention, you can stop all these “mistakes” in their tracks.
But if you’re not careful, you’ll be bleeding money and won’t even know it’s happening.
5) Gotta Have Some Thick Skin
Finally, living in Israel requires a certain level of thick skin. Some are born with it, the rest of us need to work hard to build up the character trait.
Fact is, by the end of any given day you might be shouted at, shoved, cut in front of, or almost run over while walking through a crosswalk.
When these things happen, you are always left with the same two choices:
First, stew about it and be angry and upset for the rest of the day.
Or you could let it go and move on.
The second is the better choice, and one classic Israelis excel at. Israelis don’t harbor anger or bitterness. They’re not vengeful. To call them forgiving doesn’t quite cover it, since the moment an incident is over, they’re too busy no longer caring to waste energy on forgiveness.
And this is possibly the single most important character trait for surviving the Israel experience. Learn to let things go, and then you can wander through your day enjoying what Israel has to offer, without being constantly frustrated with what it does not.Learn to let things go, and then you can wander through your day enjoying what Israel has to offer, without being constantly frustrated with what it does not. Click To Tweet