Aliyah and Visitor's Guide: Making the most of Israel

By: Samantha Hulkower

As a recent immigrant to Israel, Olah Chadasha, in the local parlance, I've spent a lot of time thinking about how to make this whole starting my life over in another country thing as successful as possible. This will be, hopefully, the first in a series of posts about acclimating to life in Israel. Whether you are an oleh chadash/ olah chadasha, thinking about making aliyah (moving to Israel), or just looking for tips for your next vacation to Israel, we've got you covered.

The first thing to remember when you land in Israel: you are no longer in America (or whatever country you just left)! You're in a different place, with a different language and culture than what you are accustomed to. A big difference I often hear from my Anglo friends and family, is how different strangers treat you in Israel, as opposed to America. In the US people are very friendly and helpful, for sure, but will still leave you unaccustomed from the genuine warmth you can experience in Israel from downright strangers. 

My first tip is to be open to talking to Israelis and the unsolicited advice you may get. A while back I was at the Diaspora Museum on the campus of Tel Aviv University (great museum by the way, must-see on any list). It was a slow day, and my mom struck up a conversation with the docent. They were around the same age and both from NY and instantly hit it off. When we were ready to leave the woman asked where we were off to. I mentioned we were going to some restaurant and then back to Jerusalem. "No, that won't do - go down to Neve Tzedek (a trendy neighborhood in Tel Aviv) and...hmmm...where should you eat...?" She asked if we kept kosher and how stringently and then listed 2 places to choose from. She admonished us for only spending one day in Tel Aviv "It's like spending just one day in New York City!" she quipped, and told us we had to come back. Having nothing to lose, we took her up on her suggestions and had a great time. Israeli's know the lay of the land here better than any guide book, so if someone offers an alternative to what you have planned, you probably won't regret checking it out!

The next tip is be prepared for the weather. Living in Jerusalem, I forget that a bus trip to Tel Aviv means getting off the bus into more heat and humidity than I left on the breezy mountain top. If you are traveling to Israel pack lots of layers. Especially if you will be in Jerusalem, where it can be really hot in the sun, then cool in the shade, and downright chilly once the sun goes down - all in the same day. Israel isn't as big on arctic-frost air conditioning like in the US, so be prepared to be warm. On the flip side, it can be kind of chilly inside during the winter (short as it is here). Buildings in Israel are specifically designed to stay cool during the summer, but that might mean being a little colder inside during the winter than you might be used to. One trick I learned from some time I spent living in Las Vegas over the summer, is that if you exercised for a couple of weeks in the local climate, your body adapts to it much faster. I'm not recommending going out for a run at noon on a 97 degree day, but going for a bike ride or a long walk in the heat (or cold) for a couple of weeks before your trip, or if you will be here for a while at the beginning of your stay, will go a long way in helping you be more physically comfortable here. 

The last tip, for now, I can give is to try your best to learn a little bit of the language, especially numbers. I got pretty good at misparim (numbers) from shopping at Machane Yehuda (also known as 'The Shuk' in Jerusalem - a shuk just means marketplace, but every city has a big one that is like a shopping mall from 1,000 years ago). Many Israelis speak English, especially if they own a store, and are too happy to talk to you in your native tongue, but they always appreciate the attempt at Hebrew. One of my favorite things about Israelis is how quick they are to offer a kol hakavod which loosely translates into 'good for you!' whenever you attempt to speak Hebrew or otherwise fit in with society here. Since I'm here for the long haul, I started getting frustrated at how quick merchants can be to speak to me in English, once they hear my accent. I knew my Hebrew was getting better when I was able to tell them -b'ivrit - that I understand Hebrew and I want them to speak to me in it. This seems to impress a lot of the male store owners, who then have a tendency to proceed to flirt with me in Hebrew - and I usually have no idea what they are saying. It's all good inspiration for me to work harder in my Ulpan! (Hebrew class)

There is so much good about living in Israel and off-the-beaten path gems waiting to be appreciated. In the coming weeks I look forward to sharing with you tips for cheap or free things to do around Jerusalem and the rest of the country, great places to eat, and other things you really only would know from talking to someone who lives here. My Hebrew may not be as good (yet!) as the docent from the Diaspora Museum, but I still have a few suggestions for your next trip....

Samantha Hulkower is an Olah Chadasha, living in Jerusalem. She enjoys trying to speak Hebrew, finding the humor in every situation (especially dating), and is looking forward to the day she can successfully argue b'Ivrit. You can also view her blog on environmental issues in Israel here.

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