When singles make aliyah, they find themselves in new communities and work environments, and they embark upon the adventure of finding themselves in a foreign culture and language. In this last article of the singles series, we will explore how singles navigate shidduchim in Israel, some beautiful anecdotes as well as challenges they encounter and practical advice for any curious reader who is contemplating aliyah.
People have different attitudes when it comes to dating and the single stage of life. Some see it as a race: who gets to the finish line first. Others see it as a game: learning the rules and trying to enjoy the process as much as possible. And still others see it as a nuisance of a waiting process, inhibiting them from living the life they want to live. When making aliyah, the process continues, albeit on different turf.
An advantage to dating in Israel is that, although Baltimore is an up-and-coming place for singles to be on the East Coast, there is still no comparison to the numbers of potential dates you can get in Eretz Yisrael and, specifically, in Yerushalayim. Simply put, there are so many more people here from a whole variety of backgrounds, cultures, and outlooks. Aside from the sabras (I mean, this country is full of eligible home-grown Israelis), many bachurim come to learn here in yeshiva and decide to stay, and other idealistic young singles come on the aliyah adventure.
Of course, it is as important in Israel as in the States, to network, meet shadchanim, and register on online sites such as Saw You at Sinai and a newer site, Partners in Shidduchim. Another initiative, Yismach, started by Rabbi Shmuel Neuman in Yerushalayim, offers a forum for shadchanim to make matches by viewing profiles online. They also organize shadchanim gatherings, where refreshments are served and guys and girls, at different appointed times, can either casually meet shadchanim or sit down with them for short meetings.
Being in Israel and away from family usually necessitates being more independent in dating, since most references of the guys are in Israel, and there is the time difference to take into consideration. When Batya Miriam Perlman arrived in Israel a year-and-a-half ago, she had just started dating only a short while earlier. Her mother helps out as much as possible making reference calls, but Batya Miriam often calls references herself, or her aunt and uncle in Israel do, if they have the time. Shana Laks, who made aliyah several months ago and had already been dating in Baltimore for a few years, also mentions this point: “I think it’s very important to find someone here to be both an advocate and a mentor during dating.” Otherwise, Shana finds that the essentials of dating in Israel are pretty similar to the States.
One difference in dating in Israel is that many people meet for the first date in a hotel lobby or cafe instead of being picked up by their date, as is standard in the States. Although some guys will pick up the girl, especially if they are working and own a car, it is more typical to enter a hotel lobby in the evening, greet the security guard (who quickly surmises that you are coming in for a date), and join the other men and women standing or sitting around the entrance trying to figure out who they are supposed to meet! Usually, people have an idea of what their date looks like or have seen a picture, but it definitely can be a bit humorous or awkward (depending on your attitude!) to approach someone who turns out not to be the right person. And to top if off, after the date, if the guy takes you home in a cab, you might get some good wishes and a heartfelt bracha from the well-meaning driver as if you are already engaged to the guy that you just met for the first time!
In some very religious/chareidi circles, the couple meets in someone’s house, known as a sit-in. The advantages are that you avoid the hotel scene and can concentrate on the person in front of you without any distractions. After one or two “sit-in” dates, the couple might meet in public to have a more interactive experience. Couples of this nature often meet only a few times before feeling ready to get engaged because they have usually already checked into the person thoroughly enough to have found out all kinds of information like beliefs, outlooks, and middos. Then, upon meeting each other, they can decide if they are compatible, if there’s chemistry, and of course, if the information they got is accurate.
Similar to American dating, people have a mixture of “fun” and “conversational/serious” dates. In many circles, it is accepted to eat in a cafe or restaurant on a date, pack a picnic lunch to enjoy together in a park, do pottery, or walk around the zoo or outdoor adventures, like exploring the Old City.
One important decision is whether one is open to dating Israelis. Language is an important factor to consider. Shana says that her Hebrew isn’t at a point where she could even imagine dating non-English-speaking guys. Culture is another issue. Batya Miriam prefers dating Americans, because she finds that Israelis are very different culturally.“The main difference is that the Israeli mindset is more black and white,” she explains. “Topics such as being strictly chareidi and sheltered vs. allowing some secular things, like smart phones or sending a child to a Bais Yaakov-style school vs. a modern-Orthodox school are some things that Israelis tend to have strong black-and-white opinions on. Coming from a frum American family, my opinions on these topics are more gray, and I think there’s room for flexibility based on the circumstances.”
In my own experience, one thing I see as a pattern in Israeli guys that I meet is that they are more firm in their definitions of how they would describe themselves: whether chareidi or dati leumi. Many Americans coming from communities and school systems that accept a wider range of religiosity in their students are therefore a bit more open in their beliefs, with room for gray areas. Since the religious system in Israel is so categorical (without going into the history and politics), people naturally define themselves a bit more rigidly according to the system that best suits them. With that said – while I agree with Batya Miriam that hashkafos can be different between certain types of Americans and Israelis – I find that many of our perceptions of others are based on anticipated stereotypes or our own experiences. I have had both positive and negative experiences dating Israelis, Europeans, and Americans, and I thus give more weight to individual character and personality than to preconceived stereotypical images. Although it may be easier to relate to someone who comes from a similar background, there are many beautiful and happy marriages between individuals who did not share the same culture and language.
Something else to consider are the American-Israelis, guys who were born or raised in Israel but whose parents are olim. Some are completely integrated in the Israeli system, and others adopt a more accepting American attitude in terms of their beliefs and outlooks. Ultimately, whether someone is dating in the States or in Eretz Yisrael, first and foremost to realize is that Hashem makes shidduchim!
* * *
In the mountain climbing of life, highs and the lows continue wherever you go. The question is where you choose to pick up the climb. In this section, the reader will hear about some beautiful aspects as well as challenges for single olim in Israel.
In the two years since Rochel Urszuy made aliyah, she continues to see Eretz Yisrael with a good eye. “Living here is such a blessing,” she says. “Whenever I am on a bus and can see the Land of Israel – whether the Jerusalem forest, a park, or even passing the Old City, I am hit with the same great feeling that I am zocha to be living in Israel! I love how everybody treats each other like family. A short while ago, I was exhausted and leaning against the bus stop waiting for the bus and trying not to fall asleep, when a young mother with her son asked me if I was okay and even offered me some baked goods they had just bought in case I needed sugar! I’m not speaking only about the Orthodox being on the lookout for each other, because this woman was definitely either secular or traditional. We are all ready to help and support others when needed.”
Rochel appreciates the simpler life in Israel, where owning cars or even vacuum cleaners is not a given. Rochel was amazed when visiting Baltimore at the two-day shipping offered by Amazon Prime. “What’s even crazier,” she exclaims, “is when I hear about my relatives ordering diapers or pantry food from Amazon and getting it delivered to their door a few hours later! This was a shock for me, because you really don’t have anything like that here in Israel. I have to walk or take a bus to get anything, and I only buy what is necessary.” Rochel clarifies that the student lifestyle she chose to live, although common in Israeli society, is not the only way to live here. “If you are working full time, it’s a lot more reasonable to live a more American lifestyle.”
Rochel feels that the goals in life are clearer in Israel than in chutz la’aretz. “It’s easy to get distracted from being an eved Hashem when you want the latest fitbit or are focusing on how amazing your neighbor’s renovation went and maybe you should do a little fixing up yourself. These things are enjoyed here too, but they come after being an eved Hashem. It’s a lot easier for those lines to get confused in America,” she concludes.
* * *
Shana shares what she appreciates about Eretz Yisrael: “I love so many things – the little things like walking around Har Nof or being on buses or the lightrail with Jews of all stripes. I’ve been so fortunate in my community and the people I’ve met that I really feel blessed.” Shana also shares some challenges: “It’s hard, sometimes, to call and invite myself for Shabbos, and there are times where my Shabbos plans fall through and I’m eating a meal alone. Living independently and in a different country has forced me to be a bit more assertive and get out of my comfort zone.”
Says Batya Miriam, “The physical beauty of Yerushalayim forever awes me. I wake up every morning and look at the view from my porch and just gape. Even though I live in the city, there are parks and forests in walking distance and so many easily accessible holy places to go to.” Another thing Batya Miriam values is how people in the street are so willing to help with whatever is needed. “I can have a conversation with anyone and we’ll find some commonality,” she says. “The atmosphere in Eretz Yisrael when Yamim Tovim come around is felt so vividly. I love celebrating together with the rest of Israel. I’m surrounded by so many like-minded people, which encourages me to better myself.” Still, Batya Miriam finds it hard to be away from family, especially since she’s the oldest and wishes she could be more involved with her siblings’ lives.
Like Rochel, Batya Miriam finds that being a student presents challenges of managing to pay rent, food, and other bills on her own. At the same time, students receive discounted transportation and taxes, as well as an aliyah discount for tuition.
* * *
As for me, not a day goes by that I don’t feel one of those special only-in-Israel moments. The transportation stories alone could easily fill a book – like the time an older man stood in the front of the light rail car and bellowed out chazanus for all to enjoy, and the passengers, including the conductor, smiled and thanked him at the end. Or the time an elderly man boarded the lightrail and without a second thought leaned on a young man to sit down as if he were his own grandson. I love the feeling of walking through history, knowing that every stone and pebble retains holiness and each person I meet is like a brother or sister.
Yiddishkeit comes alive in Eretz Yisrael like nowhere else. I have had opportunities to take trumos and ma’aser with a bracha and to do some gardening and work in a field. It always makes me happy to see store signs that say “24/6” and to wish “Shabbat shalom” to every Jew, whether externally religious or not, to see pesukim from Tanach on buildings and entrance signs, buses that display “chag sameach” or “shana tova” on their screens, and of course donuts everywhere you go by the beginning of Cheshvan! One of my most memorable chagim in Eretz Yisrael was this past Simchas Torah, which I spent in the Old City. The sight of passionate singing and dancing in the shuls and streets with the sifrei Torah was gorgeous. My highlight was Motzei Yom Tov, when the men and boys took the dozens of sifrei Torah out of the Kotel’s aronei kodesh and danced to beautiful music until late at night with such joy and achdus.
* * *
For all those readers who are considering aliyah, my aliyah pals and I present you with a list of tips to enable a smooth successful aliyah:
Possibly the most important advice was what I learned from one special family I met in the Old City, who taught me the secret of the beautiful life they built in Eretz Yisrael. Their family rule is that no negative speech about Eretz Yisrael is allowed in their home. They live by the words of the pasuk in Tehilim, “Ure’ei betuv Yerushalayim kol yemei chayecha – to see the good of Yerushalayim all the days of your life.”
Rochel’s advice about making aliyah is, “Just do it! If it’s right for you, things will work out. It can be a frustrating process, as when you deal with the government, but there are so many rewarding things. I would definitely suggest being clear on your goals. Make sure you are making aliyah because you want to and not because of pressure from anyone else. It’s a decision coming from that place that will get you through the hard times.”
Shana advises, “While the physical steps of aliyah are important, I think the most important thing is that you’ve really found your love of Eretz Yisrael, because it isn’t easy, and no matter how much want to be here, there will be times where you’re entirely outside your comfort zone. You don’t have to love every part of Israeli society, but you have to appreciate it enough that the things that get under your skin won’t make you feel that living here isn’t worth it.
“If someone wants to make aliyah,” Shana adds, “I think they should really look into it seriously and try to approach it in a way that makes it the least intimidating and complicated as possible. Whether that means working for a while to build up savings so as to have a cushion of time before finding a job in Israel, or whether that means taking a pilot trip and going back to seminary or becoming a madricha.”
Rochel points out, however, that sometimes people don’t make aliyah because they want to make more money beforehand, not as a necessity as Shana explained but as an excuse. “Some people wait until they ‘have enough money to feel comfortable,’ but I feel like that’s not a great approach, first, because Hashem takes care of you and second, because you may never earn ‘enough’ to make aliyah.”
Rochel also advises collecting as many contacts in Israel as possible from friends, family, and acquaintances so as to build a strong network of people for Shabbos meals, and not to be shy about calling families you don’t know.
From her experience, Batya Miriam says, “Transition is hard; leaving home and family is hard. So creating home and family in Israel is essential for stability.” She has seen singles do really well in Israel when they start off in a system such as a yeshiva or seminary because there’s a built-in support system, which makes for a softer landing.
Rochel’s final bit of advice is to “expect the unexpected! Life here is such a journey. You can see Hashem’s hand so clearly at times, it’s scary. ‘Random’ things will happen – for example, I once had an amazing conversation about achdut (unity) with a stranger on a bus that changed my life. These types of things helps us focus on our love of being in Eretz Hakodesh. Truthfully, just living here makes you feel closer to Hashem, which is such an awesome feeling!”
Readers are welcome to contact me or any of my friends who have participated in this series: Batya Miriam Perlman, Batyamiriam@gmail.com, Thealiyahblog.com; Rochel Urszuy, email@example.com; Shana Laks: firstname.lastname@example.org; and Sara Bracha Shugarman, email@example.com.