Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

27 Kislev 5762 - December 12, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Retirement in Israel: Is It For You?

by M. Samsonowitz

Advantages and Disadvantages

Part II

Advantages of Retirement in Israel

Incomparable Torah Study Opportunities

The outstanding benefit of living in Eretz Yisroel unanimously agreed upon by all was the heightened opportunities to learn Torah and grow spiritually. While the opportunities for study for men are outstanding and unparalleled, the women also reported having endless opportunities to attend shiurim and partake of a rich menu of Jewish studies and charity activities.

Moving to Israel is generally seen as easier on the men, since they automatically pray three times a day in a synagogue and this gives their day structure as well as providing them with a social outlet.

Every one of Jerusalem's religious neighborhoods is packed with shuls and kollelim where men devote themselves to Torah study. There are many institutions and organizations that offer regular lectures on every topic imaginable. Most learning activities take place in Hebrew, Yiddish and English, but classes can also be found in Spanish, French and Russian and more. The innumerable shiurim and study programs are generally open to anyone who wants to attend, although retirees who didn't study in a yeshiva in their youth often prefer programs that have a large number of other retirees on a similar level because of the pace of study, the variety of lecture topics, and the social contact.

Or Somayach has a daily shiur attended by 25 feisty retirees who not only study together but discuss the world's problems and offer solutions.

The Israel Center (Tel. 5667787), an offshoot of NCSY located on Keren Hayesod Street in Jerusalem, was mentioned by many retirees as a place with a large range of shiurim and activities from 9 in the morning to 5 in the afternoon. Although the Center officially caters to anyone, most of its classes and activities have a high proportion of retirees. One week's list of shiurim included a Shabbos shiur in Pirkei Ovos, a Sunday-Thursday morning beis midrash program for "men who want some serious learning," Parshas Hashavua, "Great Jewish Stories," and Kabbalistic Insights.

For serious students, evening kollelim have sprung up all over Jerusalem which cater to baalebatim and the elderly and have many participants who are English-speakers. There are two large ones in Bayit Vegan and Har Nof. In the Yeshurun synagogue in Rechavia, there is a large kollel of English-speaking retirees. Even Beitar Ilit has an English- speaking kollel and an "Anglo- Saxon" shul (Or HaChaim on Eliezer Modai Street) where retirees join the regulars for study.

For many retirees, this is the opportunity of their life to finally get in the learning they couldn't when they were young.

Mr. G. was a New York lawyer who worked until the age of 86, because he couldn't imagine what he would do without work. After visiting Israel several times, he reluctantly agreed to move to Har Nof where his only son had moved years before.

Initially afraid, he soon discovered a new world had opened for him. There was a club of seniors in the neighborhood who would get together for shiurim and "lunch and learn" programs. He was appointed the official gabbai in the shul he davened, and was given a key to open the premises for the minyanim. He met a completely new group of friends and found himself immersed in a busy study program and social activities.

A short time after he had arrived, he was hooked on Israel. "The difference between Israel and America," he gratefully told his son, "is that in America you live to work and in Israel you work to live."

Max, who worked decades as an accountant for a factory, said that to him, the whole point to retirement was the spiritual opportunities it gave him. Now finished with concerns of parnossa and raising children, he is finally able to devote himself to day-long Torah study.

"If I wanted to watch TV and travel, I would have stayed in the US," says Max. "In my home town, the most I could have hoped for was a shiur on Shabbos. Studying by myself several hours a day with a chavrusa was viewed as an unusual and strange thing." He mentions that most retirees he knows from his hometown spend most of their time reading the newspaper, watching TV, and going in to work for a few hours every week. Keeping busy is a daily preoccupation.

In contrast, he has set up for himself a comprehensive daily learning program which requires four hours of study in the morning and another few hours in the evening. He doesn't have to go far for his program either, since right under his apartment there is a beis hamedrash where a group of men join him in a varied learning schedule that includes Daf Yomi, mishnayos, Tanach and halacha. The group is composed of a group of middle aged and retirement age men.

"Our Daf Yomi shiur has 10-12 people, of which only three or four are retired. When we make a siyum we take the ladies out and make a dinner of it," says Max.

Saul Citron says that moving to Jerusalem was a spiritual renaissance for him and his wife. He studies 3-4 hours every morning and has gotten to the point where his nose is in a sefer off and on throughout the day. He has even learned to spiritualize time spent at home by getting into the habit of dropping off to sleep listening to lectures on tape. "I told Rabbi Gottleib from Or Somayach that I fall asleep with him every night," he says with a smile.

The study opportunities are paradise not just for those who previously didn't have an opportunity to study, but even for rabbonim and roshei yeshivos who had devoted their previous lives to Torah study.

There are so many programs in Jerusalem, that it would take weeks to enumerate them all. For example, in the central Zichron Moshe shul, they have shiurim running from the break of dawn until midnight, in an assortment of different languages including Yiddish and English.

In the large Har Tzvi shul in Geula, shiurim are held for baalebatim and for the elderly. Bobov has a large beis hamedrash which offers shiurim. Anyone who doesn't want a structured shiur or study program, can just go into a shul or local yeshiva, make chavrusas and start studying. There are many businessmen who study in chavrusas in the Mirrer yeshiva for several hours a day. They prefer the rousing, inspiring youthful yeshiva environment to a smaller beis midrash.

Jerusalem also has a large number of retirement homes for the religious, which offer a wide range of learning activities and shiurim too and allow outsiders to participate. For instance, both the Neve Simcha and Tuvei Ha'Ir Retirement Homes offer a morning study program which includes Daf Yomi and guest lectures which are good enough that they are often attended by outsiders.

Rabbi C. had studied in Lakewood full-time before he and his wife made aliya. But his wife claims that today he is studying many more hours a day, virtually around the clock. In Lakewood, the center of the Torah world in America, he was barely able to find one person his age who he could learn with in Yiddish on his level. Rabbi C. could have made younger chavrusas, but when a person has reached a certain plateau in life he sometimes prefers learning with someone who has similar experience and insight. Rabbi C. didn't feel the same geshmack learning with a younger man. After he moved to Jerusalem, Rabbi C. found numerous people his age to study with, many of them first-class scholars.

While he prefers studying with a chavrusa his age, Rabbi C. has made his place of study a yeshiva which primarily has English-speaking students. Not only is he now involved in full-time study, but he has become an acknowledged fixture among the bochurim who look on him like a "Zaidy" and who see him as an example for themselves.

Mr. F., who retired from the U.S. to Beitar, has never felt a generation gap. His fellow residents are mostly young and he associates and feels friendly with many of them. Every Rosh Chodesh he gives out candies to the children who study in the nearby Bianer cheder, and now everyone calls him "Zaidy."

Jerusalem is a Torah city but the old men in it have a special distinguished place. There is a whole group of elderly men who sit in the Kosel tunnel from dawn to midnight reciting Tehillim. Popular rumor is that one who does so will merit living to 120.

Some will undoubtedly say that many retired Jews are involved in full-time Torah study in their local communities abroad, and one needn't retire in Jerusalem to get involved in learning. There is truth to this, but many retirees who moved to Jerusalem claim that there is a great difference between learning in Jerusalem and abroad. Torah study in Jerusalem is as natural as eating and breathing. Some say that it is even a sine qua non if you want to maintain your self respect. One who isn't involved in some kind of study program attracts looks of sympathy and pity. The imperative to learn that pervades the air in Jerusalem forces a person to learn more and strive higher than he would somewhere else.

Living in Jerusalem is not just a question of more quantitative learning opportunities. The opportunities are qualitative too. Within easy access one can hear and speak with the world's leading roshei yeshivos and halachic authorities. The fact that the entire religious community is engaged in Torah study and thousands of youths have come to study in Jerusalem's famous yeshivos generates a vivid esprit de corps that sweeps one in its wake.

Learning Opportunities for Women

For the women, learning opportunities are somewhat fewer but still plentiful. In general, shiurim for women are usually open to women of all ages, although those held in the morning hours naturally attract seniors who have more leisure time.

Marilyn says that she goes to shiurim at least once or twice a day. She says that some of the shiurim she attends are in homes of neighbors in Arzei Habira, while others are in more formal settings like the Israel Center or Neve Yerushalayim. She says that one can find a large variety of shiurim for women in English similar to the men.

"The lecturers in many cases are world-class, the best available in the world," she adds. "In my home town, the most I could hope for was a shiur on Shabbos." She says with satisfaction that she's finally catching up on all the years she was raising kids and now is getting the seminary education she missed in her youth.

Rabbi Menachem Klein, the director of Neve Simcha retirement home, believes that men find it easier to adapt to a new life in Israel than do women. "Men go to shul three times a day, and they keep themselves busy by studying, which many had done before. It's more or less similar to what they had always been doing. But it's harder for a woman. What will she do now? If she has children and grandchildren nearby, she'll adapt. But if not, she may find adaptation hard. She'll have to create for herself a totally new schedule and search for a new social group."

For a similar reason, Rabbi Klein finds that chassidim such as Belzers, Gerrers, and Vizhnitzers, tend more to retire in Israel than do Litvaks. Now that they are no longer tied down to concerns of parnossa, they prefer to settle near to their Rebbe and their fellow chassidim. The community also provides them with social anchors and support.

In contrast, the relationship between Litvaks and their roshei yeshiva is rarely that strong. A Litvak retiree who moves here will have to recreate his social circle unless he already has married children.

More of the advantages of living in Israel next week, iy"H.


Lo Medaber Ivrit

Almost all the retirees who don't speak fluent Hebrew expressed frustration with their inability to communicate effectively. One's inability to converse in Hebrew must be taken into consideration when choosing a place to live. It's important for Anglo-Saxon retirees to move to a neighborhood where there are many English-speaking seniors so they can develop a new circle of friends with whom they feel comfortable speaking. Fortunately, there are many such places in Jerusalem. There are also some places outside of Jerusalem.

Retirees are divided concerning how much they are bothered by not being able to speak Hebrew. Some say it doesn't bother them at all, since English is spoken all over. Others disliked being an identifiable foreigner who is unable to converse in the local language.

One mentioned that all olim can attend a year of Ulpan for free to learn Hebrew. Although one's Hebrew-speaking skills are unlikely to get far, many find it a pleasant social activity, and one retiree mentions that she met many people at her ulpan with whom she still keeps in touch today.

Mrs. C. says her Hebrew is still awful, but she finally picked up enough Hebrew to get on the bus and go shopping, and even talk with some neighbors. Despite finding it exhausting, she doesn't hesitate to talk Hebrew if she has to. In fact, she said there was an advantage to not knowing Hebrew well: "I learned if you can't speak Hebrew -- don't argue with anyone, and don't criticize. It's humbling but it helps the middos."

There will be the frustrating moments when the lack of Hebrew will impinge on one's life.

Without knowing Hebrew, one will find it frustrating to deal with government offices and Israeli businesses. Calling a repair service or a store to complain about an item one bought is difficult to do if one can't do better than: "Hallo. Zeh . . . zeh Goldstein. Mashehu lo tov im havacuum cleaner vehatoaster oven. Lo oved! Mah? Mah amarta? Lo meivine Ivrit."

Mrs. F. says, "After I bought my own home, I wanted to make my own dream kitchen. But people told me, `Are you crazy? Do you want a lot of aggravation? You can't deal with contractors and builders unless you know what's going on.' I realized that they were right and I decided not to attempt a major renovation job. I never got my dream kitchen because of this."

"There's a big language barrier," Mr. R. says frankly with frustration. "Whenever I try to complain about something, they tell me it has to be that way. Since I don't know the language, I feel I can't argue with them."

Mrs. F. says that despite being well integrated in her community of Beitar, she experiences considerable frustration because she doesn't know Hebrew. "I don't understand the bulletin from the Council and I don't want to bother asking people to explain it. I don't know if there's a sale on in Talpiot. It's an awful feeling. That's why we started our own newspaper in English in Beitar."

Many retirees who don't know Hebrew are lucky enough to have children who can help them with phone calls, office visits, or dealing with workers.

Giving Up Family

The way some retirees say it, all roads lead to Jerusalem. Although most retirees left most of their children behind in the States, many find that grandchildren come to study in Israel every year and, in their wake, the parents come to visit the children.

In addition, most of them travel abroad at least once a year. In today's world, it is neither expensive nor difficult to get on a plane and go visit the family abroad. Many retirees travel every year back to the "homeland" to visit children and grandchildren for a month or two. And those who prefer not to travel can still find themselves closely connected through regular phone calls, faxes and email.

Mrs. G. emphasizes, "People think that moving to Israel is a cutoff, and they'll never see friends again. But you don't feel cut off the way you used to. Phone calls have become so cheap that I speak with relatives in the U.S. more often today than I did when I lived in Queens."

American relatives have a way of coming to Israel to vacation and study.

"Our grandchildren are here almost every Shabbos," says Max. He has one married son and grandchildren in Rechovot and the other seven children and dozens of grandchildren are in the States. "We have three American grandchildren who are learning in Brisk right now. Last year a granddaughter was studying here in BJJ, and next year, we'll have twin granddaughters coming for seminary. My Israeli grandchildren constantly come to Jerusalem to visit and stay with us. We're a central hinge in the family. One of our grandchildren just made aliya with her four kids and they now live in Kiryat Sefer. Everyone makes it here eventually."

However, women retirees were not as blithe about being so far away from their children and grandchildren as were the men. One admitted, "The hardest thing is being away from the family," and said that if her children would be nearby, her life in Israel would be "Gan Eden."

She adds that when they decided to move to Israel, it caused great dissension in the family. "One of my daughters was terrible. We lived near each other and we always shared meals on Shabbos and Yom Tov. Families whose kids live in a different city don't suffer so much. But our children were upset when we said we were leaving. One daughter until today can't forgive us."

One woman, who lived near all her children in the U.S., said dolefully, "I don't find that a support group of people my age is the same. No one can take the place of my children."

Max reports that he travels to the States once a year (and sometimes twice a year) for several weeks to make the rounds among the children and attend simchas. His children already know they should try to plan weddings of the grandchildren around the dates that he comes every year.

Another retiree reported an interesting arrangement. Since theirs is a second marriage, the husband and wife travel at different times to visit their children. At first, they stayed in Israel and their children came to visit them. But now that their children's families have grown and it's too difficult for them to get away, they travel to see them. The advantage of each one travelling alone is that there is always someone remaining in the apartment in case a pipe bursts, or the house is broken into -- all events which do occasionally happen. It also has the advantage that the one travelling has someone to take him to the airport and pick him up, as well as someone to prepare him a warm meal when he returns.

More of the problem reports next week, iy"H


Making Aliya -- a Pilot Trip

Many of the retirees advised making pilot trips to Israel to get acquainted with the country. Several came for regular periods every year until they decided finally to make aliya.

One retiree advises coming for a six month trial, without giving up anything you have abroad. After living here six months, you'll be able to tell if Israel is for you.

Couples shouldn't give up Medicaid, especially if they travel back and forth.

Making Aliya -- Abroad or in Israel?

If a person has time on their hands, it may make sense to carry out the 2-4 months aliya process abroad with the help of an Israeli shaliach. The benefits which the olah will gain include a free ticket to Israel for all family members, being able to participate in workshops on aliya, the right to be received at the airport and have one's paperwork personally attended to, and being given ahead of time a teudat olah (an olah identity card) which confers tax deductions or write-offs on furniture and appliance VAT payments, property taxes, Bituach Leumi fees, customs payment (you can bring in three lifts without paying customs) municipal taxes, visits to national sites, etc. They may also be eligible for rental subsidies for the first year. For retirees, a municipal senior card will be provided by the municipality where they live, which grants further subsidies and deductions (see later).

Although one is required to undergo a medical work-up as part of the process, according to law a Jew cannot be denied aliya because of his state of health.

Many seniors prefer to make aliya once they've arrived in Israel and have the help of their children who already live here. In this case, they will have to go to the Ministry of the Interior, show proof of their Jewishness, and then be issued an Israeli identity card. With this card, they can then go to the Absorption Ministry and register for an oleh identity card.

How Big of An Apartment to Rent?

It's helpful if a couple has an apartment waiting for them when they make aliya. However, some couples prefer to live in retirement homes. (See more about this later on.)

Mrs. F. says not to rent anything less than three bedrooms. She says you'll need the extra bedrooms because of guests from abroad, and if you rent an apartment with only two bedrooms, you'll find yourself on top of each other and feeling caged in.

"Us older folks need all the stuff we're used to. We're not youngsters who can do without. We need our big dryers and washing machines -- and this all costs money and requires more room."

What to Bring Along

* Bring family pictures or other pictures you are particularly attached to so you can put them up right away and feel at home.

* It is important to know how large one's home in Israel will be. Many make the mistake of packing and bringing over their life's furnishings and nostalgic items, only to find that only half of it can fit into their home, and they have to dump the rest.

* Bring along all items of nostalgic value.

* Items made of wood are especially expensive in Israel and may be worth bringing from abroad. However, there is no clear- cut rule. An oleh can buy furniture and appliances tax- free, and doesn't have to pay VAT. Sometimes one is better off buying large furniture and appliances in Israel, since one saves on these expenses and one will have service for a year if anything goes wrong.

* Small electronic equipment should be bought new on 220 current, and electronic devices running on 110 should be left behind. Small appliances are still much cheaper abroad than in Israel but overall they do not necessarily add up to that much.

* Don't forget to figure in the cost of shipping if you buy furniture and appliances in the U.S.

* Many Israeli furniture companies make tables that can expand to seat up to 16 and even 20 guests, if this is important to you.

* Some refrigerators bought in Israel have an optional switch to shut off the light for Shabbos and to put the motor on a timer that is not affected by opening and closing the door. You have to ask about it and it costs extra.

* Couches in Israel also tend to be innovative -- and many open up to become beds.

Mrs. F. says that if one wants to buy complete furniture and appliances in Israel, he'll have to pay $20-25,000 for a beautifully furnished home including installing central air conditioning and heating. Young Israeli couples typically furnish their home for $5-10,000.


This is an established organization that has been around for a long time. It provides many services and caters specifically to Americans and Canadians, as its name indicates. It is not specifically a religious organization, and it has both religious and non-religious members. It serves everyone.

Rivka Benari, an AACI aliya counselor from the U.S. who lives in Efrat, sums up the services that the AACI provides: "We make the aliya process as easy as possible for olim, and we give help even to long-term immigrants who need our services."

Mrs. Benari mentions that there has been a surge of retirees coming from abroad in the past six years, ever since the new National Health Law was passed. This law ensures that every citizen gets health coverage, no matter his age or pre- existing conditions. The cost of medical coverage is nominal. Mrs. Benari says that a couple must pay 250 new shekels a month (less than $60) for the basic basket of medical services.

She says, "Because Blue Cross and Blue Shield medical insurance only covered olim for three or six months, concern for medical care forced many Americans in the past to return to their home countries. Today, everyone has medical coverage in Israel."

The AACI offers many activities for seniors. They have a Wednesday morning program specifically for seniors which includes exercise, learning Hebrew, and a guest lecturer. They publish a Senior Spectator bulletin and organize trips for seniors. They also offer opportunities for volunteer work for English-speaking seniors who are interested in it. These activities are open to the wide range of Anglo-Saxon seniors from religious to non-religious.

"Our senior citizens are active and make their mark," says Mrs. Benari.

The AACI has also spearheaded legislation which is important to seniors. One such successful lobbying effort was the campaign against Israel adopting the Ben Basset reforms two years ago, which would have taxed the foreign income of olim living at least half of the year in Israel in addition to the taxes they paid in their home country. If this law had been passed, Mrs. Benari believes there would have been a huge exodus of Anglo-Saxons who had settled in Israel. The AACI also lobbied against smoking in public places.

Mrs. Benari cautions that senior citizens need more support than everyone else, and it is important they have it when they arrive. She adds that "young" seniors adapt easily, but "older" seniors often find bureaucracy intimidating. She emphasizes that to a large degree, it depends if one has children living in the country.

She says that the best kind of retiree oleh is the one who had visited several times before, has friends here, always dreamed of coming, came relatively young and in good health, and moved to neighborhoods where he knew people.

There are also numerous local government services and organizations which help individuals with their other needs. (See further on.)


An oleh who is from certain poor countries will get a basket of financial benefits and cash payments upon making aliya. Although this does not apply to olim from the U.S. and Europe, it is worth briefly mentioning in case this applies to some of our readers.

This applies to olim from the Former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe (including Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Albania and Slovakia), North Africa including Ethiopia, the Moslem countries of Asia including India, Yemen and Iran, and South and Central America. In each case, an oleh had to live more than a year in these countries directly before he made aliya.

One who fulfills this criterion will be paid a sum of money (between $1,250 and $2,250) when he arrives at the airport, and monthly stipends per family member according to their ages in the following year.

All olim, like qualifying Israelis, are eligible for easy- term bank loans and mortgages, rent subsidy, retraining for a new livelihood, and other such services. For details, one should get in touch with the Absorption Ministry or the shaliach who is helping one make aliya.


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