Monday, October 26, 2009

Climbing El Cap'

The day after our wedding, the phonecalls stopped. No more hectic caterers, confused florists, irate wedding planners, sobbing relatives, or lost guests. Just the two of us in marital bliss. After weeks of sleeping past noon, we got on a normal schedule and began sorting through the heaps of wedding presents, plus all her stuff, plus all my stuff. Trying to cram it all into our tiny rental apartment has forced me to purge my wardrobe of all articles of clothing over seven years of age, begin selling some of my five computer systems, and haul out bag after bag of miscellaneous junk to the trash. It’s hard to believe I landed in this country three years ago with just two suitcases.

Leaving America with all my belongings.

Purging my possessions has caused me to try to organize myself mentally as well. What are my new life goals now that the big one, marriage, is squared away? Rambam (the 11th century Jewish sage Maimonades) lists the proper order of one’s life goals as: Parnassah (income,) Bayit (home,) Ishah (wife.) In plainer talk, get yourself a job and a roof over your head before you think about getting married. In my 31 years on this planet, I have never actually owned my Bayit, always rented. In Israel, I have been homeless several times, living off the hide-a-beds and eating out of the fridges of friends and relatives for a month or more until I could find a new apartment. While vagrancy is tolerable for a rough-and-ready single, it would be a nightmare to drag my family through that. I need to own an apartment.

A compensating factor for the diminished personal wealth of life here is the feeling of total ownership. In Israel, even the sky is Jewish. I don’t need a castle with a five acre lawn because all the hills, streets, and trees around me are already mine. Still, I would like to have four walls and a roof of my own, to have my life beyond the whims of my landlord.

Personal finance in Israel, at least for most people, involves finding some way to scrape by. It is possible to pay the rent and bills, but it’s unusual to be able to get ahead. The cost of living for basic items (milk, eggs, busfare, etc.) is approximately the same as in the United States. Any luxury items, such as quality shoes, deodorant, a computer, or my car (which I have now sold,) are typically double to triple their cost in the United States. Meanwhile, my salary here is half to a third of what it was in the United States. A low-cost apartment in the settlements goes for at least $200,000, and a place in the outskirts of Jerusalem goes for a minimum of $300,000, and since down payments are typically 30%-40%, my down payment would be from $66,000 to $100,000. Based on a simple calculation of our earning potential versus expenses, it would take us anywhere from twelve to sixteen years to save up this amount, ignoring the effects of inflation. And that doesn’t include times like now, when I’m unemployed watching my savings bleed away. Also, while as a new couple it is possible to save up money, as time goes on and there are, God willing, more and more mouths to feed, saving anything in this country becomes impossible.

Our original plan was to give it a year and try to find something that paid better than my job at the solar power startup company. Then, five months ago, I was laid off. I’ve been to a couple of job interviews that looked really hopeful, to the point that one manager told me, “You are the ideal candidate. I’m flying to Austin next week to sign a contract, and when I come back, I’ll have an offer for you.” Having not heard from him in some time, I asked around. Turned out the company didn’t get the contract and was in a nose dive, shedding employees. I’ve reaped similar sour grapes from my other job interviews. It seems that, at least as far as I’m seeing, Israel is just too small a market for large, stable engineering firms. If they exist, they sure aren’t hiring. I’m sure that if I continue to apply myself, I can eventually land another six-month gig at another green-tech startup till it flops or is sold.

The question of leaving Israel temporarily to work and save is an option I’ve considered for some time and my feelings are mixed. Nobody comes to Israel to get rich, they come to satisfy a spiritual and ideological impulse, and to live with family. On religious terms, there is simply no comparison to the potential for spiritual growth in an environment with endless options for Torah study, the highest levels of kashrut, and a culture rooted in Jewish life. While I could sacrifice a few years of this growth on a personal level, there is a national aspect to living here as well. Living in Israel isn’t just another lifestyle choice, like dropping into Paris or London for a few years. I still haven’t lost the inspiration of participating in the restoration of the Jewish homeland and repatriation of its exiled natives after thousands of years of wandering. If every Jew were to base his or her decision to stay or leave on financial grounds alone, this country would be abandoned and revert to the deserted ruins it was under Muslim rule. Then again, if working abroad for a while helps me anchor myself here more permanently, then it could be a worthy sacrifice.

There is a reasonable case to be made for either sticking it out or going back into the diaspora for a while, and so I asked Hashem to affect my ratzon, my will, to push me in the right direction. In the end, my ratzon is pushing me to jump through this window of opportunity.

In Yosemite, I remember once speaking with a mountain climber who had scaled El Capitan, at over 3,500 feet, the tallest shear cliff in the world. At certain points on his ascent, he could anchor his equipment into the granite face and lower himself down by pulley, and then hoist himself back up to the same spot the next day. Walking into a bar in the evenings, his friends asking him what he was up to, he would answer, to their bemusement, "Right now, I'm climbin' El Cap'."

El Capitan

And so am I. Aliyah, literally "Ascent" is a process. When I landed here three years ago, I never thought I would have to leave again, but I'm not giving up on my Aliyah by a long shot. I have my family, friends, and connections, and I have some idea of how life works in this country. It may be a few months or a few years before I'm back permanently, but I can pick up life where I left off, I view this as part of the process.

So, on November 2nd, wifey and I are going on a voyage. We will land on the East Coast, spend some time with my wife's family and purchase a used car. After visiting cities in the east, we will begin driving cross-country. We will stop in various communities across the United States and Canada getting to know one another’s family, seeing the sights, visiting those who could not attend our wedding, and hunting down job leads, until we reach my family in the Pacific Northwest. I’m confident we can find something, but even if we don’t, at least we’ll know we didn't let the opportunity pass by. And I won’t forget to write.


NormanF said...

Israel is a very difficult country to live in. Jews don't move there for the money or ease of existence but to be closer to G-d. Few Israelis have anything like positive incomes. Nearly every one borrows just to survive another month. Its much easier in the US. The financial burden of aliyah makes its daunting to many so if one is seeking to make aliyah to Israel, do it for the right reasons.

That said, I do wish you and your wife a safe and happy trip back to the States and please do keep us updated from time to time.

Neshama said...

Forgive me, but I believe you are making a drastic mistake, in naivete, because the America you once knew is no more; the present govt is run by marxists / communists, and they are not so slowly eroding the founding fathers principles when they designed this country thru the Constitution and Bill of Rights. You will be amazed how much has changed. I am now planning a departure BE"H in about 6 mos' time. If you want more information please write me. Most sincerely.

Neshama said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

You will be just fine in the United States, although obviously it is not the same as living in Israel. Honestly, I do not see the United States as very different than before.
I hope you are able to return very soon.

Evan said...

Yeah, I prety much agree with your comment. Not much to add.

It’s very easy to get caught up in the America bubble, and so to assume that whatever lies overseas has none of the problems of the United States. However, you say that “the present government is run by Marxists/Communists.” Um, no, it’s run by Democrats. There are no back-alley executions, tests of party loyalty for private-sector jobs, or gulags for political dissidents. Israel, on the other hand, was founded by proud Socialists and Communists. Many of Israel’s prominent leaders, including its current defense minister Ehud Barak, grew up on communes, and Israel is home to an active communist party. You say that they are slowly eroding the founding principles of the Constition and Bill of Rights. Are you aware that Israel has neither a constitution nor a bill of rights (nor basic human rights such as the right to a speedy trial, the writ of habeus corpus, the right to free speech, etc.) I don’t say this to dissuade you from making aliyah, which is a huge mitzvah, but to get you ready for the society you are heading into.

In my experience, who is president has a very limited effect on the everyday life of individual Americans. The country seems to go on it’s merry way. Things did well under Clinton and then went well under Bush. They they crashed under Bush and kept crashing under Obama. So far, I haven’t seen a huge difference. If people start wearing arm bands and burning subversive books, I’ll pack my bags. But I’m not too terribly concerned. As far as the job, well, the Israeli economy is also in the gutter, and even if we get lousy jobs here, they would still pay more than high-quality jobs in Israel. And we won’t be here forever.

Well, we shall see. I'll definately be blogging it.

Ibrahimblogs said...

All my best wishes for a happy married life. I hope you would soon sort all your confusions.

Keep in touch..

This is Ibrahim from Israeli Uncensored News