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'."
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.