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Interview with Aviva – an American expat living in Jerusalem

Updated 14 Sep 2015

Aviva Yoselis is an American expat who was born in New Jersey and lived in Philadelphia and Buenos Aires before settling in Jerusalem in 1996. While she is aware that the level of comfort and convenience is lower in Israel, she enjoys the fact that local culture prioritises family and lifestyle over the American desire to achieve, succeed and acquire material goods.

To learn more about Aviva's work and the way her company helps new expats navigate the Israeli health sector, visit Health Advize. For more perspectives, see our Expat Experiences in Israel page.

About Aviva

Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Born and raised in Cherry Hill, New Jersey (USA), as an adult, I have lived in Philadelphia, PA, Buenos Aires, Argentina and for the last 19 years in Israel.

Q: Where are you living now?
A: Jerusalem, Israel

Q: When did you move to Israel?
A: September of 1996

Q: Did you move to Israel alone or with a spouse/family?
A: I moved alone.

Q: Why did you move? What do you do in Jerusalem?
A: Originally, I moved because I had lived in Israel for half a year as a teenager and loved it. I wanted to experience the country as an adult and see how I felt. I ended up meeting my husband and loving the country, and I stayed.

Living in Jerusalem

Q: What do you enjoy most about Jerusalem? How would you rate the quality of life compared to your home country?
A: I never felt that I quite fit in with other Americans. They sometimes seemed a bit too 'American'. I like the European feel of where I live, the appreciation of life to be lived, and not to achieve, succeed or acquire items that I felt growing up in the States. However, living is harder than it was in Cherry Hill. There is a level of comfort and convenience that one has in the States that we don't have here. Which leads me to the next question…

Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: Outlet stores, Target, polite salespeople, 24-hour customer service, people who speak English,

Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life here? Did you experience any particular elements of culture shock?
A: I still experience culture shock some days. When I first moved here, I remember meeting an older Egyptian woman who had lived in Israel for the better part of 40 years. She told me that sometimes she still felt like she didn't belong. I didn't understand how someone who could have lived more than half her life somewhere could feel culture shock, but now I get it. I will never be Israeli. I will still wait in lines (queue up), be polite to salespeople, and I don't fight over my bank fees. I have realised and accepted that culturally, I am American or some kind of hybrid, and that will remain no matter how long I live here.

Q: What's the cost of living in Jerusalem compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: It depends. Food is less expensive and fresher (goes badly more quickly). Meat is more expensive, for sure. University is cheaper, but appliances and convenience items are much more expensive than in the U.S.

Q: How would you rate the public transport in Jerusalem? What are the different options? Do you need to own a car?
A: Public transport in Jerusalem is much better than where I grew up. There is very little public transportation in suburban New Jersey. Even Philadelphia's transport was not very organised. You can get around Israel without a car here unless you live in some town far away from a city (of which there are many). There is an extensive network of buses, train lines, and a light rail in Jerusalem, and one being built in Tel Aviv as well.

Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Jerusalem? Have you had any particularly good/bad experiences with regard to doctors and hospitals? Are there any hospitals you would recommend?
A: Healthcare is, overall, quite good in Israel. There is subsidised care, which is free for all citizens and relatively inexpensive for non-citizens to purchase. Offers a variety of basic care. Supplementary insurance, which offers partial returns on private physician visits and advanced appointments for some services, can also be purchased (although it is a bit more expensive). I work with the healthcare system, so I have many referrals regarding both doctors and hospitals. Medical tourism is also growing in Israel and is a viable option for many people, especially those interested in fertility treatments.

Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Israel? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: Israeli citizens are not allowed into areas referred to as Area A, under full control of the Palestinian Authority. Tourists and non-Israeli citizens are allowed entry.

Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in Jerusalem? What different options are available for expats?
A: There is no organised public housing in Israel, so for poorer citizens, this is a huge problem. For expats who have disposable income, there are abundant rentals in the major cities, either for families or individuals, especially those who don't mind having roommates. Short-term rentals for six months and three months are also abundant.

Q: Any areas/suburbs you'd recommend for expats to live in?
A: Most live in the Jerusalem/Tel Aviv area. The further North or South you go, the fewer expats you'll encounter.

Meeting people and making friends

Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there any obvious discrimination against particular religions or women, etc.?
A: This is a country of immigrants, so you'll find there are people of all different colours, shapes, and nationalities living in Israel. However, Israelis have a low tolerance for people who don't speak English and may lose patience when someone cannot communicate in Hebrew. In tourist areas, shopkeepers will speak English, but in most locations, medical clerks and non-physician personnel won't necessarily speak English.

Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends in Jerusalem? How did you go about meeting new people?
A: People are quite friendly overall here. You shouldn't be surprised to have a fellow passenger on the train strike up a conversation about your outfit, your hair, your child, etc… If you are lost, a dozen people will give you directions. Israelis are not afraid of strangers, and young children roam freely through both big cities and little towns.

Q: Have you made friends with locals, or do you mix mainly with other expats? What advice would you give new expats looking to make friends in Israel? Any social/expat groups you can recommend?
A: Although professionally, I do work with many locals, I find that my closest friends are expats like myself. There are many organisations that offer social outings for expats, and they can readily be found on the internet or through social media.

About working in Jerusalem

Q: Did you have a problem getting a visa or work permit in Israel? Did you tackle the visa process yourself, or did you enlist the services of an immigration consultant?
A: Israel maintains the law of return, so anyone who can identify themselves as a Jew can automatically apply for citizenship. Non-Jewish residents can have either extended work visas or permanent residence status. In some cases, they may also apply for citizenship. The Ministry of the Interior will help in the process, but for complicated cases, a lawyer is recommended. For work situations, the company will usually arrange a visa for the employee.

Q: What's the economic climate like in Jerusalem? Do you have any tips for expats looking to find a job there? Which resources did you find most useful?
A: Right now, the economy is stable, and there are many blue-collar and white-collar jobs. There are numerous online and social media outlets for finding short- or long-term employment.

Q: How does the work culture differ from home? Do you have any tips for expats doing business in Israel?
A: Again, there is the understanding that employees do have a life outside work. Family time is highly regarded as most Israelis have their own children, and society values children in general. Although employers are only legally obligated to offer ten days of paid vacation per year, many companies are slightly more flexible. Employees are often invited to co-workers' religious and familial celebrations. Holidays are also very important here. The country is closed basically on The Jewish New Year in September and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). Although the majority of the country is not religious (Jewish or Muslim), the majority do consider themselves traditional.

Family and children in Israel

Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting? Do you think there are any specific challenges for a trailing spouse?
A: My spouse is Israeli, so I was the one with the challenges.

Q: Did your children settle in easily? What were the biggest challenges for your children during the move?
A: My children were all born here. However, I do see that expat children often adapt to life in Israel easily because they find they have more freedoms than they would in their native country.

Q: What are the schools like in Israel? Any particular suggestions?
A: There are specific expat schools, such as the Anglican school in Jerusalem, that cater for diplomats and long-term residents. In addition to the regular public school system and semi-private religious school system for Hebrew speakers.

And finally…

Q: Is there any other advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: Laugh a lot (instead of crying when someone takes your place in line, lectures you on the bus, or ignores your requests for help). Be open-minded about trying new foods, going to visit new places, and asking those who live there lots of questions. You may discover many new things that you hadn't known before. Have Waze on your smartphone, and if you suffer from allergies, bring your own Benadryl and melatonin to sleep. You can't purchase melatonin here over the counter, and Benadryl is hard to find.

~Interviewed in September 2015

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