Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

11 Teves 5762 - December 26, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Retirement in Israel: Is It For You?

by M. Samsonowitz

Advantages and Disadvantages

Part IV


We continue with more of the positive things that those of retirement age have found in life in Israel today. Some of these are relevant to everyone, and others are just for those of retirement age.

Social and Leisure Activities

There are English-speaking Neshei organizations in almost every neighborhood which arrange monthly activities and lectures for the English-speaking locals. For example, groups exist in Ezras Torah, Bayit Vegan, Unsdorf, Har Nof, Romema, Sanhedria Murchevet, Ramot and Ramat Shlomo, as well as several in Beit Shemesh. Neshei Agudas Yisroel, a chesed organization composed of middle-aged and older women from England and the U.S., also has activities in which retirees participate.

Several organizations organize regular trips and tours around the country. Since a large percentage of the participants are retirees, most of the trips do not involve strenuous activities or a lot of walking.

Many seniors who live in Yerushalayim report that the trip they like the best is a private jaunt to Machaneh Yehuda, Jerusalem's open air market. During the day towards the end of the week, the market is packed with large numbers of seniors who come leisurely to squeeze and select their week's portion of fruits and vegetables. Most important is the thrill and exultation they feel at buying the weekly produce for a cheaper price than charged by their neighborhood store.

Chana Citron says, "The vegetables are so fresh -- straight from the garden. I love the market experience."

A favorite activity reported by a number of retirees who have a plot of land next to their homes is tending a little garden. Mr. Citron never had the time or room to garden during the years he was in New York, but when he came to Israel he made sure to buy an apartment that had a large yard in the back. He has created a virtual Garden of Paradise there, and lavishly spends 3-4 hours a day tending to it. Sometimes his wife has to remind him to come in to eat supper because time just flies when he's busy with his flowers and fruit trees.

"It gives me great peace of mind," he says, "and I take pride in beautifying Eretz Yisroel."

Mr. Citron knows of other men who share his delight in garden tending. Now that shmittah is over they are back in their gardens.

A Feeling of One Big Family

Besides keeping oneself busy, there is another side to living in Jerusalem -- the feeling that one is among one's own and that we are all part of one family. The retirees we spoke with noted that this is expressed in many different ways, large and small: The care and concern people radiate to a complete stranger. Getting up on a bus for an older person. A stranger picking up an item that one dropped. The prayer rallies on behalf of the political situation. Tehillim groups to move Heaven to grant a recovery to a neighbor. People trying to return lost items to their owners.

Max relates that he had minor surgery and his doctor called up HaRav Eliashiv and asked him to pray for his recovery. Even mundane things like operations take on a distinctly Jewish flavor. "You can ask a doctor questions that pertain to halachic issues and he knows what you're talking about," he says.

Finding New Friends

How quickly one finds a new social circle depends on oneself. Those willing to get to know new neighbors will easily find an active social life awaiting them. Marilyn says that by now, she knows most of the 200 families living in Arzei Habira -- who are mostly young -- and finds herself occupied with social affairs all the time. She and her husband are invited to local bar mitzvas, sheva brochos, aufrufs and weddings, and this contributes to the sense of purpose which enwraps them.

Some retirees discover they make a completely new circle of friends and are busy with social engagements a good part of the week. Others prefer to stay home and keep their social contacts limited. It depends on the individual.

"I worked all these years, and now I love just being at home," says one retiree. "You need at least one really good friend, and I found one was enough."

Another retiree says, "Your real friends you make when you're young, when you have little children and are struggling to raise them. I know a lot of people here in Jerusalem, but I wouldn't call them good friends. We visit each other and get in contact when we need each other."

Mrs. K. believes that some would find it difficult to come here for retirement. She says that retirees leave behind their friends and their community, and essentially become nobodys. She says it's almost like being newly married. After a certain age, she thinks, one doesn't make friends easily. However, if one has married children living nearby, this greatly eases the social adjustment.

The G.s' father was a professional who moved to Israel at an advanced age. Since it had always been important to him to be up-to-date with world events, the G.s got him a subscription to the Jerusalem Post. Till his last day, the man read the newspaper, felt connected, circled items, and enjoyed discussing developments.

Living in Har Nof in the same apartment building as his son, he became acquainted with the neighbors and their group of friends. His grandchildren were in and out of his house all the time, and he ate with his son's family often. No one close to the son would drop by without visiting Mr. G. too.

The fact that everyone he met in the street was Jewish warmed his heart and he made it his practice to greet everyone first. He felt like he was living among one big family.

Feeling Safe

One retiree mentioned how much he appreciated being able to go for walks at all hours of the day and night by himself. Even the security situation during the past year in Israel has not changed the reality that one is basically safe wherever he goes.

Retirees are not afraid to travel on a bus, and one senior even mentioned that he doesn't feel in any more danger than in New York. "Who would travel in a subway at night in New York? You have to think twice and look around, wherever you go. But here, we walked to the Kosel on Shavuos night, and came early to daven vosikin at the Kosel. In how many places in America can you just go out for a jaunt at night?"

One retiree from New York mentions, "In America, you spend a lot of time at home and try to find ways to keep yourself busy. If you live in Brooklyn, would you think of going to Manhattan knowing that you have to come home at night?"

One woman whose aunts and uncles moved to Israel for their retirement mentions that they are happy because they feel they have so much freedom in Israel and can be so active.

"We feel a million times safer here than abroad, even during the time we lived in Lakewood," says Mrs. C. "Old ladies walk at all hours of the night in Jerusalem without the slightest fear."

Minimal Bureaucratic Hassles

We were surprised to hear from a number of retirees that their bureaucratic struggles in Israel -- the topic of many past olim's complaints -- were minimal.

Rabbi Gross reports to Yated Ne'eman that instead of suffering from the bureaucracy, he found it very efficient. "I had a greater hassle trying to renew my passport in the U.S. than I had here," he says. He advises that as long as you follow instructions carefully, things in Israel are often very efficient.

He says getting the senior's deduction on property tax was easily and quickly arranged. He praises the Israeli system of paying for utilities and monthly expenses by bank order as an excellent arrangement, even better than what's available in the U.S. Just signing a bank form will automatically insure that these payments go out of your bank account at a certain date every month.

Climate Advantages

Several of the retirees noted that most seniors are pleased with Jerusalem weather. Even during the hot summers, it is not muggy like New York, and it is almost always cool at night. Air is always fresh, especially in the higher areas like Ramot, Beitar and Bayit Vegan. And the winters, especially in the past few years, are relatively mild and short.

The only complaint we heard about the weather is that whoever lives in an old apartment will likely find some difficulty with heating in the winter. In many buildings, the heat is only operated jointly a few hours a day, or they have no central heating and one has to use portable radiators. Seniors, who tend to be more sensitive to the cold, used to suffer under such an arrangement. One retiree who moved into an old neighborhood said that she and her husband were sick all winter long for the first few years they lived in Jerusalem.

Today, though, this is rare. Most apartments built over the last 10 years have individual heating systems, and in the past 2-3 years, central air conditioning and heating has become widespread and relatively cheap. One can install central air conditioning and heating in a 4-room apartment for around $3-4,000. It is no longer rare at all for people - -- immigrants as well as Israelis -- to have their own central air conditioning system that also heats in the winter.

Energy is not particularly expensive in Israel. Electricity is about 7 cents per kilowatt-hour. It costs less to heat one's home in the winter than in the northern part of the United States since the winters are much warmer in Israel, even in Yerushalayim which is relatively cold. For example, in some winters the temperature does not go below freezing, and even when it does dip below freezing it is only for one or two nights in the whole winter.

Healthier Living

Several seniors mentioned that because the bus and taxi system is so good in Israel, they were able to dispense with a car and get everywhere on public transportation. Because one tends to walk a lot in Jerusalem, and because Jerusalem is spread out over hills, seniors tend to get more exercise and be in a better state of health.

"Our health and medical condition is far better than it ever was in the States," says Mrs. C. "We feel life is much healthier here." Tending her garden and walking to her destinations is what she attributes to keeping herself in shape.

Deliveries and Being Near to Everything

In Israel, most supermarkets and even grocery stores are prepared to make deliveries to the house. This is not only a great convenience when one doesn't have the strength to lug heavy groceries, but it is another reason why one doesn't need a car.

One retiree mentioned that in America, you have to travel everywhere whenever you need to go shopping or to obtain a service. But in Jerusalem, the most she has to travel is a half hour ride. And most things she needs, such as a grocery or Kupat Cholim, are within walking range.

Senior Discounts

As in many other countries, seniors are eligible for a string of financial benefits. Jerusalem residents receive a Senior Citizen's Card (Teudat Ezrach Vatik), which confers on them a 30 percent discount on property tax for the first 100 square meters, and 50 percent off on all public transportation, museums, public entertainment, and visits to natural reserves.

For $23, a senior can buy a monthly bus card that will permit him to travel on any bus throughout Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa.

The Easiest Time of Life to Acclimatize

The many advantages of retirement in Jerusalem that we have cited may sound euphoric and unrealistic. But the fact of the matter is that one who moves to Israel for retirement doesn't undergo the same difficult acclimatization and cultural conflicts that affect young families.

Young families must find work in a primarily Hebrew-speaking environment, must face high tax payments and daily expenses while having to struggle on a lower salary. They must navigate their way through a completely different political, educational, and social system than what they were used to. They may undergo difficulties with their children who may struggle to find their place in a society whose standards are different from their parents' in some areas.

A retiree avoids all this hassle and acclimatization. He or she can move to a neighborhood where English-speakers predominate, find his own circle of friends, join a study group or chesed organization, and just sit back and enjoy the Jerusalem breezes and sun. His bureaucratic struggles will be relatively minimal.

"It wasn't hard to adapt to Israel," says Mrs. Eiseman, a retiree who settled in Kiryat Sefer. "The children warned us that one suffers tribulations when moving here. We expected difficulties. But the things that happened we were able to laugh about. At different times, the electricity, and gas stopped working, and once water gushed through our apartment where Arabs had sabotaged the pipes. It took us four months to get a phone. But that was the worst."

Disadvantages Of Moving To Israel

Odds and Ends

On the whole, people we spoke with reported a positive experience. Despite the fact that most of the seniors we interviewed were satisfied with their life in Israel, we tried to find out those things which they found difficult, and which burdened their adaptation to Israel.

These were some of the items we heard:

Tempestuous Political Atmosphere

One retiree, interestingly, mentioned how much she was bothered by periodical demonstrations held in Kikar Shabbos against one or another political development. A common form of protest by youths is burning garbage in the streets. While this is just part and parcel of the hotheaded, impulsive Middle Eastern climate, dainty Americans and Europeans are often horrified by it.

Westernized religious Jews are seriously troubled by such unruly actions and find it painful that religious Jews are engaged in it. The locals take a more nonchalant view of it, realizing that nothing moves in the Middle East unless billowing smoke and beating drums first precede it.

Missing Family Affairs

Retirees sometimes see their friends having many bar mitzvas, birthdays, weddings etc. to attend, and they don't have this because their children and extended family live abroad.

Cultural Problems

Many couples from abroad were used to living in their own home, and never experienced living in an apartment in a building with other families.

One women who bought an apartment in a working class neighborhood relates that she had frazzling problems with neighbors.

"We were Ashkenazic and they were Sephardic (religious); and we didn't speak Hebrew so they couldn't speak with us. The neighbors kept heckling us. At one point, we asked a rav if we should move, and he advised us not to move yet. We waited a month, and slowly the problems began to disappear. What helped was that the neighborhood began to change and more Anglo-Saxon families moved in."


Israel does not accept drivers' licenses from abroad. To be able to drive after making aliya, one has to take an expensive course (over $1,000) and pass a stringent exam to receive an Israeli driver's license. Many seniors don't want this hassle and they therefore lose their right to drive.

This applies to seniors who become olim, but those who are living here as tourists can use their American or international license.

Mental Blocks

Mrs. Benari of the AACI says that some seniors find overwhelming the mental acknowledgment of moving away from their city where they lived for many years and living out the rest of their lives in a new location. Many feel reluctant to make such a huge change in their life, and they debate whether they should do this, sometimes for years.


Many people who are enthusiastic about the idea of spending their retirement years in Israel, are nevertheless concerned that they cannot afford it. We spoke with several professionals and retirees to get an idea of how much a couple will need to live comfortably.

Mrs. Rosner of Tehilla, an organization that helps olim, says that it is impossible to live in Jerusalem on one's Social Security pension alone unless one owns his own flat. If one has the savings to buy one's own flat, however, a $20,000 yearly Social Security pension is often sufficient.

Mrs. C. claims that a retired couple who wants to live at a standard where they can purchase clothes when they want, travel abroad 1-2 times a year, heat their home as much as they feel like it and talk to the children abroad without counting the minutes (but not eating out in restaurants every week) would need about $30,000. Yet she also says that most people could also live comfortably for $20-25,000.

Most of the retirees put the amount of money needed to live reasonably comfortably in Jerusalem at $29,000 which includes $9,000 rent for a 4-room unfurnished apartment. If one has his own apartment, then he can get by comfortably on $20,000.

This is the breakdown of annual costs which several retirees suggested was realistic:

$400-750 -- Bituach Leumi yearly payments (depending on income)

$500-1,000 -- Upgraded Medical Care such as Zahav and Adif (depending on income)

$4-6,000 -- trip to U.S. for two

$6-8,000 -- food, etc.

$1-3,000 -- communications

$2-3,000 -- utilities

$9-12,000 -- rent

$500-2,000 -- cleaning help

TOTAL: $23,400-35,750

Mrs. F. mentions that if a couple has a good pension, their life is made (for that matter, not only in Israel but everywhere else). She says that if a couple gets Social Security and another pension, they can live like royalty.

Costs which are similar or even more than what one pays in the U.S. are: vegetables, chicken and meat, vacations, restaurants, communications, transportation and clothes. Marilyn says that when she first came, the cost of living in Israel was cheaper than in the States, but today it is about the same.

Medical care and property taxes are cheaper here. To own and run a car is cheaper in Israel than in the U.S. Insurance is lower in Israel and even though gasoline is more expensive, one travels much less because the distances are short. But public transportation is cheap and plentiful. A person can take a taxi every day, and it's still much cheaper than owning a car.

Ultimately, it is a question of life style. Mrs. S. says that she gets by comfortably on her minuscule English pension with a little extra help, and Rabbi G. avers that a couple can get by on $10,000 if they are careful and if the couple has their own apartment.

As we explained above in the section on Bituach Leumi, if one arrived in Israel under the age of 59, he will receive the Bituach Leumi Retirement Pension, which will give him another $390 a month ($4,680 annually).

Max says that he knows many people who came to Israel because they felt they could manage better here financially.


Many are under the impression that Israel is not a safe place to live, and life is more secure abroad.

While many are now reevaluating that assessment in the wake of the World Trade Center terrorist attack, it is true that one can not be sure when or where the next terrorist attack will take place.

However, the retirees we spoke with were not unduly troubled by the situation, and none of them had contemplated moving away because of it. Mrs. Benari of the AACI, who is acquainted with numerous retirees, tells us that she doesn't see seniors moving away because of the political situation, even when they have children abroad who implore them to move back. The reason is because most retirees are possessed of a sense that they have lived their lives, and only a few years remain to them. Their attitude is, "If my time has come to die, I'd rather it happen here in Israel." In fact, the more spiritual ones see some advantage in dying al kiddush Hashem in a terrorist attack, saying that it's far better to go this way than languishing away through a terminal illness.

Mrs. Benari also mentions that it's hard for retirees to uproot themselves again. Most had thought it over a dozen times before they decided to move to Israel. Now that they made the monumental move, they don't want to think of moving again.

Mrs. C. says, "We moved here right after the Gulf War, when the first intifadah was still raging. We were unperturbed by the potential danger. My husband said, `If my time is up, I'd rather die for being a Jew than be mugged by a nobody in the street.' "

Unquestionably, though, the worsening political situation has cast a pall. This feeling was shared by all the retirees we spoke with. They are all aware of the potential danger of a terrorist bombing, but besides this, they feel very safe and secure in their cities and neighborhoods, much more than they would have in America.

Rav Gross said, "I'm not happy with the political situation, but we know that we're in the hands of the Ribono shel Olom. We've had incidents here, it's not pleasant, and we grieve at the losses. But life goes on. I don't feel more in danger here than in NY."

In Max's words, "We're always in Hashem's hands. I don't even think of it."

Some seniors expressed their confidence that great events are coming up in world history, and they would rather be at the center of the world -- in Jerusalem -- than anywhere else, when these events unfold.

There are obviously many good reasons to consider a retirement in Jerusalem, physical as well as spiritual. Ultimately, it is up to every person to assess his medical, emotional and physical needs, and see if a retirement in Jerusalem is for him.

Only of one thing our contemporary retiree can be sure -- that he won't have to undergo a bumpy coach ride and suffer seasickness as his price for moving to Israel.

Living in Kiryat Sefer and Beitar

There are a surprising number of retirees from abroad who have opted to move to the peripheries instead of Jerusalem. In almost every case, they did so because of limited financial means. The cost of apartments is sometimes half that of Jerusalem, and because they are periphery towns, the government gives excellent terms on loans from NIS 50- 98,000, and almost another NIS 300,000 in subsidized loans, a third of which may become a grant. One can buy himself an apartment in Kiryat Sefer for a very low down payment.

Another reason why retirees are attracted to Kiryat Sefer is because they have children living there.

The Eisemans lived in Lucerne, Switzerland and Rabbi Eiseman was active in kiruv with Russian Jews. When they reached retirement age, they realized that life in Switzerland on a Swiss pension would be sparse, but in Israel, they would be able to live comfortably. They had the significant motivation of several of their children living in Israel.

Mrs. Eiseman reports that there is a group of about 40 women retirees her age who meet regularly, calling themselves the "Bubba Club." She keeps busy baby-sitting for the grandchildren, continuing her husband's work with Russian Jews and hosting them on Shabbos. The Eisemans also visit their children who live in Bnei Brak and Jerusalem.

She says that she doesn't feel out of place because Kiryat Sefer is a young town. "At first, we were among the first few who were our age. But since then, we have many people of retirement age who moved in from New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and America." She estimates that of the 5,000 families living in Kiryat Sefer, there are about 100-150 of retirement age, and they meet all the time.

The main difficulty of living in a town like Kiryat Sefer is that they have to travel everywhere. She finds that they travel frequently to attend weddings in Jerusalem, and they have to sometimes leave the wedding early to get the last bus back at 12:00. She says one also has to travel to buy clothes, deal with some government offices, etc.

Mrs. Eiseman estimates that one can get by even on $1,000 a month including rent. Rents in Kiryat Sefer are roughly half of what they are in Jerusalem. To live more comfortably, one of course needs more. It also depends on if one travels back to the States, uses the phone a lot, etc.

Mr. R. also settled in Kiryat Sefer because he wanted to be close to his son and he was looking for low-cost housing. Mr. R. says that he doesn't feel isolated in Kiryat Sefer because there are many English speakers. He goes to shul three times a day and hears English spoken all the time.

He says that living with frum Yidden is wonderful, and he likes the Kiryat Sefer community. At the same time, he finds Israel a Third World country, and says that all of his American friends have "frustrations." He hasn't been back to the U.S. since he left and says he only misses it occasionally.

According to his estimate, one can live well for $1,000 a month not including rent, which would be another $4- 5,000 annually in Kiryat Sefer.

Mr. R. says that he doesn't feel he is living in a "frontier town" in Kiryat Sefer especially since the Bircas Rochel supermarket chain opened a huge store in the town's shopping mall. The new mall already includes many other stores such as clothing stores, and is slated to have even more, including a bank.

In the final analysis, Mr. R. is content. "We will never go back to the U.S.," he says emphatically. "All our enjoyment is our four grandchildren who we see every month. The whole reason we're here is because of the family, and of course we love Israel. We wouldn't run away."


According to a study done by Beitar Illit's council, 146 people live in the town who are over the age of 60. Of these, the majority are Anglo-Saxons but some are also Russians and Israelis. Many of these moved to Beitar to be close to their married children.

Mrs. F. explained how she was charmed by Beitar: "It was religious, close to Jerusalem, and was inexpensive." In addition, it had all the flavor of the scenic rugged "Wild West," at least in the beginning years when she bought her apartment.

She and her husband find their social needs answered by the small group of retirees in Beitar, although they feel just as comfortable with younger families. They leave Beitar about once or twice a week to see a doctor, go out to dinner with friends, or to hear an interesting speaker.


All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.