Aliyah Sour Grapes?

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31 May 2018

Yoram had initially come to see me for “help with focusing.”

“Maybe I have ADHD?” he asked.

But nothing about his case suggested this was the case. Here was a talented computer programmer and business man, a dedicated family man, and a spiritual individual who had zero trouble focusing when he wasn’t too tired to think straight.

“Baruch HaShem you’re ADHD-free,” I told him. “You’d have zero trouble concentrating if your schedule involved  sleeping more than four hours a night.”  HaShem didn’t make our bodies and minds to function correctly without the right amount of sleep: somewhere between 7-8 hours per night according both to “The Experts” at Harvard Medical School and the Rambam himself.

But Yoram was under tremendous pressure and didn’t really have much of a choice. He had made Aliyah with his young family, was learning every morning, spending time with his kids in the afternoon, and had kept his position with a big technology firm out in California that required him to work a graveyard-shift from 7:00 pm-3:00 am. The poor guy’s only regular sleep was for a few hours in the early morning before his kids woke up.

“I don’t really have any other options,” Yoram lamented. “I know it’s crazy but I have to feed my family and this is a good job until I get into the startup scene here in Israel. But in the meantime I’m tired and even though Eretz Yisrael is amazing, Aliyah is super tough.”

I felt his pain. Aliyah is “super tough.” I remembered my own first few months working at a local hospital in order to obtain my Israeli medical license. Waking up at 4:45 am to come into Yerushalayim every day was equally exciting and exhausting. I’d work a full day on the wards and then head home to be with my family before beginning at 8:00 pm with my patients and business clients back in The States. I think I also averaged somewhere close to four hours a night for a little while and was grateful to HaShem that I’d made it through in one piece.

So once we’d answered the question about ADHD, I offered Yoram the following advice, “try to get a normal 9-5 job as soon as you can in order to live with a more regular schedule.”

He thanked me for my time and I didn’t plan to hear from Yoram again given the circumstantial-and-temporary as opposed to neurochemical-and-chronic nature of his problems.

But Yoram emailed me to schedule a follow up visit and soon he was a regular therapy patient who would come to unload the struggles of Aliyah. There were plenty of normal difficulties that he would have found in moving to any new community: challenges with finding the right school, trouble finding a shul that he felt comfortable in, learning which shwarma places would ruin your stomach.

But Yoram also had some tough luck for a stretch. He’d been forced to leave his rented apartment after a few months due to a wacky conflict with his landlord over a malfunctioning air conditioner and his lawyer had been either too lazy or too incompetent to get their deposit back. Yoram‘s wife couldn’t get her license due to a technicality and had to take 18 hours of driving lessons. He’d also bought his third refrigerator in the six-months since he’d landed as the first two were a pair of lemons.

Eretz Yisrael nikneh b’yisurin—success in the Land of Israel only comes through spiritual trials—I guess,” he’d say with a smile.

But it was clear that they were having a tough time and I asked him, “Are you thinking about heading back to Los Angeles?”

“Of course it crosses my mind every day,” he said and then started to laugh. “But I’m kind of stuck here, I mean you can’t really live in America with a name like ‘Yoram.’  But here in Israel we have at least 23 guys on my street alone with the my name!”

And so Yoram stayed positive and did his best to make it work. “I don’t want to be one of the Meraglim—the infamous spies from the Torah portion of Shlach—and to complain about Eretz Yisrael Dr. Freedman. I mean folks were ‘draining the swamps’ one hundred years ago and I have great-uncles who remember literally walking to Ashkelon all the way from Morocco. We got a free plane ticket with Nefesh B’Nefesh!”

And then things slowly changed for the better as they do for most families. With time there were slow changes in expectations and there was less annoying immigration paperwork to be filled out.  With the combination of hard work and prayers, Yoram found a fantastic job as a Chief Technological Officer for a technology startup designing a new messaging system. As Yoram listed his family’s recent successes—his children flourishing in the right schools, his wife being very happy with a teaching job at a local seminary, and a great Talmud class he’d started on Thursday nights—he stopped for a moment before shedding an honest tear and saying, “and you get sechar pesiyot—every step is a mitzvah in Eretz Yisrael!”

I was so happy for him.  So with things headed in the right direction I once again said goodbye to Yoram and ended treatment. And then once again I was surprised to hear back a few days later when he scheduled an appointment.

“What happened,” I asked as he entered the room.

“I know it’s silly, but I’m starting to feel like one of the Meraglim again Dr. Freedman. I got a company car which is amazing, then someone smashes into it in the parking lot and drives away, and I find out that my insurance isn’t activated yet so I’m apparently liable for a solid eleven-thousand shekels. I hate to say it but ‘this wouldn’t have happened in Los Angeles.’”

I didn’t know how to respond to this one given the fact that maybe it could have happened back in America. But before I could answer, Yoram continued, “I feel like all this crummy stuff keeps happening because I’m a new immigrant too. I mean back in the States I’d never have to deal with crazy landlord, driving school, refrigerator, or auto-insurance shenanigans like this. It’s really horrendous being an Oleh Chadash—a new immigrant.”

“I hear you Yoram,” I replied. “In the end we really just have to work hard to make a chesbon—an accounting—of the pluses of living in Eretz Yisrael and whether or not they outweigh the minuses.”

“You mean the spiritual stuff Dr. Freedman?”

“Yep. But also the physical benefits too. I’ll tell you a funny story. I have a good friend Avi who made Aliyah with his wife and kids to same street and the same week as me. In addition to being a mensch and the best left-handed baseball player in the country, he’s also an accountant and a real rational, calculated guy. So when Avi told me that he had thought long and hard and had decided to buy a car with the government’s Oleh Chadash discount, I thought I’d follow his steps as this was clearly the financially-savvy decision. Baruch HaShem I saved about twenty-thousand shekel in ridiculous taxes and was feeling great until I came to pick up my car and was told that I’d signed a contract that required me to pay an additional four-thousand as part of some insurance clause that the ganav—the thief—at the dealership conveniently left out of our discussions and put in small print on page 11 of the contract!”

Yoram laughed, “Now that’s a bad Aliyah story!”

“Wait Reb Yoram, let me finish. So as I’m sitting there wondering if I should take him to court, I figured I’d call my friend to hear his take on it. Cool as a cucumber, Avi tells me ‘Yaakov it’s fine. I think those guys did that to me too and maybe even because I have an American accent. But in the end you still benefit from being an Oleh Chadash. I mean, you saved 20K for being an Oleh and lost 4K because you were tricked for being an Oleh. So I’m the end you netted 16K as an Oleh Chadash…that’s pretty good Yaakov!’”

“Ha! Now that’s how to stay positive Dr. Freedman!”

“I’m telling you! The big fruits the Meraglim brought back from their trip to Eretz Yisrael were either a blessing or a curse…it’s all how you look at it Reb Yoram. And I can tell you that Aliyah gets easier with time. Baruch HaShem.”

Yoram gave me a smile and a hug as big as one of these grapes that were carried so many generations ago.  He then yelled out loud, “Baruch HaShem.”

Jacob L. Freedman, MD, is a psychiatrist in Boston, Massachusetts, and Jerusalem, Israel. Dr. Freedman is also a health care and a risk-management consultant as well as a suburban mountain biking enthusiast. For more information regarding Dr. Freedman, please visit his website at

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.