Paz Gaz versus Amisragaz

This one is mundane to say the least:  What natural gas company should you use in Israel?  This affects things like cooking stoves, ovens, and even heating occasionally.  This may seem mundane, but I wouldn’t be writing if I thought it wasn’t important.  PazGaz is, as they say in Hebrew, “Al HaPanim”!!!  Some of the worst customer service and delivery-person ethics I’ve come across here (and that’s saying a lot).  By contrast, Amisragaz is much better.  Not perfect, but much better.  A word to the wise is sufficient.  🙂

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Navigating Israeli Bureaucracy – Government Offices Especially!

One of the questions that comes up a lot, and generates a lot of fear, is government bureaucracy in Israel.  For anyone who has been to a government agency abroad, it is sometimes hard to understand why people think it is worse here — but they do!  And they worry about it more.  So I would be remiss if I didn’t post something about dealing with it as best as possible.

There a few basic rules that I’ve learned over time living here:

Number One:  If you’re going into an Israeli government office cold, even one as basic as the Iriya (municipality) or Bituach Leumi (Social Security) or the Misrad HaOtzar (Finance Ministry) or Misrad HaPnim (Interior Ministry), follow this rule of thumb:  Set aside at least half a day in your mind.  You will likely hit that half-day mark, and if you don’t, hey, you did things EFFICIENTLY based on your schedule.  I guess this rule falls under the category of “expectation modification.”  This tip also can be subtitled “patience,” which I know can be a frustrating demand when you really need to get something done. 

Number Two:  If you have Vitamin P and can use it legally, do so.  “Vitamin P” is Protektzia, knowing someone who knows people in a particular agency and who therefore can help you cut through red tape.  This does NOT mean bribing people, but rather is based on one of the fundamental principles of life in Israel:  Everything, but everything, is based on human relationships.  Who you know affects where and how you go.  I know it may sound crass, but it happens in Washington too, and everywhere else for that matter.  (But again, people think it happens more in Israel, maybe because there is a half a degree of separation between everyone living here.)

Number Three:  Write letters, and frequently, if you want to get results.  The system is not set up for phonecalls, it just doesn’t work.  But the bureaucracy is not allowed to ignore letters, so keep sending them, and eventually (I know cases where this has happened) you will get the response you want and need because they want to shut you up!  🙂

Number Four:  Try to find out in advance exactly what you need to bring with you.  Israeli bureaucrats love asking you for exactly this and that and the other form, and if you don’t have it, they happily send you away and go on coffee break.  So do you yourself a favor, and practice the boyscout’s solemn creed:  Be prepared!

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Medical Care in Israel – Tips for Two Tracks, But One Good Basic System

As with any bureaucratic system, there can be problems in medical care in Israel.  I know people who have proverbially fallen through the medical cracks.  The collections for “special” medical procedures and operations abroad that periodically circulate are an example:  That super costly operation that for one reason or another turns out just absolutely has to be performed in the US rather than here, and (uh-oh) your insurance doesn’t cover it.

There are a few basic pieces of advice that I can offer, based on what I’ve seen about what medical care and physicians and hospitals are in Israel:

Number One:  Find an excellent and compassionate primary care physician.  This is in fact numbers 1, 2, 3, and…. well, you get the point.  Because Israel operates primarily on the Kupat Cholim system, whereby basic preventive care and treatment are provided rather cheaply (a couple of hundred Shekels a month generally), the identity of your primary care physician means a lot.  He or she will be your ticket to permission from your Kupat Cholim to receive additional, and more expensive (and therefore not standard) treatment, medications, procedures, etc.  He or she will also know who good specialists are and can recommend those practitioners to you.

Number Two:  If you are the worrying (and that’s putting it mildly!) kind, you can buy foreign supplemental insurance to actually fly you back to your former-home country should you find that you have a condition — G-d forbid — that requires treatment that for one reason or another is not available to you here in Israel.  Usually, because it is supplemental, such insurance policies are also fairly affordable, but as with all private health insurance rates vary depending on how much health the actuaries have calculated to be your due in life.  😉

Number Three:  If you want very fast service and are made of money, or if you know a little trick mentioned in this paragraph, you can pay privately.  In practice, there are usually two tracks in Israel, the Kupat Cholim (often slower) track and the private (often faster) track.  Even for the private track, there are certain premium Kupat Cholim policies (sometimes labelled Adif or “preferred”) that will actually reimburse the majority of your private visit to a physician, as long as that physician is listed as a practitioner in your Kupah.

Number Four:  All Olim should be (or if not yet, get) well and be healthy!

(That is indeed my very first official Bracha in Uplifting Aliyah!  🙂  )

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Why Your Car Should Be Israeli – and Electric

There are a lot of reasons why not to have car in Israel.  The aggressive driving is one.  The high cost of gas is another.  The crawling traffic during rush-hour is a third.  Not to mention that buses are how most Israelis get around, and you never feel more Israeli than you do on a bus.  🙂

There’s not much you can do about one and three.  But about two, there’s Better Place.  See this article:,8599,2066975,00.html.  But they’re not the only option.  This is my second shameless commercial plug, but hey, this one is for the good of nature — and well, your pocketbooks, sooooo it’s not all that shameless, really.

And for those of you who are truly new Olim (within 2 years of Aliyah) you get your new Olim discount (probably around 30-40%, but check with the Israeli Absorption Ministry /Misrad HaKlita for today’s discount.

So should you bring a second-rate hybrid automobile from abroad?  The answer is a resounding no, at least from a technology point of view.  (There are also those who drive around foreign cars and don’t get Israeli tickets that stick, but that’s a very different consideration.)

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Finding the “Perfect Community” for You

In the Book of Kings, there is a Jew living in a community who speaks to Elisha the Prophet and tells him about how wonderful his community is.  How strange an assessement!  As it turns out, the waters of the town happen to be dangerous, killing a certain significant percentage of townspeople each year.  One of the commentators explains that this shows that people grow to subjectively love their hometown, no matter how unpleasant it may be from an objective point of view.

Yet that is not the goal.  Rather, the goal is to find a community that will help you and your family to grow in whatever ways are important to you.  Religiously, educationally, culturally, etc., the potential list is huge.  The best thing to do is — unsurprisingly — visit!  Take a bus or your car, if you have one, and spend a Friday there.  Stop into shops and chat with the proprietors and their customers.  Spend a Shabbat (many communities have both bed-and-breakfasts (“Zimmerim”) or even Shabbat hospitality.

The best advice — and this one is personal, folks — is not to pick a community of primarily Chutznikim (non-Israelis).  I don’t mean to say that there can’t be a number of people from “back home” there, but there should be a significant — even majority — Israeli population so that you and your families can truly integrate.  That’s my own personal view, having seen the troubles that plague American Olim who try to live in the USA right here in Israel.  Their children tend to be neither fish nor fowl, neither Israelis nor Americans, and they flounder on attaining maturity.

But I’m sure there are counter-stories as well (and I risk bringing down the wrath of the residents of certain communities that fall into the above category).  Hey, this is a blog, and it’s personal, but I don’t mean to get personal.  And if you disagree, as they say in Yiddish, a gezundte heyt!!!  🙂

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Buying Foreign, Buying Israeli

If you’ve moved recently from the US, UK, Canada, or elsewhere, you may find your shopping habits die hard.  “The deals you get at Costco are SOOOOOO much better,” the chorus of voices goes.

Yes, it is true.  But saying those things and living them also does something else:  It gets your kids thinking of Chutz La’Aretz as the Promised Land of Gashmiut (materialism).  If you’ve made Aliyah, it probably has something to do with your deep conviction that Israel is the right place for Jews.

The best way to educate to achieve this conviction in your children is not to have your children dreaming of the “good life” away from Israel.

My experience shopping here in Israel, to paraphrase a once-popular song, “You can’t always get what you want.  But if you try some time, you’ll find you get what you need!”

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Getting Yourself and Your Things There

Schools are one thing, and the technicalities of getting to Israel are another.  There are a lot of companies that specialize in Israeli moves from abroad, depending on where that is.  And once you get here, you need to find ways to move and store your things while you search for the perfect community (another subject of an upcoming blog post).

I’m going to cut to the chase on this one.  I’ve been a victim of a number of “storage” and “warehouse” businesses as we moved around Israel.  I’ve only found one that’s worth recommending, and that’s an outfit called Montreal Storage Israel,  They are the cheapest around, and they also have American-quality customer service.  They specialize in Olim and containers and have an alarm system and fire fighting system.  They also organize your whole move for you, bidding movers against each other to get you the best deal.

That’s why (gasp!) I’m making — my very first — commercial endorsement on this blog.

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