It’s the season of intense preparation and deliberations for those making aliyah (since most people move to Israel in the summer), and a common question is what to bring and what to buy here.
When we moved here, I shared about our decision not to make a lift and also shared about what furniture we bought when we moved here and the prices we paid. Reading these will give you my perspective on the advantages of not making a lift, and also give you an idea of what used prices for furniture can be.
It’s not easy to get rid of almost everything you own and move here with just the suitcases you can take with you, but it’s so liberating! It forces you to think about what is important to you and what isn’t. Once we bought furniture, we enjoyed having a home that was more streamlined and easy to clean. Our kids have commented a number of times about how much more quickly we can get things in order – they almost shudder thinking about what a disaster the basement used to quickly turn into with all of the toys, games and supplies we had down there. It’s just so easy to accumulate things and moving is a wonderful chance to free yourself from things that weigh you down with their unnecessary presence.
I’m not going to try to convince you not to make a lift; sometimes it’s not only the most emotionally comfortable but also the smartest thing you can do! If you’re bringing furniture, try to get the room dimensions of the home you’re moving to to be assured your furniture will not just fit but use the space well. (Remember to also measure the doorways to be sure what you’re bringing can get through – one friend had to hire a crane to lift her US washing machine onto her open roof since it couldn’t fit through the door to her home).
Whether you make a lift or not, think about what you really want to have and leave it behind if it won’t serve you. I’ve spoken to a number of olim who brought things they didn’t really want or need in the US, who put it into the lift rather than decide what to do with it. Paying the money to have it shipped here and then having it take up precious space in the smaller constraints of an Israeli home made the unnecessary items even more of a burden.
I was lucky in that I didn’t know how much storage space I had when we came – there was more than I expected, but thinking I had very minimal space helped me to be ruthless in our paring down. As it is, our storage space has filled up pretty quickly even with my initial and ongoing effort to declutter (mostly clothing and Pesach storage).
My mother made a small lift when she moved and I’m grateful that this allowed us to send some boxes of books; we had eight full bookcases and downsized to just one and a half. Having these books wasn’t critical, but it was nice to have them again once they finally arrived. (Unfortunately we discovered recently that some of the boxes that were put on the lift weren’t delivered and I doubt we’ll ever see these again.)
What each person finds of value is really personal and there’s no one list that everyone will benefit from. What I found most valuable is a reflection of my priorities and lifestyle. Having lived here twenty months now, I’ll share with you what I’m glad that we bought and what I would have brought if I could have:
Games -Toys and games are very expensive here. When I’ve checked prices at the toy stores, it seems typical to pay about double what the item would cost retail in the US. Most of our games were bought used, for less than $4 each. One and a half of our boxes were used just for games; I knew we would be coming to a home with no furnishings and we wouldn’t know where to go and what to do for fun at first, and I wanted the kids to have something to do. I was glad to have done this. My kids used to rollerblade together almost daily so we brought their rollerblades, but this ended up being a waste of space since there aren’t many flat areas around and the brick sidewalks wear down the wheels very quickly.
Likewise, we brought three bikes – each was one piece of luggage. I had visions of my kids exploring our new city together on bikes when we got here and bringing the bikes was my attempt to make the initial time here pleasant for them. Though it was cheaper to bring bikes than buy here, this was a mistake. First of all, packing them took extra time and effort; we had to look for bike boxes and with time as tight as it was close to our departure, this was a burden. Due to the local hills and having to store the bikes down a flight of stairs versus in our garage where they were easily taken out, they rarely use their bikes. After we got here I was informed that one of the bikes we brought wasn’t in good condition even though it looked really nice; if I had been aware of that I obviously wouldn’t have brought it. Even for those that were in good condition, had I left them behind I could have packed three more boxes filled with items that would have been of more value that would have saved me significantly more than what I gained by bringing the bikes. I’m not sorry they’re here because they’re nice to have but for a long time I really regretted bringing them, as I thought of all I left behind in order to bring them.
Again, be careful to only bring what you’ll use. We used to have loads of games that mostly sat on the shelves ignored; we sifted through and brought those that would be enjoyed the most. Almost all of the games we brought get regular use. There were a couple of games we had that I would have liked to have brought but were missing pieces and I didn’t find them in the thrift store before we came – I was fortunate to find both (Stratego and Monopoly in the Hebrew versions) at a local second hand place for about ten shekels each.
We hardly brought any toys because our youngest was 2.5 at the time, but now we have a list of toys for Yirmiyahu’s development that his therapists told us will be important. I’m hoping my husband can find some of these used in the US while he’s there (though he told me last week that shopping isn’t really his thing and it’s hard for him to make time for it). Whatever you bring, make sure it’s good quality. It’s not worth bringing knock off brands or low quality items – once you’re bringing it, bring solid quality that will last a long time. Remember again about the space limitations you’re likely to face once you get here – you’re going to have to have a place to put everything. Better to have fewer things that you’ll use a lot than a lot of things that you won’t use much.
Appliances – we got rid of all of our appliances except our dehydrator and grain grinder. Both of these have gotten very little use here, for different reasons. I’m not sorry I brought them because they’ll be invaluable when I need them, but they currently take up space and don’t provide much value. If I could have, I would have have brought additional kitchen appliances, either those that ran on 110 voltage and used a transformer, or bought appliances (in the US) that would work on 220v. Either way it would be a lot cheaper than buying here. I have a manual vegetable slicer that was my salvation until it broke a couple of months ago but didn’t replace a food processor, which is the main appliance I miss having (but I’m not buying one for 1000 shekels and I don’t want a cheap one that will break soon after buying it).
Included in appliances are transformers. We thought about bringing one with us but the weight would have taken almost half of one suitcase, and we didn’t order it in time to allow for the certainty of delivery before our departure. In a lift weight won’t be an issue. You can buy super high quality transformers in Jerusalem that will last for a lifetime, made by a man with over fifty years of experience. I would have bought from him but I found a used one for 275 shekels that I got instead.
Tools – we brought a couple of basic hand tools and none of our power tools. I really wish we had brought our hammer drill; not having this has been a huge inconvenience and delayed basic home maintenance issues for way too long. I finally paid a handyman to put up light fixtures (apartments here come with bare bulb fixtures) and curtain rods a month ago – if we had our drill, this wouldn’t have taken over a year and a half to be done. Again, very expensive to buy here. I have a big home improvement project that I’m seriously contemplating and having a drill will be invaluable.
Health care items – I brought my set of Bach flower remedies, my herbal collection and whatever vitamins and homeopathics we had on hand and whether something has gotten much use or not since coming, I’m happy to have brought it all. One thing I specifically stocked up on was vitamin C powder in sodium ascorbate form – when you move here, your body will be faced with lots of new germs that it doesn’t have resistance to. We used a lot of vitamin C in our first year, and it continues to be very valuable for us as it’s the first thing I use when someone isn’t feeling well. Over the counter pain medications like aspirin or tylenol are really expensive here, so it’s worth it to throw in a couple of bottles even if you don’t use them much. Homeopathics are unbelievably expensive here, so if there’s something you use a lot of (for us arnica is a big one), throw a few in.
To buy the vitamins we need locally, I use iherb.com; it has great prices with quick and inexpensive shipping. (You can use this link or use code OBO992 for a $10 discount on a purchase of $40 and up, or $5 off of a smaller order if you’re a first time customer.) Vitamins are a fortune here; I shake my head in disbelief whenever I’m in the health food store and see the prices. I also brought from iherb to recently place a large order of vitamins for dh and dd18 in the US (free shipping and no weight limits in that case – so much easier!). They also have other items like coconut oil that I’ve been able to buy from them.
If you use prescription medicine, get a supply that will last you at least a few months until you figure out what to buy here. Also, bring your medical paperwork in your suitcase with you if you have health issues; this will significantly ease your through a new medical system and with a new doctor. My mom said this made a huge positive difference in how she was treated by her doctors here.
Shoes – I have no idea how if shoes are all made in China, the ones in Israel can cost so much more. The quality of the inexpensive shoes (100 shekels and down) is what I would call disposable. Good shoes are very expensive. We brought enough shoes to last everyone for the first year. If I were making a lift, I would buy even further ahead (I have mostly boys and the basic styles don’t change much). If you’re going to be in a charedi community, I’d recommend sticking to basic black sneakers and dress shoes; no colors or stripes on the sneakers.
Clothing – we brought enough basic clothing for everyone for the first year so we wouldn’t need to go shopping. This was very scaled down. To give you a sense of what that means, I allotted one suitcase per child (this included a coat for each one). What I felt was most important were good quality pants and nice polo shirts, inexpensively purchased at thrift stores in the US. We’ve easily supplemented with second hand purchases since then.
We brought winter coats with us with the understanding that northern Israel would be very cold in the winter. It’s not that cold, though. I would have been better off bringing lined water resistant jackets or coats with additional layers underneath if necessary. Generally it’s colder inside Israeli homes than in the US, and people wear more layers indoors so this isn’t a big deal. Initially I regretted not bringing our flannel lined raincoats since the kids walk to school and it rained very often these past two winters, and a raincoat is more practical than an umbrella. But since they don’t have these kind of raincoats here, they kids would have stood out and felt uncomfortable. The two raincoats we have don’t get used at all since the kids they fit say they’ll look strange if they wear them. I also brought boots for the younger kids, and though this was nice to have, it wasn’t worth the space they took and I wouldn’t bring them again.
Homeschooling supplies - even though we weren’t homeschooling at first, I was still glad to have these! We pared down significantly but brought what I considered to be the most useful manipulatives (pattern blocks, cuisenaire rods, base ten blocks, tangrams, a geoboard, a hundred number chart and some other assorted items). I also brought Singapore math, Videotext Algebra (which I should have sold before I left even though it’s a fantastic program), some Saxon math texts, some writing texts, some Critical Thinking Press workbooks, McGuffey readers – the basics. Since there isn’t an official homeschooling market here, I’m really glad to have these. Even before homeschooling, two of our kids in school already found some of our texts helpful – ds14 to learn algebra on his own, dd12 to figure out what they were learning in class (she didn’t understand it until she looked in the Singapore book, then told me she never realized how good they are until she had school texts to compare to). I’d like to buy math texts for the upper grades since this is what I’m most lacking.
Storage containers – I’ve written about how we chose to pack in Rubbermaid storage containers, packed in moving boxes. I’ve been very, very happy with this; the two pieces of luggage I brought back on my recent trip to the US were packed in this same way. This has made it possible to keep clothes in storage neatly packed. However, they don’t fit into standard Israeli closets (which are freestanding units, not an open space like the US) so if this will be as helpful for someone else as it was for me depends on his storage capacity.
I also brought along some square 4 gallon containers that I used for storing bulk food neatly and compactly. I packed inside and around these within a larger box when bringing them, and they’ve been very useful for us.
Food – if I had made a lift and knew I had the space, I definitely would have brought some bulk foods that are either very expensive here or not available. These would have included several 40 lb buckets of coconut oil, 50 lb bags of organic sucanat, nut flours and other foods that I could cheaply buy that would store for a long period of time. This wouldn’t have justified making the lift, but they would have been valuable fillers. Not having certain foods here has been something that I’ve found difficult, particularly not having good oil – I used to use coconut oil for everything. In general, though, I recommend getting used to the foods sold here and using them.
Americans have a tendency to have homes that are much more cluttered than Israelis. This probably is because we’ve been used to having the luxury of cheap shopping combined with larger homes but I think this is something to avoid if possible since it’s not pleasant to live in a home that is overly full. So think twice and then again when deciding what to bring, so that what you have in your new home will really serve you!
What items did you bring that you are glad you brought, and what did you bring that wasn’t helpful? Please share so others won’t make the same mistakes!