Today I spoke with several different women about a similar topic – the ups and downs of moving to Karmiel. I’m a big believer in being optimistic but staying realistic. What that means is that if you ask me what I like about living here, I’ll tell you but I’ll also caution you about things you may not hear from other people (someone recently told me that I was the only one who gave her an accurate picture of the realities of Karmiel).
Knowing that Karmiel is increasingly being considered as a place to live not only by those making aliyah but those living in Israel, I’ll share the following:
Physically - Karmiel is a physically beautiful city. My husband’s tennis partner who has lived in the area for many years told him that one of the nicknames of Karmiel is ‘Charmiel’, because it’s so charming. It’s well-designed, well landscaped, and well taken care of. A joke that’s reflective of the priority on maintenance in the city is: when there’s a traffic accident, the first vehicle on the scene will be someone from the municipality’s maintenance department to replant the flowers that were damaged by the cars.
There are lots of parks for children. It’s a big enough city that you can get anywhere in the country with public transportation, so you don’t need a car. However, if you’re in one of the outlying neighborhoods of Karmiel, you’ll probably find it much easier to live here with a vehicle because buses are less frequent (though still regular)- I live in the center where it’s not a concern at all. The public transportation within the city is excellent – the buses are all new, clean, and comfortable. You can purchase a local day pass that’s good for unlimited bus rides for just 7.70 shekels from 9 am and on. And if you want taxis, then there’s a flat rate charged of 15 shekels within Karmiel, 20 shekels if you need to get to the industrial zone.
The local shopping is good and you can get anything you need without needing to leave the city – food, electronics, furniture, cars. Many people come from surrounding areas to do their shopping here, particularly at the major shopping center called The Big (this includes many Arabs from the local villages – it’s very interesting seeing such a variety of people!). Kosher meats and hard cheeses (edited to add: with a badatz hechsher) aren’t widely available in the majority of stores but they are available in two or three stores in the city.
Housing - In Israel, real estate is very expensive and prices are constantly rising. Coupled with the banks’ insistence on at least a 30% down payment, purchasing even a modest home can be very challenging. Something that has brought many people from the center of the country to here is that they can afford to buy something much larger and nicer than the area they were coming from, for less money. (Rents aren’t significantly less than areas surrounding Jerusalem, and the rental market here is tight.) The apartment prices have risen dramatically in the last three years, but still constitute a very good deal considering the general market in the country.
Socially – Karmiel is a city of 52,000 (a couple visiting from Ashkelon told me a couple days ago that they were told 70,000 by several people during their visit, so I’m not sure who’s right – I got my stats on this from the NBN site), and there are a lot of immigrants here, particularly from Russia. This definitely affects the atmosphere here. It’s common to hear Russian spoken, and in just about every government office or store I’ve been to, it seems that most of the people working there speak Hebrew with Russian as a second language – this is different than Jerusalem, where English is usually the second language. You don’t hear a lot of English when you’re out and about, so much so that when I hear English, I feel the desire to walk over and introduce myself!
Since many of these Russians are not Jewish (not going to get into why the government allows them in based on the Law of Return), this means that Karmiel has a large percentage of not just non-religious Jews, but non-Jews; I believe the number the chief rabbi of the city quoted of non-Jews was 40%. Olim coming to Israel and looking forward to the religious inspiration of being in the Holy Land and surrounded by their fellow Jews aren’t likely to feel it here. The modesty standards of secular Israelis tends to be less than that of the average American, and the Russian population brings this even further down. (I hate to say something that sounds so negative or derogatory but I’m trying to be honest.)
The percentage of religious Jews in the city is supposedly 10%. I don’t know about how accurate that is or how the term religious is determined. The charedi community is about 150 families; the garin Torani (seed group for the Torani community) is about twenty five ten families with many others who have some connection there.
The charedi community here tends to be fairly relaxed and accepting, but is still very much a community unto itself. There is a focus in the local kollel on outreach that is unusual in Israel, but this doesn’t change the social reality as much as you might think when hearing that – outreach is something they do to some degree but my impression after speaking with some of the kollel wives is that there are different levels of commitment to this.
There isn’t much mixing of people in different religious circles – this is something that several people visiting here told me they were disappointed by, having been led to understand that it was a very open and inclusive community. It’s true that people are more open and accepting, but it means that the definition of the charedi community is broader, not that people are really mixing with those who aren’t part of their defined community. I don’t mean to overemphasize this and I don’t see this as a negative as much as simply the reality, but it seems that this is an area where people aren’t getting accurate information and after visiting here go away disappointed or disillusioned. This is very much a community that is based around the kollel; the ‘kehila’ (community) is defined as those who affiliate there.
As far as the religious Anglo community- there are two components. One group is made up of olim and first generation Americans. This is a pretty small group, about ten families in the charedi community. (I’m not sharing statistics on the dati leumi community because I don’t have enough familiarity with those stats to do so, but there are more Anglos who affiliate with different synagogues and movements than what I’m sharing about here.)
The second group is bigger than the first, those who are first generation Israelis, raised by American parents – they speak English and although they were raised here, their mentality has been tempered by being raised by parents from a different culture. These are generally younger and smaller families, having four children or less. This group is growing pretty quickly – while we were the only American family to move here this summer from outside of Israel, within the same two week period in which we arrived, six other English speaking families arrived, five of which fit into this grouping.
Schooling – I think the local school options are very good. The cheder/Talmud Torah is the most classic local charedi school, but it’s more open and accepting than schools near the center (for example, the boys are allowed to play ball at recess). Someone who moved here from the center told me that this was part of the appeal of living here; in charedi schools nearer the center, it’s become difficult to get your children accepted to schools (I’m talking about very young children, ages 3 or 4) unless you’re the ‘right’ kind of family. We don’t have that exclusivity here. (Updated to add – the cheder as of the 2013 school year will have an acceptance committee that will determine admittance.)
There is an elementary school (Amichai) for girls and boys (separate classes) that is charedi run but more typical of an American school practically and philosophically (more details on that here). It’s an unusual school choice to have available, and one I’m grateful for.
At the high school level, there’s what I feel is another great option, the girls high school (Neve Chava). Like the elementary school I mentioned above, the administration is charedi and the student body is mixed. That means that they don’t have the focus on controlling the students and every aspect of their behavior both in and out of school that are the norm in charedi high schools schools throughout the country – exploring other schools throughout the region as a possibility has brought even further home to me how lucky we are to have this school here.
Socially, we have a lot of great families living here. I honestly like all the women that I’ve met, particularly the English speakers; Karmiel attracts nice quality people. However, somehow all these nice people don’t coalesce into a solid block that makes it feel like a community – I moved here expecting a lot more warmth, connection, and intrinsic sense of community than I found, and though we’ve made it work for us and are happy here, my initial disappointment with this situation hasn’t been unique to me.
Someone moving here at this stage has to be emotionally be prepared for not that much support. People will try to be helpful because they really want to be of assistance and make things easier for newcomers, but the help is by necessity limited since there are so few English speakers.
So initially someone new is likely to feel somewhat isolated, something you wouldn’t expect when hearing how few Anglos there are since you’d think everyone would band together and all be a close-knit group. (This is what people looking into moving here tell me they’re expecting.) To deal with this, you need to have realistic expectations (hence this post) and remember that time takes time – it takes time to make friends and find your place in a new community. In my last community, it took me almost two years to feel I belonged there.
My goal about sharing information about Karmiel isn’t to sell anyone on living here, but to help them determine if this is a place that will meet their needs. I want people to move to a place where they’ll be happy. If that’s here, great. If not, then what does the community gain by having someone move here who will feel disillusioned on arrival?
I believe that within 3 – 5 years, Karmiel will be a much more popular place to live than it is now. Anglos are searching for a moderate religious community that is hard to find in Israel, and though it’s not perfect (is anywhere??) Karmiel has a lot going for it. Currently, it’s at the earlier stages of being on the religious mental map as a place to consider, but the more people who learn about, the more are going to want to come. When that happens, it’s going to be much more expensive than it is now. (There are other reasons that it will become more popular and expensive aside from the religious community, like the planned train that will eventually connect here and the main No. Six Road that is scheduled to extend here, both of which will significantly cut travel time to the center of the country.) If someone moves here now, they have to understand that they’re coming to a community that is in the early stages of developing – this has advantages and disadvantages; it means accepting the limitations as they are right now or being prepared to actively get involved in changing things. And actually, that’s pretty true of anywhere that someone is going to live!
At the same time, remember that this is why the current prices are the way they are (and they’ve doubled in the last three years)- because it’s not widely recognized as being an option. Understandably, people want a great buy and a community that is already established and has all the things they want in the way they want them, but this isn’t very realistic since those things don’t go together!
If there’s something important that I didn’t address, feel free to ask in the comment section! I know there are a lot of specifics that I didn’t share, but I’m attempting to answer the most common questions I’m asked about.