Like the MamaLand Empire!

Have you Liked the AliyahLand adventure?
      ...and sign up for weekly aliyah tips by email (it's free).

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

How to choose a health care provider (kupat cholim) in Israel


Let's assume you'll never get sick in Israel, shall we?

My teacher in ulpan had a cute habit.  When we were learning about ailments, she refused to use the first or second person - "you're sick; I'm sick."  She would only let us talk about ailments in the third person:  "he's sick; she's sick; they're sick."

So in honour of Morah Sarah, let's do that here, too.  Let’s assume you’re going to pick a kupat cholim (health care provider) and never need to use it.

Because, I'll admit, I've been holding back. 

In all these years of blogging, I haven't really said anything about how to choose a kupat cholim, one of the four healthcare provider networks that exist in Israel.  I feel like I don’t know enough, but the truth is, I’ve been navigating this system long enough to know a thing or two.  So I’ll try to help you straighten things out as far as healthcare is concerned.  If you have questions, ask below and I’ll try to answer.  I’ll also give a list of links for good information at the bottom of this post.

What are those words again?  Practice saying them; you’ll be using them a lot here (but hopefully never in the first person):

  • קֻפַּת חוֹלִים / kupat choleem = sick fund, usually translated into English as “HMO” for people from the U.S. who don’t understand any other approach to healthcare
  • Note, the above is the vowelled spelling.  Without vowels, it’s usually spelled “קופת חולים” for clarity.  Pronunciation is the same:  kupat cholim.
  • It’s sometimes abbreviated as קופ"ח / koopach
  • קֻפָּה / koopah = “fund,” like a supply of money, but sometimes people use this as shorthand to refer to your particular health plan
  • The plural is  קופות חולים/ koopot choleem = sick funds.

How do I choose???

Here are the 4 choices (4 kupot cholim), in English alphabetical order:

  • כללית / Clalit
  • לאומית / Leumit (not to be confused with BANK Leumi!)
  • מכבי / Maccabi (pronounced ma-KAAAAA-bee, not the way English speakers say it in the Chanukah story)
  • מאוחדת / Meuhedet (the "h" is actually a "ch" but this is how they spell it)

All of these 4 have offices all over the country, though one may be more prevalent in a given area, which will probably factor into your decision-making.

These days, most new olim are asked to choose their kupat cholim at the airport when they arrive.  If you don't know your choice, however, you can still do it at the post office like in the old days.  There may be other ways to do it as well. 

Don’t let anybody force you to pick at the airport if you aren’t sure yet!

But the question everyone asks is:  how do I choose???

(Assuming, of course, that you and your family will never get sick!)

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Don't forget! Nine things to remember before you fly

Even with the best-laid plans, there are some important things that can fall through the cracks.  Here are 9 of the most important reminders – things you’ll want to take care of before you pull on that spiffy new Nefesh b’Nefesh ballcap and hop on the plane to Israel:

1.  Medical Check-In

Sure, health care in Israel is free.  But you’ll be sitting in front of a doctor who doesn’t know you, doesn’t have your records, and perhaps doesn’t speak English.  (Medical clinic receptionists will insist that “all the doctors speak English,” which means they know the names of medical conditions, but many still can’t carry on a conversation.) 
There’s also a different cultural approach and you may not have the confidence as a dripping-wet oleh to be pushy enough with Israeli doctors to make your concerns known.
If you have any medical worries, even little niggling things that you’re concerned might get bigger before your Hebrew gets better, get them taken care of ahead of time.

2.  Prescriptions

This could have been part of #1, except it’s so important I’m giving it its own bullet point.  Get a copy of all prescriptions, and a six-month supply of any medications you take on a regular basis. 
Keep these prescriptions in your carry-on baggage along with a few days’ supply, at least.  Checked baggage does get lost, and stuff gets lost inside checked baggage (especially if you’re bringing a dozen or more huge suitcases!). 
You don’t want to deal with a medical crisis immediately on landing.

3.  Dentist

Read everything I just said about doctors and multiply it by ten.  Then take out the part about it being free – you will have to pay for dental care in Israel, after you’ve figured out how to find it and how much it’ll be. 

Friday, September 4, 2015

On Rosh Hashanah, it’s BYOM (bring your own machzor)


Rosh Hashanah’s coming, so it’s time for a public service announcement. 

Things here in Israel are NOT the same as they are wherever you come from.  That includes shul on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

You probably won’t need tickets, and I don’t know of any shul in Israel that will kick you out if you haven’t signed up ahead of time, but depending on the shul, they might not have a lot of space for you. 

Also, check around your neighbourhood carefully – the davening (prayer services) is very different in different types of shuls.  And I’m not just talking about Ashkenazi and Sefardi (Mizrachi) shuls. 

Yeshivas, for example, may have a longer, more drawn-out davening that’s enjoyable if you like something more spiritual, while “stam” Israeli shuls may have more of a “get in, get out, get home” type of approach.  Most shuls start at 8 am on yom tov, but the ending time really varies, from 10:30ish across the street from me to as late as 1 or 2 in some places.

(So if you’re expected somewhere for either of the lunch meals, it’s extra important to co-ordinate with your hosts so you get there when they want to start.)

If you’re new to your area, ask around to find out which shul is more likely to offer you the best experience.  That depends, of course, on what your criteria are.  Such as whether you like singing or prefer to avoid it at all costs, like at the shul across the street from me, where any necessary musical touches are grudging at best.

Also, if you’re a woman, ask other women – your experience might be very different from what a man would encounter in the same shul.

One thing you won’t get here that you may or may not be used to – calling out page numbers.  Most Orthodox shuls outside of Israel don’t do this either, but our shul in Toronto did because it had a kiruv (outreach) bent. 

Thursday, September 3, 2015

How to survive the most brutal 6 months of your life


Here’s the truth that nobody is going to tell you:  you may just be in for the worst 6 months (or so) of your life.

That’s the side of aliyah that you don’t see in the ads, or the videos, or the posters or the shots of smiling, happy families at the airport.

My family’s not in those shots.

You won’t see my son, lying kicking and wailing on the floor of the airport.

You won’t see my daughter, weeping because she misses our family in Canada.

You won’t see me in our apartment at the merkaz klitah, screaming and crying in the middle of the night because my husband cannot make the cruddy Israeli beach karaoke – literally the loudest music I’d ever heard, and I’ve been to more than a few concerts – go away at 3 a.m. on Shabbos morning until I finally fell asleep with a pillow over my head.

Or the kids lying in bed calling out, “Juke! Juke!” (cockroach, cockroach)

I don’t know if I’d call it the worst six months, but it was definitely a difficult period.  A very difficult period.

Friends of ours spent 6 months in Israel a year or so before we came.  They'd just had a baby, so he had parental leave, and they’d always wanted to spend time here.  Everything went wrong - absolutely everything.

Monday, August 31, 2015

What should you buy where? Smarter online shopping in Israel

photo depicting various online shopping options in Israel

It’s back to school time here in Israel.  And we all know what that means:  online shopping!

I can’t be the only one, right?

In Israel, just like around the world, the hottest shopping site these days is Aliexpress.  There, you can buy directly from China, mostly with free shipping, cutting out the middleman and saving a bundle.

That's the theory, at least. 

In practice, it's not so simple.  The quality is usually low, and it's better in theory to buy Israeli (or local, wherever you happen to be).   Sometimes, though, when buying Chinese is the only option anyway, things do work out much better, price-wise.

But there are many downsides to Aliexpress, including:

  • Long shipping time
  • Dubious quality merchandise
  • No recognizable brand names
  • No brands, price comparisons or reviews (sometimes there are reviews, but rarely)
  • Merchants don't speak English


The biggest down, however, is that for higher-value items (I think it's over $50), you could get hit with a big tax bill.  The same thing was true in Canada - there, anything worth over about $20 could get opened and dinged for import taxes.  And there are added fees you have to pay as well if you're billed for taxes.  Sometimes, it's just not worth it.

That's why it's nice to know that there are online-shopping alternatives that let you buy "locally" here in Israel.  The goods may still be made elsewhere, but you're dealing with local suppliers who know how to get stuff to your door quickly, and can often save you that big tax bill.

The best place to start is on ZAP -  There, you can search (in Hebrew, so use Google Translate if you're not strong at it) for whatever you want, and hopefully, you'll get a whole bunch of good results.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Just when you think you miss Walmart...


Here I was going on and on about how much I loved Walmart while we were visiting Canada, but you know what...? School supply shopping here may be even easier.

Everything is laid out in one reasonably sized section, for decent-enough prices...

"Attention, Max Stock shoppers..."
There were literally employees in every aisle.  Not the pestery kind you usually meet in Israeli stores who are just after their commission.  These asked if we were finding everything and then, when I asked where to find calculators, she started to say, "over there in the next aisle," and then said, "wait, I'll take you."

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Should you change your name when you make aliyah?


For years, I thought this was a no-brainer.  When in Rome, pick a name like the Romans do… or something.

Apparently, I was dead wrong.  It turns out there are a million reasons not to change your name when you make aliyah:

  • it will confuse and perhaps anger your family and friends
  • people will think you've become more religious (maybe "crazy religious")
  • people will think you're turning your back on your old life
  • you've built a career and reputation in your name
  • you'll have legal problems using the new name
  • you'll never adjust to being called something new

Interesting.  Notice that these are the same reasons many people give to not make aliyah in the first place?

Since you're already taking that giant step – or thinking of taking it – it seems a much smaller leap to give yourself a shiny new handle.  Especially one you've chosen yourself, that you'll love hearing every day and seeing on all your shiny new paperwork.

[By the way, the Hebrew words in the image above are “olah chadashah,” which means “new immigrant to Israel” in the feminine form.]

My grandparents’ “aliyah” to Canada

My grandparents were olim, of a sort.  Well, they were immigrants.  Same thing, right? 

Separately, they found a way out of Poland, where they'd grown up as "Wolf" and "Chana Rivka."  When they came to Canada, they morphed into "William" and "Rose."  They named their kids Albert, Charles and Dorothy.