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Saturday, September 5, 2015

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

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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. 
 
If you have a decent plan where you are, get any necessary work taken care of before you come for a few months’ peace of mind.  (Except perhaps for children – basic dentistry for kids under 12 is free here, so if they’re not covered where you’re living now, then think about waiting.)
 

4.  Banking

 
You’ll need to open an Israeli bank account when you get here (I strongly recommend the Postal Bank, because there are no service charges!), and this will probably become your main account.  But you’ll probably still have money left in your “chul” account.  Maybe even money you need. 
 
Figure out how you’re going to get at your money, and how you’ll deposit money to your original bank account once you’re in Israel.  ATMs all over the country will let you withdraw money, but they’ll charge you extra on top of what your bank charges, so use these sparingly.
 
Consider low-tech solutions.  My bank here in Israel charges me to deposit and exchange a US or Canadian-dollar cheque, and it takes about two months for a cheque to clear.  So I’ve been mailing them, with deposit instructions, back to my branch in Canada.  The mail takes a while, but they deposit the cheques right away and don’t charge me anything.
 
Finally, think about authorizing somebody you trust with power of attorney over a bank account you’re leaving behind.  I added my mother as a joint accountholder to my main Canadian account, just in case there were transactions I needed to do and couldn’t.  The unexpected bonus:  it’s now technically a “senior’s” account and I get a small credit every month to cancel out transaction fees!
 
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5.  Moving Prep

 
It takes a ton of organization to decide what to bring and how to bring it!
If you’re bringing a lift, you’ll have to sort all your worldly possessions into two categories:  “plane” and “lift.” But you’ll probably be spending some time at both ends without the “lift” stuff. 
 
Make sure you’ve thought of the basics such as cooking your last few meals (and your first few) and where you’re going to sleep.  Keep some sheets, blankets, pillowcases, towels and other basic supplies in your “plane” stuff, packing the rest of it for your lift. 
 
We let our kids sort their own toys, giving each a small box marked “plane” and a slightly bigger box marked “boat.”  But things don’t always go smoothly, as my daughter  could tell you.  I mixed up the boxes and she spent six months stuck with her less-favourite “boat” toys while her most beloved “plane” toys made their way here in our lift.  Oops!
 
(Plus, someone mentioned the very rare possibility that a lift can go down mid-ocean, which caused her no end of anxiety as she imagined her Barbies drowning in the frigid Atlantic.)
 
Don’t forget to forward your mail, at least for the first year.  Before you do that, try to switch as many of your bills as possible to email billing so there won’t be much mail.  We had ours going to my mother’s house; she lets us know if there’s anything that looks urgent, and either opens things or forwards them to us here.
 

6.  Cancellation Time

 
This is a tough one, timing-wise.  You need to cut off services and make sure you don’t keep getting billed.  But you also presumably have to live in your home until the day you leave it behind.  Some olim face this (and the problem of keeping cooking and bedding supplies out) by spending a few days staying with family or friends once they’ve said final goodbyes to their home.
 
Go through all your bills, call customer service departments, and make sure everybody is very clear on what dates things are happening.  Verify all applicable readings – water, electricity, gas – for when those final bills come in.
 
If you use your phone for business or want to keep lines of communication open with friends and family members, think about converting your main phone number to a VOIP (Internet-based) virtual telephone number.  We switched to our VOIP service about a month before our aliyah date, so I had time to test the service while we were still in Toronto, and knew things would go smoothly once we arrived.
 
You may want to keep your cellphone going – and pay a little extra – until AFTER your planned aliyah date, just in case.  That way, you can call (and use your data plan, which might be your only internet service) right up until the moment the plane takes off.
 
(Our daughter is mid-aliyah at the moment, and – thinking she wouldn’t be in Toronto for much of September – she cancelled her phone service.  Then, of course, the Jewish Agency was trying to reach her to pick up her aliyah visa and that was the only number they had…)
 
Check your bank accounts carefully for a few months after your aliyah to make sure you’re not still being billed.  We kept getting electric bills for months after we left because the new buyer had somehow overlooked putting it in his name.  Fortunately, all it took was a phone call to our real-estate lawyer in Canada to get it straightened out.
 

7.  Metal Detector

 
This is a small but weird thing.  My father had a pin in his toe that caused metal detectors to go off wherever he went.  Later in life, he also had a defibrillator that led to similar problems.  He carried a doctor’s note that got him out of trouble more than once when he was being frisked in Israel. 
 
If you have an implanted medical device, ask about getting some kind of official letter to carry around with you.  Obviously, a bilingual note is better, ideally on official-looking letterhead, since most mall security guards probably don’t read English all too well, let alone a doctor’s scrawl.

8.  Get ready, get PET

 
You may need a longer lead time than you think to arrange your pets’ paperwork and vaccinations.  Many olim say it’s pretty straightforward, though, and definitely worth the effort to bring their fuzzy friends over with them.
 

9.  Check your army status

 
Don’t assume you’re exempt.  Double-check the current requirements, as you may be required to serve up to two years.  If you’re an unmarried religious woman and you’re not planning to serve, find out if you need to do anything ahead of time to secure an exemption.
 
If you will have to serve, the army gives you one year to get settled in Israel before you’re drafted, though you can start your service early if you want to.
 
Here’s one more thing to remember… and it may actually be the most important reminder of all:
 

10.  Tell people how to get hold of you!

Once you land, you’ll be out of touch for anywhere from a few hours to a few days, depending on where you’re going here, where you’re staying, and how connected you generally are. 

Let people know how they can get in touch.  If you’re not sure, then email is probably best until you settle in and have a reliable connection.  You can check it over any connection, and you don’t even have to be using your own device.

Whatever you do, don’t promise to phone right away when you get off the plane.  You’ll have paperwork, and then shlepping to your new home, and then, maybe a chance to sleep or find your sealegs. 

The phone call / Skype chat / blog post can wait until Day 2 or 3… it’s time to start living the rest of your life.

Tzivia / צִיבְיָה


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