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Don't make these 5 mistakes when you're opening a bank account in Israel


Quick, where will your first bank account in Israel be?

One of your first tasks when you step off the plane is opening a bank account so you can start getting sal klitah, the six months of “absorption” money that you’re entitled to when you arrive in Israel.

So that’s why many olim feel rushed into opening their first bank account, and don’t think the process through as much as they should. 

Sure, you can always move your account later, but you might not want to once you have an established line of credit, “standing orders” (הוראות קבע/horaot keva – fixed monthly payments), government deposits or debits, not to mention (hopefully) payroll deposits coming in and out of that account every month.

So you do want to put some thought into opening your account, even if it seems like you don’t have a lot of choices.  When you look back on your aliyah process in five years’ time, these are some of the mistakes you may end up regretting…

1) You didn’t set aside enough time

I’ve opened bank accounts in Canada where I’ve walked in, plunked down ID on the counter, and walked out 15 minutes later with a bank card.  That’s not how it works here. 

Arabs, on the train


I'm sitting on the train, it's late, and I'm on my way home.
Far too exhausted to be paying attention.

I step past a family of Arabs, their boxes spreading into the aisle.  There are grandparents, parents, a little girl.  They chatter all the way north.

I may be exhausted, but I can't help paying attention.  My life depends on paying attention around Arabs, I've been told. 

Even when they're travelling as a family?  Even when they've got a little girl babbling on their laps?

I don't understand their language.  Are they talking about me?  Arabic sounds horrible, guttural and strange.  I know Hebrew must sound that way to others; to me, it sounds like the Tanach, like poetry.  The Arabs' Arabic is sprinkled with Hebrew here.  They say "b'seder," and other Hebrew words.  Do other Arabs outside of Israel feel like they are contaminated with Jewishness?

I don’t know if they’re talking about me, but I’m thinking about them.  Not them, exactly. 

You know:  Terrorists.

Oh, yeah; that.

I'm writing a blog post about terrorism in Israel.  I start hunting for a picture of a knife to go with the post, then realize my screen faces towards them.  Will they know what I'm thinking about?  Will they think I am thinking about them? 

I quickly search for the word "girl" even though I do not want a picture of a girl to go with the post.  Slowly, I creep back towards the pictures of the knives, choosing a relatively tasteful one instead of something bloody and garish.  Not my style, anyway. 

The child is facing away from me, sitting with her parents.  The older people are facing in my direction.  Perhaps their eyes are old; perhaps they can’t see what I’m doing.

I modify the picture in furtive bursts,

Dear Family: she is safe, so please stop asking


Hi, all!

Just wanted to let you know that although we are all worried about E_____ when terrible things happen in Jerusalem, it doesn't help to email her to let her know about them or to ask if she is safe. 

Telling a person in that situation to "stay safe" implies that anyone who gets hurt is simply not making an effort.

If you want to send her a note, try something constructive, like, "I'm praying this will end soon," "I hope you're still finding ways to enjoy life," or simply, "we love you."

Please remember that, in Jerusalem as in any other place in this world, a person is safe until the moment they are not - whether that moment comes in a car, on a city street, in Canada's parliament buildings, in a hospital, or at the hands of a terrorist.

Statistically, her life expectancy here is higher than in most countries of the world, including the US. Though none of us know when our moment will come, for this moment, right now, she is safe.

I spent last Tuesday afternoon with her in Jerusalem.

On a roll (it’s not what you think it’s about)


Have you tried Israeli toilet paper lately?

It's actually quite good – as toilet paper.  Definitely better than it was, I'm told.  Which is good, because good old TP has been re-imagined (or perhaps always was) the National Nose-Wipe.

In fact, the toilet paper here is quite good.  Apparently, it used to be simply awful - crunchy and non-absorbent, I assume, since those are the things it would take to make TP simply awful in my book.

I know what I'm talking about.  In England on my honeymoon, years and years ago, I stayed in the World's Worst Hotel, near Paddington Station, which we thought would be cute - but it wasn't. 

There was no bathroom in the room itself, just a little water closet ("loo") up half a flight of stairs.  And the paper in there was absolutely awful.  It was that folding, single-paper dispensing kind that we'd had in my elementary school.  However, unlike anything I had ever seen before, each "sheet" of this paper was treated with some sort of smelly antiseptic chemical and then - mysteriously - waxed so that it was guaranteed to never absorb a single drop of anything.  It was crispy, it was stinky, plus, it simply did not do the job.

Compared to that, anything is better, and as I said, toilet paper in Israel is way more than halfway decent.  It's soft, it's 2-ply, and there are cute puppies on the brand we buy.  There are even premium 3-ply grades you can buy for extra indulgence.

But I still think it’s gross how everybody uses it to wipe their noses.  Maybe this happens elsewhere, too, but I have only ever observed it on a sweeping scale here.

Sure, actual "facial tissues" (aka Kleenex, but they're called "tissue" here in Hebrew) are available, in various colours, small and big packages.

But forget about all that. 

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!)