It is frequently said that Israel is a wonderful place for children. It can likewise be said that Israel is a wonderful place for retirement. There is a large and growing community of senior citizens who have immigrated from English-speaking countries.
Some come because they always wanted to live in the Jewish homeland; others want to be near their children and grandchildren who have immigrated. Once in Israel, many retired olim find that they prefer to develop a circle of friends and activities beyond their children, as their children are involved with work or school. Fortunately, there are many options to choose from.
No matter what their reasons for coming, they stay because Israel is a place where one can live comfortably in a pleasant climate, where one can be actively involved in society and feel fulfilled as a Jew.
WHAT IS THERE FOR A RETIREE TO DO IN ISRAEL?
Often, the first thing a retiree is asked when he says he is moving to Israel is, "But what will you do there? How will you fill your time?" The options are numerous, and there is something for everyone.
Here are just a few examples: Many retirees contribute greatly to the country by volunteering, giving their time and efforts to a myriad of causes. Some tutor Israelis in English or assist at various service organizations, community centers and institutions for the handicapped. Others work within their immigrant organizations, participating in absorption activities as well as social action and community oriented projects.
Museums and tourist reception areas welcome anyone who can give a few hours to talk to tourists, show them around and help make their stay more comfortable.
All major hospitals need volunteers for patient care and public relations work. The Council of Ya'el Organizations (Ya'el -- Yad Ezra L'Holim, a Helping Hand to the Sick) organizes volunteers for hospitals throughout the country. Ya'el members assist patients, run gift-shops and snack bars, and serve in various support capacities.
Magen David Adom (MDA) maintains a voluntary organization which assists MDA personnel in providing emergency first aid. Another special volunteer program run by MDA is a daily phone-call service to elderly and disabled shut-ins.
The Botanical Garden at the Hebrew University Campus in Jerusalem sponsors the "Friends of The Botanical Garden" society. Members work in the gardens and act as tour guides. Volunteers are also involved in public relations and fundraising.
Women's organizations, such as Emunah, WIZO and Na'amat sponsor a variety of community-oriented volunteer activities.
Numerous voluntary activities are sponsored by Israel Variety Clubs and the Rotary Club.
There are also any number of social activities. Newspapers carry weekly listings of events including tours, lectures, concerts, plays and social gatherings. There are exercise classes for all ages, Israeli dance groups, sports, and even a Scrabble club with branches in all the larger cities.
The immigrant associations have seniors' groups and plan a large number of events for members, including lectures, trips and social activities. New members are warmly welcomed. They also have "adoption" programs which put together veteran immigrants and newcomers, as well as reach-out programs for members who are sick or unable to get out.
In the beginning, quite a few retired immigrants spend their learning Hebrew at an ulpan, an intensive Hebrew course. Many different programs are available.
The Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel sponsors a continuing education program held at institutions of higher education and on kibbutzim. Studies are open to all English speakers, and topics range from archeology to geography and politics. Courses commence six times a year. Further, almost all of the major universities allow non-degree candidates to audit regular courses or to enroll in special courses designed for continuing education. Many of these courses are in English.
In short, anyone who wishes to lead an active life in Israel can do so.
WHAT KINDS OF HOUSING ARE AVAILABLE TO THE RETIREE?
A variety of housing options for retirees exist. Not wishing to spend much time and money on maintenance and upkeep of a new home, some retirees find it more convenient to rent an apartment. Rental subsidies are available for most olim for the first five years after aliyah.
On the other hand, apartment rentals tend to be on a short-term basis, and it may be necessary to move every three years. Rent controlled housing is scarce, and costs can rise frequently. Many olim find that purchasing an apartment provides long-term security.
For those wishing to buy, regular immigrant mortgages are available to men under age 65 and women under age 60 at the time of their aliyah. Older olim may receive reduced mortgages. As long as one member of a couple is under retirement age, the couple is eligible for a regular mortgage available through the mortgage banks.
However, immigrant mortgages are generally insufficient to cover the complete cost of an apartment, and additional funds are necessary. Downpayments in Israel are made in cash, and lawyers handle most transactions. Do not be pressured into allowing one lawyer to represent both buyer and seller. Having your own lawyer enables you to protect your own interests.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR WHEN RENTING OR PURCHASING AN APARTMENT
Find out if the building has an elevator.
Check the direction of exposures, amount of sun, vulnerability to cold, wind and rain.
Find out how the apartment is heated.
Ascertain whether the apartment has both electric and solar water heaters.
Find out if there are any problems with dampness. It may be helpful to hire an engineer to examine the premises and point out any problems.
Investigate the neighborhood. What kind of people live there? Are there many English-speakers? What are their typical ages? Are they religious or non-religious? Are neighborhood services, such as supermarket, clinics and banks within a convenient distance? Are there bus stops nearby?
ISN'T MOST OF ISRAEL IN THE HOT, DRY DESERT?
Well, Beer Sheva and Arad are.
However, there is a climate in Israel to satisfy just about everyone. If you prefer ocean breezes and mild winters, you can live close to the beach in Netanya, Ashkelon or Herzliya.
If mountain air is more for you, you can make your home in Jerusalem in the center of the country or in Tzfat in the northern Galilee.
Haifa, situated on Mount Carmel and overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, offers both ocean breezes and mountain air.
In some parts of the country new buildings are often equipped with central heating; however, the building may only be heated for several hours each day and you may wish to supplement this with room heaters. Built-in central air conditioning is still relatively rare in Israel except in luxury buildings. However, a wide variety of air conditioners are available for purchase.
If you buy or rent an apartment, you may be lucky enough to find one that has an air-conditioner, make sure to get the consent of the landlord. Be aware that it may not be possible to remove the unit once it has been installed. Many models feature heating functions as well, making it possible to heat or cool your apartment with the same unit.
In some parts of the country, you may find that regular fans or "desert coolers," which add coolness and moisture to the air, are sufficient.
Many retired olim prefer to live in locations with large concentrations of English speakers. Several neighborhoods in Israel's major cities contain large proportions of "Anglo-Saxons," as do many towns in the center of the country, including Netanya, Ra'ananna, Herzliya, Pituach and Kfar Sava.
FINDING AN APARTMENT TO RENT OR PURCHASE
In most cases, the procedure for finding an apartment to rent or purchase in Israel is much the same as anywhere else. The Friday newspapers usually carry extensive real-estate listings. While the English-language Jerusalem Post carries many advertisements, the Hebrew papers generally have more complete listings.
It is also possible to rent or purchase through an agent. Many real-estate agencies employ English-speaking agents. A good agent can help you find the kind of apartment that will best suit your needs. Agents generally take a set percentage of the rental or purchase cost.
The immigrant associations may also carry listings on a limited basis.
Note: for detailed information on renting or purchasing a home, consult the Aliyah Series booklet entitled "Housing."
There are three forms of housing in Israel designed especially for seniors:
Nursing homes provide round-the-clock care to the disabled or ill;
Partial-support homes may offer medical services, a communal dining room, social activities, etc. Residents live in private apartments and are almost completely independent;
Senior citizens' apartment buildings offer various amenities. Included among them may be nursing services, kosher cafeteria, library, synagogue, cleaning services and cultural programs. In this type of building most housing units are sold individually, and additional mortgages are sometimes offered through the builder. Residents maintain complete independence.
Retirement housing varies in both quality and price, as well as availability. Waiting periods can range from several months to a year or two. Those interested in the possibility of retirement housing are advised to consult with one of the immigrant societies for up-to-date information.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs is responsible for the licensing of senior citizen homes. Make sure that any residence you may be considering can be obtained from the department of Services for the Elderly at the Ministry of Labor.
The National Insurance Institute (in Hebrew: HaMossad LeBituach Leumi) is the government body responsible for social security. Every resident of Israel above the age of 18 is required to pay premiums, with the exception of housewives who do not work outside their home. However, olim who arrive in Israel at age 60 or over do not pay premiums, and are not entitled to old-age or survivors' pensions (see below).
OLD AGE PENSIONS
The standard old-age pension is paid to residents of Israel insured through the National Insurance Institute. WHO IS COVERED?
New immigrants (males and females) who come on aliyah before the age of 60.
Any married female who comes on aliyah before the age of 60 maybe insured in any of the following three circumstances:
- Her husband is over 60 when they come on aliyah.
- She is a working woman.
- She is a new immigrant who has voluntarily insured herself.
If a female immigrant's husband has not yet reached 60 when they arrive in Israel and she herself is not yet 48, she is entitled to apply for voluntary coverage within two years of her aliyah.
WHO IS NOT COVERED?
A new immigrant, (male or female) who arrives in Israel at age 60 or over.
A married female immigrant who arrives in Israel before age 60 and does not work outside the home. If, however, her husband is over age 60, and therefore not covered, she has to take out coverage. If a female immigrant's husband has not yet reached age 48, she is entitled to apply for voluntary insurance within two years of aliyah.
STANDARD OLD-AGE PENSION FOR THOSE COVERED
Insured men over 65 and insured women over age 60 are eligible for the old-age pension if their income does not exceed a certain sum.
A man's right to a pension at age 70, and a woman's right to one at age 65 does not depend on income. Someone receiving a pension, and whose sources of income do not exceed a certain amount, can receive an income supplement in addition to the pension. The National Insurance Institute also offers counseling and guidance to pensioners.
SPECIAL SURVIVOR'S ALLOWANCE
This benefit is paid to a female immigrant who is widowed, and to her dependent children, if her husband came on aliyah at age 60 or over.
WHAT KIND OF HEALTH COVERAGE IS AVAILABLE?
Israel's health services include the various health funds (kupot holim; singular, kupat holim) and government and private health care. Although private medicine was at one time marginal in Israel, it is gaining in popularity; dental care, on the other hand, is almost all private.
On January 1, 1995, the new National Health Insurance law went into effect. According to this law, every individual is covered for health care, and is entitled to all the services provided by their health fund. Individuals may register with the health fund of their choice, regardless of their age or state of health. Each member of a couple may register with different funds if they choose. Health insurance premiums are collected by the National Insurance Institute.
New olim are exempt from paying health insurance premiums for the first six months following aliyah. As was the procedure in the past, olim will receive a voucher at the airport, to be used for registering in the health fund of their choice. Temporary residents (A/1 visas) must pay premiums in accordance with their income.
Certain health services are mandated by law and must be provided in the health funds' "basket" of services. The basket includes most doctors' services, clinics and hospitalization. The funds also offer supplementary plans for those services which are not included in the basket. Check which health plan best serves your needs before registering.
Payment of health insurance fees for retired olim is linked to whether or not they receive old-age pensions from the National Insurance Institute (see section on National Insurance). Olim who receive National Insurance pensions have a standard, minimal fee deducted from the pension automatically. Those who arrive in Israel after the age of being required to pay National Insurance fees, but before the age of eligibility for a pension, and who are not eligible for special old-age pensions because they have other sources of income, pay a set minimal fee until the age of 60 or 65, and from then on pay according to the rates for those receiving old-age pensions. In all cases, it is necessary to arrange for payment of health fees with the National Insurance Institute once one's six months of free insurance have been completed.
CAN I CONTINUE FOREIGN HEALTH INSURANCE?
Olim may be able to continue their medical insurance plan from abroad while living in Israel. It is important to check prior to aliyah what types of coverage are available and what the cost will be. Be sure that any arrangements you make with your insurance company are in writing.
Many retired immigrants prefer to maintain their overseas coverage in the event that they travel back to their country of origin.
Olim from the United States should note that Medicare does not provide coverage outside the US. However, it is recommended not to cancel Medicare if one plans to make visits to the States.
WILL I BE ABLE TO LIVE ON MY MONTHLY PENSION PAYMENTS FROM OVERSEAS?
Possibly. However, most olim find it necessary to have financial resources beyond pension payments in order to maintain a reasonable standard of living. Retirees living entirely on a fixed income may find that their spending power diminishes over time as the Cost of Living Index in Israel continues to rise and the rate of exchange between shekels and various foreign currencies becomes less favorable.
Other factors to consider are how much your medical coverage will cost, whether you will rent or purchase a home, whether you require a car and other amenities and which part of the country you intend to live in.
In addition, a large initial outlay of cash is needed for setting up your home in Israel. Consult your shaliach about customs duties and privileges available to new immigrants.
Olim may keep abroad foreign currency, whose source is from abroad, for thirty years from their date of arrival. They may also hold foreign currency accounts in Israel for twenty years. Check with an aliyah shaliach or the foreign currency department of any of Israel's main banks for details.
CAN I SPEND SOME TIME GETTING TO KNOW ISRAEL WITHOUT ACTUALLY MOVING THERE?
There are several options available to you. Many major Jewish organizations sponsor a three month Active Retirees Program in Israel. This program offers a "living experience" in Israel, usually during the winter months. Participants work at various volunteer jobs during the mornings and study Hebrew in the afternoons. Cultural and educational activities are offered in the evenings -- lectures, folkdancing, home hospitality, etc. Tours to various parts of the country are also included.
If you are aged 50 or over, in good health, and physically capable of working, you are eligible for the Active Retirees program. Check with local chapters of organizations in your area to find out if they sponsor the program.
Two week seminars are also offered occasionally by Tnuat Aliyah of the WZO Aliyah Department. Participants tour extensively, meet retirees in various parts of the country and attend workshops relating to retirement in Israel.
In addition, regular pilot tours are arranged periodically. If you are interested in participating in a pilot tour, contact your local aliyah movement or shaliach.
Of course, it is also possible to come on your own, rent an apartment and just try out living in Israel while investigating your options. Tourist visas can be extended for up to 27 consecutive months.
Counselors at various immigrant associations offer guidance on various aspects of living in Israel (e.g. housing, health insurance) as well as various programs for retirees. They also offer a variety of other services, including counseling & support for olim experiencing "culture shock."
WHERE CAN I GET MORE INFORMATION ON LIVING IN ISRAEL?
For both general and specific information on aliyah, contact an aliyah shaliach at the Israel Aliyah Center or Department nearest you, or the aliyah movements (The Israel Aliyah Program Center in North America, the British Aliyah Movement and Tnuat Aliyah of South Africa). One can also contact the various oleh organizations in Israel, either in person or in writing.
Tehilla, the religious aliyah movement, offers assistance in finding housing, helps with bureaucratic difficulties and provides new olim with "adoptive families." Tehilla also sponsors groups abroad, with members meeting during the planning stages of aliyah. Check with your shaliach for more information.
The information in this booklet is based on data provided by various official sources. Details are subject to change. In case of any discrepancy, the regulations of the Jewish Agency, the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, and other official bodies will prevail.