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The financial sense of aliyah

November 28, 2009

This week, our close friends are coming on a pilot trip in preparation for their planned aliyah in the summer. Although the move will involve many challenges, there is one thing they’ll be glad to leave behind – spending over one half of their annual income on kids’ education.

While visiting family in the US in recent years, we have met a fair share of professional couples, who told us they could hardly make the ends meet even on a six digit income, because of huge tuition costs. That seems to be a common experience, judging from this discussion of yeshiva tuition and comments such as this:

Parents are taking their kids out of the orthodox schools and putting them in public schools. The Jewish Federation in this city has never seen the kind of numbers doing so, and believe it will only increase … I think all of us are beginning to see the future, in which we return to the 1950s and go to public school, with an after school Talmud Torah program. It’s already starting in many communities.

All of this has gotten me thinking. For years I have heard people say that can’t consider aliyah, because it is too hard to manage financially in Israel.  With lower salaries and higher prices, they argued, Israel just was not an option.

I understand that the decision to move to Israel is complex. However, people who would like to make aliyah, but are held back by financial considerations might want to check the facts. Moving to Israel can offer a financial break for two major budget items of a Jewish family – education and medical care.

Jewish education – Top-notch yeshiva education is free or very affordable. Many religious public schools are superb, but even private elementary schools charge only $50-80 a month. Yeshiva high schools cost approximately $1,500 annually (unless you choose a dorm, which should cost $3000 a year).

College fund – Despite availability of financial aid, US university tuition is prohibitively expensive. In Israel, on the other hand, college tuition amounts to $8000 for the entire degree! I actually know of people who got their degrees in Israel and then got licensed in the States all for a fraction of the cost.

Healthcare – From conversations with friends and family back in the US, I know this is a painful subject. I keep hearing stories about young couples deferring marriage to remain covered by parents’ health plans, people losing benefits, and overwhelming medical bills not covered by insurance. In Israel, medical coverage is universal and quality of care is very good. We pay a 5% health tax and nominal co-pay and can access private care by purchasing supplementary insurance ($50-100 a month for the entire family).

So, if you’ve always dreamed of moving to Israel but thought you could not afford it, do your math. The results may surprise you.

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