Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Spring and Life in a Small Village

This Guest Post together with these beautiful photographs were prepared for you by Cec Cohen, an Olah of 30 years. Please take a moment to visit her website, she has some beautiful glass art which she both sells and teaches others to make too.

As new immigrants, perhaps you are naturally drawn to the center of Israel when looking for a new home and job. And certainly the central areas – Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Ra’anana, Kfar Saba – are well known and have much to offer. Good schools, good roads, lots of shopping centers… but I’m writing to ask you, before you rent your next home, to consider an alternative.

My name is Cecilia Cohen and I’m an “olah vatika” – an established immigrant. I’ve been in Israel for 30 years. Today I live in a small village in the south of Israel. So small that many Israelis have never heard of it. So small that Facebook doesn’t recognize it and keeps adjusting my location to another town by the same name in Afghanistan! After 30 years of experience living in big cities, small towns and smaller villages, I am convinced that true quality of life is to be found in Israeli villages like mine.

The south of Israel is fairly empty, and very beautiful. It offers hundreds of small villages and agricultural collectives called moshavim where you can buy or rent a home. There are also kibbutzim, another kind of agricultural collective that often rents homes to non-members. Most are within driving distance of large cities, fairly independent, and very community-oriented. Livna, my home, is tucked into the Yatir forest. We are in the foothills of the Hebron Hills, where the weather is cooler in the summer than in the flatlands, warmer in winter than on the mountain tops. Houses are cheaper here – which is how we found it. The view is outrageously inspiring. The people who live in our community are warm, friendly and honest, which is why we love living here.

The area is overflowing with natural beauty, orchards and vineyards; we see herds of native deer almost every day, fox, rabbits, badgers and porcupines. My husband and I were blessed to see a pair of wolves the first year we lived here. Raptors circle over the forest on lazy afternoons. The air is clean and fresh. If archaeology calls to you, you would love the many places to visit near Livna – Tel Arad, the Krayot, Anim ruins, Susyia. If it’s culture and shopping you wish for, we’re less than an hour from Beer Sheva or Jerusalem, 20 minutes from Arad and 30 minutes from a train to Tel Aviv.

Life in a town like ours moves at a slower pace. We’re only 110 families, so when the library has a special event, we all attend. We organize the right kinds of activities to keep our kids busy and happy every afternoon. We have a community pool, share holiday celebrations (as I write this I hear a large owl calling as it flies over my yard…). Many of us volunteer in civic positions. In our area, Hevel Yatir (also known as Drom Har Hevron) some communities practice a religious lifestyle, and others don’t.

Israel is rich with villages like ours – from the north to the south, from the coast to the eastern border, it’s a unique way of life that is gaining popularity. If you like this lifestyle, it’s worth spending a few days with a map and a car, and checking out opportunities. You might prefer the smallest, most off-the-beaten track places, where people are likely to welcome you , houses are still cheap and, like our region, nature is still very much in evidence. If being near shopping areas or cultural happenings is a priority, stay closer to the big cities.

What you need to know: In Israel, many small communities require that you go through an acceptance process. Before you sign a rental or purchase contract, you must speak with the community’s office to ask if you need to go through this process. This is a legal process and scooting around it can cause a lot of headaches, no matter what the home owner tells you ahead of time. Most communities have pre-schools, and some have elementary schools, but most often children will be bussed to school. You might have to commute to work – Israelis consider all commutes over-long and ill-advised, but if driving for an hour or more doesn’t bother you, don’t let distance stop you from finding the perfect place to live. Some of the communities have poor access to public transportation; not all communities have grocery stores or local health clinics; some communities require all members to take part in guard duty periodically; most communities charge monthly fees per family to cover costs of swimming pools or services offered; many have access to public, mobile vet services for your pets; many offer built-in summer and vacation camps for the community’s kids; most homes have their own gardens. Communities might have a religious, a secular or a blended lifestyle. If any or all of these things matter to you, the community’s head office is a good place to ask questions. Often a volunteer is available to speak with people interested in the community.

Wishing you good luck and a good life in Israel!



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