Snowbirds fly to Israel

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Click photo to download. Caption: Senior citizens, known as "snowbirds" when they retire to warm locations, ride their bikes. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Picture yourself retired.

You’re no longer rushing off to your job, so morning just might find you hiking along the beach, a picnic lunch in your backpack. You can enjoy yourself, worry-free, knowing your new home is in a community with terrific public transportation and access to shopping, theaters, recreation, universities and synagogues of every stripe. What’s more, you have your health insurance squared away and your retirement income more than takes care of your expenses. And if you have questions about your new community, help is but a phone call or e-mail away. You breathe in the sea air and text a friend back in your old hometown: “Wish you were here.”

Expecting those “early bird specials” and alligators lurking in the gutters? Nope. It’s not a Florida beach you’re strolling along. You’ve just retired to Israel.

For a growing number of baby boomers and older folks too, Israel is the Promised Land for retirement. Whether they’ve got kids (and as often as not grandkids) already there, or they’re finally living out their own Israel dream deferred, they’re making plans and making their move.

Avigail Buiumsohn is a retirement expert for Nefesh B’Nefesh (www.nbn.org.il). Though based in Israel, she spends large chunks of her time presenting to groups of English-speaking prospective retirees. These seminars are popular. Arriving at one in Boston last winter a mere 10 minutes late, a friend and I were lucky to find seats. And the crowd was serious, judging by the 30 minutes of questions they lobbed at the end of Buiumsohn’s presentation.

“They are serious,” she concurs. “The children are grown and their careers are winding down, plus they’re still young enough to enjoy themselves, so now is their chance.”

What’s more, many of today’s seniors are still employed, either full- or part-time, and they arrange to telecommute after they make aliyah. This puts them in the enviable position of earning dollars but spending them in a shekel-based economy.

For every grandparent who joins the kids in Israel, another racks up the frequent flyer miles coming back to the States for school vacations, putting in plenty of Skype hours in between. Others pay to have the kids flown over in the summer, giving the grandkids the opportunity to live in Israel for weeks or months at a time and pick up the kind of real-live Hebrew they could never learn in religious or day school back home.

When Larry Woznica made aliyah from Toronto he had every intention ofretiring—until Nefesh B’Nefesh offered him a job he couldn’t refuse. “But whether or not you work, this is an amazing place for people our age,” he says. “There’s so much to do and the services are terrific.” A bonus for Woznica: He just became a grandfather for the first time, and the baby lives in Israel.  

Buiumsohn says Nefesh B’Nefesh works to make the transition and integration into Israeli society as painless as possible, including ongoing support in such areas as selecting a community, finances, health coverage, housing and even connecting you to opportunities for volunteering and socializing.

More and more private firms are springing up to help their clients select and pack those belongings destined to be useful to them in Israel, while leaving the rest behind. One such service is the Boston-based Design Coaches (www.Designcoaches.com). “Helping people move their belongings to a new location is part of what we do,” says owner Thelma Newberger-Hirsch. “The other part is creating a new home that reflects their new lives as they make aliyah.”

Josie Arbel, Director of Klitah Services and Programs for the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI), reports that her organization is a home-away-from-home for newolim over the age of 60, advising them on everything from healthcare to housing to learning Hebrew. “From the time they arrive, they’re already creating rewarding, active lives. It’s wonderful to be a part of this process.”

In fact, the most frequent comment Buiumsohn hears from the over-60 olimis “if I had known how good it was going to be I would have come much earlier.”

Deborah Fineblum Raub is a Sharon, MA-based writer, editor and Jewish LifeStory coach. She currently does communications for Jewish Women’s Archive and regularly entertains aliyah thoughts.

Posted on July 17, 2012 and filed under Senior Life, Special Sections.