Jerusalem, Israel Report of what it's like to live there - 11/29/22
Personal Experiences from Jerusalem, Israel
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No. We've served in multiple other posts in WHA, NEA, AF, and EAP.
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
IAD to Tel Aviv is an easy 12 hour direct flight on United 3 times a week.
3. What years did you live here?
4. How long have you lived here?
Standard tour length time.
5. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing in Jerusalem is smaller than housing for people not living in the city of Tel Aviv but assigned to Tel Aviv (Ramat Aviv, Herzliya, and Kfar Shmaryahu). The housing pool is smaller, and it is very difficult to find compliant homes to add to the housing pool. Don't let the housing differences bother you. None of it is intentional. Housing is very difficult in Jerusalem.
That said, we were very happy with our housing. Before coming, make sure you get a very good idea on the size and storage of your housing and do not bring too much stuff. Every home is supposed to come with a security space (where you go when there are incoming rocket attacks), which can be used to some extent for storage but for safety reasons should NOT be filled up. There must be room for all humans and animals to fit inside comfortably for about 15 minutes at all times as rocket attacks can come at any time but are very infrequent. In my opinion, more important than the size and quality of the homes is the location. Non-Shabbat observant employees and their families have had a difficult time living in Jewish religious neighborhoods. Jewish employees, women who go for runs, and gay employees have all had a difficult time living in Sheikh Jarrah. I don't know for certain, but it could be that employees with mobility issues might have a hard time living in Malka, because it's so hilly there. If you don't drive or don't have a car, try to live in city center or not far from a light rail stop. The light rail takes you to the central train station, which takes you all over Israel.
Commuting time depends. The US Embassy has nine buildings in Talpiot, Arnona, city center, and north of the Damascus Gate. While the buses are pretty good, it's even better to be able to walk to work, especially because almost all public transport ceases at 2pm in winter and 3pm or 4pm in summer on Fridays for Shabbat.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Suddenly, Israel is cheaper than the US due to world-wide inflation. Pretty much all groceries are readily available. Imported items are very expensive. Uncut, unprepared, fresh fruits and vegetables are available in abundance, delicious, fresh, and very affordable. There are shortages once or twice a year of certain items due to what's going on in the country. One year there was a butter shortage. Another year, there was an egg shortage. Another time a chicken shortage. The Ministry of Economy sets standards for a number of price-controlled foods, and because imports are limited, those foods are most likely to face shortages.
These shortages are usually resolved within a few weeks. so if you have a dietary issue where you need to have a certain item all of the time, stock up--otherwise, you can normally live without these items for a few weeks. Here is the list of price-controlled items: https://www.gov.il/en/departments/dynamiccollectors/food-price-control-search?skip=0. If you are looking to save money, shop from this list, plus fresh fruits and vegetables.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
If you don't celebrate Christmas, Sheyan on 8 Ramban Street in Jerusalem is wildly popular among Americans on Christmas eve and day, and is a good option for Chinese food any time of the year. Quesadillas Ascencio (111 Agripas Street across from Machane Yehuda) is very popular among Mexicans. Tacos Luis near Agron (11 Queen Shlomziyon Street) is probably equally popular among Latinos and Americans. There are lots of restaurant options on Emek Refaim Street in the Germany Colony and on Beit Lechem Street in Baka. All of these restaurants are closed on Shabbat.
Wolt is a very popular food delivery app and there are options in English. There are 2 other food delivery apps that do not take international credit cards so try to stick with Wolt.
There aren't so many expats in Jerusalem. Rather, there are immigrants and there are tourists. English is absolutely everywhere in Jerusalem. Probably 25% of the population of Jerusalem is American.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Not in Jerusalem.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO. It's very slow and takes three weeks (on average) for delivery. Local mail and local delivery is not great. For sending items outside of DPO internationally, you might want to try DHL, which has had better service than FedEx. For sending mail in Israel or Area C of the West Bank, you may wish to look at a private courier service rather than Israel Post. For sending mail in Areas A and B of the West Bank, or to Jordan or Egypt, you may want to try the private courier service Aramex.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
We paid our household help NIS 60 an hour plus NIS 20 for transport. Two employees were native Spanish speakers and one was a native English speaker.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The Embassy has a gym for employee use at King Solomon Hotel for free. Private gym membership is expensive. A family membership at Ramat Rachel's R Club (south of the Chancery) was over NIS 10,000 a year. There is a less expensive gym membership at the Armon HaNatziv Community Center, east of the Chancery. Mati Gym is located inside of Hadar Mall in Talpiot. You can also find private classes taught in homes and private studios for pilates, yoga, salsa, and Zumba. Some are women only; others are mixed. Join expat groups on Facebook and Whatsapp and ask around.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Almost everywhere accepts international credit cards, but some places do not. Specifically, Zappa Club at the First Station in Jerusalem; the chain of sushi restaurants Japanika throughout Israel; Israel Post; Ten Bis food app; and Highway 6's automatic payments all do not accept international credit cards. As a workaround, go in person and pay cash or for Hwy 6, you need to pay manually every month.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Hebrew or Arabic are both very helpful for day-to-day things in Jerusalem. Outside of Jerusalem, in Israel, Hebrew is very helpful. In the limited areas we are allowed to go in Areas A and B of the West Bank, Arabic is very helpful. That said, you can get by without either language. If you are being offered a choice of Hebrew or Arabic for language training, it depends upon your job. For MGT (and the specialist skill codes) and CONS, Hebrew is more helpful. For POL, PD, and ECON, plus the other agencies, it depends upon who you will be interacting with more--the Palestinians or the Israelis. But for day-to-day living and tourism, we have more freedom of movement in Israel than in the West Bank, so generally Hebrew is more helpful/useful.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes, absolutely, without a doubt, someone with mobility issues would encounter difficulties. No US Embassy building in Jerusalem is fully accessible and stairs are everywhere. Homes have a lot of stairs. Apartments often have elevator breakages forcing everyone to take the stairs.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
There were recently two bombs that went off outside of buses in Jerusalem, but generally buses and trains are safe, and very affordable. Taxis are very safe, but not so affordable. A taxi from the Chancery to city center for example could cost about US $20.00. They are metered and the best taxi app is Gett. The Embassy shuttle is only available for the first 90 days or until your POV comes, whichever comes sooner.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
Any. There's no carjacking.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, and you have to pay out of pocket. You can get internet installed before you arrive if your social sponsor is helpful.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
We used Partner for our personal mobile phones and were happy with their service. Free calls to the US.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
Yes, there are plenty of qualified veterinarians. There are not many kennels. No quarantine necessary. Many vets in Jerusalem will not neuter animals for religious reasons so if you need that done, do that before you arrive or take possession of the animal, or find a non-Jewish vet. Vet services are cheaper in Areas A and B of the West Bank, so you could drive your pet across the checkpoint to Bethlehem for vet services.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
There are more EFM positions available in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv than there are EFMs applying for those jobs, so EFMs should have their pick of positions and can negotiate full-time and/or part-time and/or partial telework, AWS, job share, etc. Many EFMs telework for US or European companies. Local salaries on the local economy start at about NIS 35 an hour, and HR says that it takes no more than about a month for a work permit from the MFA. Minimum wage is currently approximately NIS 29.68 an hour. EFMs have to be 18+ to get a job on the local economy, which is why the Overseas Seasonal Hire Program (OSHP) is so important.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
There are plenty of NGOs in Jerusalem. There are food pantries, animal shelters, interfaith organizations, and more.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Israeli dress is very informal. We once saw someone at the MFA wearing flip-flops. You could wear a plain t-shirt and jeans to a Jewish wedding, but if it's a religious wedding, nicer dress is required and skirts covering the knees and shirts up to the elbow are necessary. At work, while you can't wear shorts or flip-flops, you can wear casual pants/skirt and a nice shirt. Ties are for meeting the Prime Minister or President or attending a court hearing or if you yourself get married.
Palestinian dress is a bit more formal.
The only time you'll need formal dress is at the Marine Ball or at an Arab wedding (in Israel or in the West Bank).
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Yes. Refer to the country information sheet for more information. The concerns are terrorism-related, though. There's almost no non-terrorism crime in Israel or the West Bank.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
No particular health concerns. Medical care is excellent. There are two major hospitals in Jerusalem: Shaare Tzedek and Hadassah. There's also a maternity hospital in East Jerusalem that a lot of people use because you can get a private room. While Herzliya Medical Center has direct billing, their fees are well above the fees set by the FSBP and you wind up being out of pocket for way more than if you saw doctors at either major hospital in Jerusalem, so in the end, between being out of pocket for the high fees; the hour and a half drive; and the NIS 30 fees for driving on Hwy 6 each way; going to Herzliya Medical Center is not worth it.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
Air quality is very good. There are no major factories or industries in Jerusalem. In May of every year, there is usually a hamseen (temperatures of 50C with winds that blow yellow sand in from either Saudi Arabia or Egypt). During that time, shut your windows to keep out the sand, and don't walk or exercise or spend unnecessary time outdoors. They usually last for 2-3 days at a time and there are usually 2 or 3 hamseens a year.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
If you have a serious sesame allergy, reconsider an assignment to anywhere in NEA. Tahini is in a lot of foods. Bamba is a staple here, so having a nut allergy would be difficult here.
Israelis do not take food allergies as seriously as they should. There have been several instances of people dying after their server telling them that an allergen is not in their food. There are probably 2 or 3 people who die in Israel every year after eating at a restaurant where they were told that the food was safe.
For example: https://www.haaretz.com/2011-07-21/ty-article/israeli-woman-dies-of-allergic-reaction-after-eating-nutella-at-tel-aviv-restaurant/0000017f-e47f-d75c-a7ff-fcff92b80000
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
There are a lack of English-speaking therapists and psychologists in Israel, despite the overwhelming number of English-speaking immigrants here. There is usually a wait list to be seen, and many say that they are not seeing new patients. Native Hebrew-speaking therapists may think they can conduct therapy sessions in English and it may or may not work out. This is especially true for teens. As a result, the psychiatric hospital close to Jerusalem, Eitanim, has an excess of English speakers as they have trouble getting help outside of a hospital setting. SAD is definitely not a thing anywhere in NEA.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Jerusalem is significantly colder than Tel Aviv as the altitude is 900 meters above sea level, but the summers are slightly cooler than Tel Aviv and therefore a bit more pleasant. It usually snows 1 or 2 times a year in Jerusalem. It is completely dry and warm from May to September every year. The first rains of the year come at about September but are very light and you only get real rains November to February.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
In my opinion, the school situation in Jerusalem is awful for older students. If you have a student expecting to be in 9th to 12th grades while serving here, seriously reconsider. It seems there are zero "adequate" high schools in Jerusalem, where adequate is defined by the Department of State. Here's a rundown based on what I have heard and seen, of all of the English-language schools in Jerusalem.
Traditionally, the only IB school in Jerusalem has been the Anglican International School of Jerusalem (AISJ), a Christian-affiliated school with mandatory religious education. It's my understanding that only in 2017 did AISJ stop forcing parents to sign a "Statement of Christian Faith" before they would enroll students at this school. AISJ was founded by Christian missionaries whose sole purpose was to convert Jews to Christianity. A number of board members are missionaries.
The Jerusalem American International School (JAIS) once went to 12th grade, but closed its high school in about 2016, and now only goes up to 8th grade. They tried adding on since then, holding small 9th grade classes, but these attempts were not a success. JAIS is where most Embassy children attend at the younger grades. It is the only truly secular English-language international school in Jerusalem but it is not an option for 9th grade and above.
The Jerusalem American School is located in Beit Hanina, nowhere near where Embassy housing is. Many LE Staff send their children there.
There is a new IB school in Jerusalem within the Mae Boyar school. They opened a 10th grade for the 2022-2023 school year and are hoping to grow each year. They are under the auspices of the Israeli Ministry of Education but are privately-run. Post did not have any information on this school.
Yerushalayim Torah Academy provides instruction in English. The boys school is in Bayit VeGan, a few blocks from Mae Boyar. The girls school recently moved to Beit Shemesh, which is not an easy commute from Jerusalem. YTA is a religious Jewish school, and while it is not required to be Jewish to attend, more than half the day is spent on religious education (Torah and Talmud). YTA is the only English-language school in Jerusalem where students are expected to take the Israeli Bagrut exams, and some Bagrut exams are offered only in Hebrew.
A number of Jewish American and Jewish Israeli organizations offer a semester of high school in Jerusalem for overseas students, including Ramah (located on the same campus as JAIS). However, none of these programs are suitable for high school students whose parents are assigned to Jerusalem for more than a year, since these programs are not long enough. If the parents were only going to be assigned here for one school year, then one of these programs might work out.
Though not in Jerusalem, the Walworth Balbor American International School (WBAIS) is located in Evan Yehuda, and it's where most Embassy kids assigned to Tel Aviv attend. The school is 1 hour and 45 minutes driving from Jerusalem, WITHOUT traffic. Don't let anyone tell you that it's an easy commute, as it's utterly not true. Don't let anyone tell you that WBAIS is located in "Tel Aviv." It's not. It's 45 minutes north of Tel Aviv. During the 2022-2023 school year, WBAIS opened a weekly boarding school for students whose parents live elsewhere in Israel. Since there is no readily-available public transport on Friday afternoons, no idea how students are expected to get home to Jerusalem. No idea what the boarding is like.
A number of EFM children homeschool as well.
I did not find a lot of support when researching schools. If you have a high schooler, I feel like you're on your own with research.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
There have been several special needs children at JAIS, AISJ, YTA, and WBAIS.
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
There are many preschools available. You need to do your own research. Public preschool starts at age 3, which means the costs are subsidized, but it's full Hebrew-language immersion.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, but you have to look for them and it's difficult to find them at first.
1. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
It's very easy to make local friends here.
2. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Tel Aviv is much easier for the LGBT+ community.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Do you have any other comments?
In my opinion, this is a very difficult post from a personal and professional standpoint. We found it particularly challenging as it was lonely both socially and professionally. There also seemed to be some animosity among staff and sections, at this post and with another post in the Mission.