Dear Debra: I Made Aliya, and I’m Miserable!

Dear Debra: I Made Aliya, and I’m Miserable!

The following is a letter to and response from JewishMOM life coach Debra David.
Dear Debra,
I’m Israeli-born, but lived in New York for 30 years. A few years ago, my husband and I became religious and 3 years ago we realized our dream of making aliya. But in the end, aliya has been very, very rough for me.

I have 5 children, age 6 and under, and I have nearly zero family support here. My husband is either working or learning the whole day, so he is nearly never home.

I also suffer so much from my day-to-day dealings with Israelis and coping with the bureaucracy here. I can’t stand it! I live in a religious neighborhood, but I feel like I am wearing this big sign that says “American Baal Teshuva” and nobody ever even smiles at me. I am feeling such low self esteem here.

Also, my kids come home at 1:20 instead of 4 PM like they did in America, so I’m uptight all the time, and I have zero time in the mornings to do anything besides dishes, laundry, and making lunch and dinner. I have no time to do anything for myself.

Please save me before I pack up and leave. I dreamed to live in Israel my WHOLE LIFE; this is my dream for me and for my kids. But I feel like everything here is an argument and difficult and I’m always pressed for time. And I’m always feeling impatient and I’m rude to my kids and they’re rude to me and to each other, and I feel like everything’s crumbling. Please save me before I just pack up and leave…

I also feel like when my husband and I first became religious, everything was glowing and amazing. And today I feel so lonely and wonder where all that glow of early teshuva disappeared to? I have four other friends who feel like me and we keep giving each other chizuk but after this Pesach I need major chizuk.
Thanks Debra, I would appreciate any advice you could give me…

–Overwhelmed Olah

Dear Overwhelmed Olah,

Thank you for sharing your feelings. I think that many of us at times feel the way you do; burnt out, overwhelmed, and alone with no or little family here in Israel to turn to for help. Wouldn’t we all love for things to run smoother in our homes, and for the love and excitement of living in Israel to be constantly on our minds?

Here are 3 things that might help:

1. Make time for yourself. Even if it’s only a half hour a week, it’s important to find time for yourself by doing something you ENJOY. Having this time for yourself will give you something to look forward to each week and will reenergize your batteries. By giving to yourself, you can most properly give to your family.
2. Write down each day 2-3 things you are grateful for. It could be about living in the land of Israel, your children, your husband, etc. It could even be feeling grateful for the daily challenges you encounter as opportunities to grow. By looking at the positive, you will slowly begin to appreciate all the good and will focus less on the negative.
3. You nailed this one – giving each other chizuk. Kol hakavod that you and your friends are strengthening each other. Having a support group can be a huge help in feeling that you’re not the only one going through a particular situation. Continue to share and support each other.

And with Yom Ha’atzmaut approaching, I’d just like to share my own personal reflections on living in Israel. Over Pesach, I couldn’t help thinking how depressing it was to have no family to spend the chag with. (Although my husband kept reminding me that WE are a family!) While the rest of my apartment building packed out to go to family, we were the only ones who remained. That meant lots of cooking for me to do and no other children for my kids to play with. And yet, reflecting back on the chag now, I’m thinking how lucky my family is to be living in Israel. We were able to spend our days of chol hamoed traversing the land of Israel, visiting the kotel and being surrounded by fellow Jews all celebrating the same holiday.

Whether we live in Israel or abroad, as moms, we all go through difficult times. We may feel very alone, have no time for ourselves or having no support. I challenge all of us to always create a bit of time for ourselves and to always look at our hardships as opportunities to grow into more enriched, better individuals.

All the best,

Debra David is a Life Coach specifically for moms. She coaches moms to feel motivated, happy and fulfilled. She helps moms change, creating the life they are looking for, one step at a time. As a mom to 3 lively young children, Debra knows firsthand what its like trying to balance many responsibilities. She believes strongly that women need to feel confident, motivated and fulfilled and get their own needs met in order to give to those around them.

To learn more about one-on-one coaching by phone, or to sign up for her FREE Mommy Tips, visit her website at

Photo courtesy of user Jafi Israel


  1. olah ema

    I just wanted to post, like the Overwhelmed Olah, I am too an American BT, who came to Israel without any other family. I often feel overwhelmed, lonely and frustrated, and with work and learning, find little time to connect with my husband. I think this is important too. I thought we’d be coming together and working as a team.

    To fix this we try to have dinner together, and are now trying to institute discussion time for issues each night to go over the needs of the day, week, etc. Even with one issue that’s taking up most of our time the past week, it’s been a relief to not have to worry about it on my own, with just passing words, or discussions at the last minute. Another thing we hope to do is travel more, enjoy the land and help me connect to it(this isn’t an issue for my husband). I think having an enjoyable time rather than juggling home life 6 days a week (and even more on Shabbas) will help too.

    Just know you’re not alone. and there may be other communities that are more suited to an American olah. We live in one, and it’s helped a lot as well.

    Good luck!

  2. Debra, I had a very similar experience to yours when we lived in Israel. We lived in Nachlaot where we didn’t know a soul and didn’t have much in common with the locals. We found taxi drivers so stressful and aggressive that we chose to walk for 20 minutes with our weekly shopping, and the secretaries at Meuchedet reduced me to sobs over my language barrier. We wrestled and sweated over bank accounts, water bills, buses, pretty much everything we had to achieve which involved any interaction with the outside world and when we came home at bein hazmanim, we almost didn’t return.

    But when our first baby’s arrival was imminent we realised we’d need a support system, some friends, so we took advice and moved to Ramat Beit Shemesh.

    The difference in atmosphere was incredible. Yes, it’s not the Iyr Hakodesh, but what was different in Ramat Beit Shemesh was that the frenzy was gone. No traffic jams, no piles of rubbish, no rush. Taxi drivers charge a fixed fare for journeys so there’s no fight over the fee. The local paediatrician always has time for you. Women gather in the square outside the shops, or in parks, to schmooze. We found our niche and settled right in.

    I don’t know if it would be the same for you, and you didn’t mention where you are, but perhaps a change of location could make all the difference, and I know Ramat Beit Shemesh in particular is full of American baalei teshuva 🙂

    • I hear how difficult this is for you. One of the replies spoke about moving to an area that is more Anglo friendly. As a newlywed Baalas Teshuva we hooked up with an English speaking Kollel community for Baalei Teshuva. We all became each other’s sister, and more.
      Some people give chizuk that can leave you feeling more lonely and down, make sure all sharing is positive and leads you to a place of strength and not weakness.
      An idea might be helpful is to let yourself be “adopted” by an older Olah that can listen, direct, explain and laugh with you. For me it was a great help to have an “older sister”, she led me through the maze until I felt confident.
      Wishing you an easier time, as with all mothering, twenty years down the road you will have many funny stories to tell. My daughters in law love listening to how I fell on my face over and over again.
      Want to laugh? About ten years ago a slang expression came out in Hebrew-“chaval al hazman”, literally a waste of time. The irony was that it was to be understood as great! My daughter-in-law to be tasted something I made, and as a new kallah exclaimed, “chaval al hazman”, I guess I looked hurt, and then she explained. Now we all laugh at our first mother-in-law daughter-in-law lesson.


    Sounds to me like you need to sit down with your husband ASAP and reevaluate your situation. 5 children 6 and under would be overwhelming anywhere! All the more so with no help, with a difficult schedule and in uncomfortable circumstances. Things like his being more available to help you and considering another neighborhood to live in are a must! Also, his dealing with the bureacracy and not you, the kids are more than enough for you to deal with. There are parenting workshops that you might consider attending to keep you on track. As to the “glow of early teshuva” – you need to keep spiritually charged either by attending a shiur or availing yourself of the thousands of classes online that you can watch, listen to, download.
    In short, changes need to be made and I hope you work it out, hatzlacha.

  4. I think that Debra’s advice is good, but when you are overwhelmed by these kinds of feelings, it is oh-so-hard to pull yourself out. One thing’s for sure, having friends who empathize with your frustration helps a lot. Having friends helps a lot period.

  5. Karen Furman

    I am also American BT (since 1997)and a new Oleh (since August 2010).
    We have 4 + 1 one the way I’H, with the oldest almost 12. Like you, we have no family in Israel.

    We found a lovely community in the North that has a small but growing Anglo religious community. Everyone in our chevra looks out for each other. Our friends have become our family, as also was the case in America since our friends were the ones whom we spent Shabbos and Yom Tov with.

    My new Olim friends are the ones with whom we share frustrations over hours of government offices that don’t hold by the posted hours, the best places where to shop, integration issues about the kids, Shabbos meals,etc.

    It is very overwhelming to have many little ones, and the day-to-day is especially tough when you are sleep-deprived and have no “me time”.

    One thing pre-Aliyah that was a life-saver was FlyLady. The website is She teaches you how to have daily routines and help you declutter and get organized. The is also a Jewish version yahoo group you can join. She also has a Facebook page. These sites helped so much with the day-to-day tasks and time management.

    In terms of Aliyah, it sounds like you need a change in community. As someone once told us, whether it be your job or your community, your first one may just be a stepping stone to take you to the next step.

    For example, we love our community, but rented a place in a neighborhood that is not where the kehila is and are not happy there. So, in August when our lease is up we will look for a place in the neighborhood where our chevra is.

    So in the meantime, we are making the best of it and need to put forth extra effort to get the children together with their friends.

    I have learned from experience both here and in the USA that people are busy with their own lives. Many times I must take the initiative to make the first phone call, make the suggestion of meeting at the park, or putting out the Shabbos invitation. But if it gets you interacting with others, it is well worth the effort.


  6. Debra, I hear you, I hear you!!!!

    I’m not an olah chadasha (16 years ago), but I am a ba’alas teshuva also just over 3 years ago.

    I’m also going thru the post-teshuva “where did all my dvekus go?” stage….and I also stick out like a sore thumb in my neighbourhood!!!! I’m sure even if I wore “the” uniform I’d still look different. If it’s not the talk, it’s the walk!!

    I can’t imagine going through teshuva and aliyah at the same time. Wow. You really hit the jackpot, eh?! No wonder you’re under attack. You didn’t think the yetzer hara was going to let a gem like you get away with the goodie bag, did you?! I’m not big on advice, but I love to share teshuva stories.

    I’d be happy to pour an extra cup of coffee one morning and share some of that precious 3.5 hours of free-time-away-from- the-kids…and maybe a little cake, if you don’t diet. I told you I was a little different….

  7. HI. I am an olah as well, 5 years in September thank G-d. It is always difficult in the beginning. We lived in efrat and that really helped us, the american community was like a second family. This past year we felt ready to spead our wings and bought a house in an israeli community and we are very happy but we call it the second half of our aliyah and go visit our family in efrat now for shabbos. I find looking at the probolem peice by peice helps me. Do you need more help at home? yes! How can you get it? Can you afford outside help or does your husband need to be home more during the intial acclimation period? You feel lonely? Yes! Sometimes having friends with the same problems can bring you down if the chizuk is more empathizing and complaining then strategizing on how to improve. Look for the happiest people to be friends with and copy them. Good luck and despite the intial lows know that even washing the dishes here and struggling you are constantly fulfilling a mitzva. jUst like when you are pregnant living here can be uncomfortable especially initially but you are building something miraculous and Hahsem is supporting you. I find that I ask Him for everything I need here instead of calling up mom and that difference is a gift of aliyah.

  8. Dear Overwhelmed,
    I was in your same boat a few years ago–we also live in an Israeli neighborhood, and moving is not an option. The thing I found from a lot of my friends who reached a crisis point and went back to the US: the crisis wasn’t really about Israel, and moving didn’t really solve anything. The stage you’re in in your life right now is a hard one: a house full of small children, the completely predictable spiritual crisis that happens to all of us baalot teshuva a few years into our marriages, and probably issues of parnassa, shalom bayis etc etc. You need to remember that it would be hard anywhere. It’s easy to imagine that just by changing locations, all your problems would be solved. Maybe some of them would, but they’d be replaced by other problems. I recommend trying to make (frum) friends in your area. You’d be surprised how much Israeli women want to hear about life in the US. Even the language barrier can be overcome–most of them have learned English in school, enough to start a conversation. And there are many Israeli baalot teshuva, too. The advantage of making Israeli friends is that they’ll not only be a support system, but also help you understand the bureacracy and give you tips that are more local-minded, like what to do with the kids all afternoon. You’d be surprised–they don’t think juggling household chores and a large family is so easy, either. B’hatzlacha!

  9. These are all great comments.

    I would like to emphasize to GET HELP! Many teenage girls are looking for a little income, and they can take some kids out, or play with them at home, or clean up your kitchen, or bathe your kids. For many years, a lovely girl would come to my home Thursday afternoons to help bathe the kids, check their hair for lice, and help give them supper. The kids got to know her and liked her a lot.

  10. Ayalah Haas

    At the breaking point? TELL HaSHEM! Even before I lose my cool, I hear myself asking Him to help me serve Him successfully as a wife, mother, and eved HaShem. I am blessed with a devoted husband and 3 children under 7 years old (for which I also thank Him!) and that afterschool/gan block of time can be a knockout. Every day, I have to ask HaShem to step in and help me through it — to help me serve Him as a CALM, capable wife and mommy.

    Additionally, kudos to replies by S.K. from Ramat Beit Shemesh, Dena, and especially Karen Furman for their practical advice.

    Please continue to make every effort to remain in Israel! I doubt your “answer” is in Chutz L’Aretz at this point. Mashiach is so close! And HaShem is always closer…

    Wishing you much comfort and assistance…

  11. Israeli Eema

    As they say in Hebrew, kol hatchalot kashot [all beginnings are difficult]. You are in a very tough place right now with so many young children and no older children to help. Your older kids will get older still and be able to help more and you will be slightly less overwhelmed.

    As far as being far from family, I remember those days well. I remember wanting to cry because it seemed like every other person in the entire country was busy with family for Pesach and we were all alone here with our young children. Well, many years later, my mother and my only other sibling live right here in my city and we have children, grandchildren, my brother, my nieces and nephews, and my mother all living here in Israel, many of the above right in our city!

    But I can hear you saying that it’s different for you because you are a ba’alas tshuva — well, so were we. My brother and mother became frum only years after we did.

    Just remember, life is always changing and we are always growing as people and Jews. Kids get older, people change, and if we can just hang on we find that we can really make it through very well.

    Making time for yourself is a good suggestion, as is having a support group of friends that you go through life’s challenges with. I know that the friends that we made in our first year or two here have stayed lifelong friends and we still stay close despite now living in many different places in Israel.

    If you were to go back to the States, you would find that even if you had more child care help and even if you did speak the language better, your husband would be just as busy and life with young children would be just as hard if not harder, the people there more involved in material pursuits and family than here, and you would still be able to feel as if you had a huge “Ba’alas Tshuva” sign on your forehead.

    Your klita should just go easily from here on in!

  12. i’ve been here 20yrs. came when i was 19yrs old… no family here.. came here on a whim… and eventually caved in BEFORE NBN existed. my entire adult life has been spent in israel. i know virtually nothing of adult american ways in the US. my husband z”l, came from a very primitive part of russia 30yrs ago. due to smoking- and refusal to go to the doc’s.. sadly he was taken from us before his time. i have no family here… have lost touch with his family… and unfortunately, due to many reasons, and lack of support of caring for my daughter, we have to go back to the states, so i can re-invent myself and earn a better living. i came here american and going back israeli (to a degree). LIVING HERE IS HARD! REALLY VERY HARD! you do need to find time for yourself. just last week- i went to tel aviv to visit friend- i hadn’t been to dizengoff centre in probably 10yrs. i haven’t been to haifa in 15yrs… YOU NEED TO GET OUT.. GET A BABYSITTER! …. unfortunately, i’m lacking a lot of means for things here that have left me with no choice but to return to the US. if i had it my way, i’d be here 9mos out of the year for school and spend 3 summer months in the US…

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