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What’s the best age to make aliyah? (Spoiler: There isn’t one.)


What's the best age to make aliyah?  What's the worst age?  The truth is, there is no perfect age.  It’s always hard.

You read that right: making aliyah can be tough at any age, but I also believe it can be great at any age.  So much depends on you, and where you are in your life, and how flexible you are and ready for change and challenge (and growth, and we all know growth is painful!).

Yes, aliyah is tough.  HOWEVER.  Since there are no clouds without a silver lining, there’s always a flipside... so I thought it would be fun to put together three reasons it's tougher to make aliyah when you're older, along with three reasons it’s easier... and then the flipside: three reasons it’s tougher when you're younger and three reasons it’s easier. 

Whew!  It sounds complicated to explain, but I think it’ll be clear when you see it all laid out down below.  Let’s get started!

Making aliyah when you're older is...

HARDER because…

EASIER because…

1) Jobs

There are always exceptions, but overall, it's true: Israeli employers discriminate.  Almost all older olim find they're working in lower-level positions in Israel and for significantly less money.  Of course, this is true for many younger olim as well, but younger olim have more hope of a long, successful career path which will lead to great places 10 or 20 years down the line.  I suspect older olim are more focused on the here and now, employment-wise.

1) Jobs

Believe it or not, the ability to work can be an advantage if you’re an older oleh or olah. Why? Because although many Israelis are forced to quit working when they reach the compulsory retirement age of 67, as an English speaker you may well be able to continue working if you’re working online for a non-Israeli company or if you have your own business. Not everybody wants to keep working into their retirement years, of course… but lots of us do and plan to (or have to), and your special skills may help you do that when many Israelis can’t. (Check with an accountant – under age 70, earning income may affect your pension entitlement!)

2) Language

You can learn a language at any age, of course, but again, another generalization: for lots of us it's tougher when you're older.  Even if we’ve read Hebrew and maybe even written Hebrew for much of our lives, it can be incredibly hard to transition to making it a full-time language. Many older olim choose to live in English-speaking “bubbles” because of this–communities with high percentages of Anglo olim—but those also tend to be more expensive communities, like Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh, Netanya, and others.

2) Retirement

Many older olim find that their retirement savings and pensions from the U.S., Canada, or the U.K. go further here in Israel, in part because you may be spending less on healthcare. You may also be eligible for the national senior card (last I checked the age for this was 62 for women, 67 for men, but check because the age sometimes changes!).

3) Grandkids

Ouch. And I don’t even have grandkids yet, but I strongly suspect that I wouldn’t want to be away from them for a second. Seriously, though, being away from family is stressful at any age, and maybe more so later in life. There’s no easy answer for this. You just have to hope the kids, grandkids, grandnieces, nephews, and everybody else chooses to spend lots of time in Israel now that you’re here.

3) Healthcare

Many older olim are healthy, but the odds that you'll have to access the healthcare system are higher if you're older.  That’s just statistics, For folks living in the U.S., this can be a source of stress as you age.  Sure, many Jews are comfortably middle- or upper-class and aren't actively worried about healthcare and insurance.  But not all.  And we've all seen the stories about comfortable middle-class families that were financially wiped out by one devastating illness.  The odds that that will happen in Israel are much lower, and not having to wonder where the payments are coming from can be a huge relief for many olim who are anticipating healthcare expenses.

On the other hand…

Making aliyah when you’re younger is…

HARDER because…

EASIER because…

1) Education

If you come right after high school / seminary / yeshiva, you’ll probably want to get an education before starting your work career in Israel. And that means struggling to learn Hebrew, as well as meeting Israeli academic standards, which may be different from what you were expecting. I say this from some secondhand experience – after earning a high school diploma and completing 2 years of seminary mixed with some college courses in English, our daughter then had to spend a year in a “mechina,” a university-preparation program that taught Hebrew along with science and math. This year, after five years in Israel, she finally started studying nursing in a Hebrew-language program in Jerusalem.

1) Education

If you’re under 35 (a reader has corrected me to say this age is actually 30; always check your individual situation in any event), the Ministry of Aliyah will currently pay for the first degree you earn in Israel, either a Bachelor’s or Master’s, depending on whether you already have a degree. The conditions of this offer are subject to change, so check with your aliyah advisor. But the biggest catch here is that the program usually has to be in Hebrew. So you’ll need to get your language skills up to snuff first. And we’ve learned from experience that the paperwork for this can be rough. The deadline is also pretty tight; I believe it’s 3 years from your aliyah date, so make sure you look into your rights immediately and find out what programs you’re interested in and what prerequisites they have.

2) Army

For many younger olim, and prospective olim, this might actually go at the top of the list of downsides to aliyah. It might even be a deal-breaker.  I don’t have much to say about this. I know lots of people say their army experience was overall very positive, and that’s great, but the fact is that if you’re young and healthy, the army wants a piece of you and it may be unpleasant and even dangerous (though the vast majority of soldiers complete their service completely unharmed!). They’ll give you a year to settle in, and then they’ll call you up to report for duty. If you’re a religious woman, it’s pretty easy to get an exemption, and you may want to do a year of sherut le’umi – National Service – as an alternative, though it’s completely voluntary. But if you’re a young man, unless you’re learning full-time in a haredi yeshiva, you’ll probably have to go. One plus is that if you’re a little older, you’ll probably serve less time. And army service looks great on your résumé – most Israeli employers expect to see this on there, so it will give you an edge in the long run.

2) Social circles

If you’ve gone to school, seminary, yeshiva, or been in the army here, chances are you also know many people at the same stage of life, so you may feel less lonely than older olim. Sure, you may not see all those people very single day (and if you were in yeshiva / seminary, chances are many of the people you knew went back home), but you’ll have lots more opportunities to call them up, or they’ll call you up when they’re back visiting Israel… or you’ll bump into them in Mahane Yehuda, or at the kotel, or just randomly wandering the streets of Tel Aviv one day. It’s a small country, and once you’ve made a few connections, especially if you’re young and open to these kinds of things, you’re connected for life. (That’s also why they tell you never to speak badly about a former employer, business colleague, or client – because it’s a small country and it WILL come back to bite you!)

3) Rootlessness

When I was young and just starting out, I really loved having my parents and, for a while, my grandparents around. I was proud to show off my babies and hear about what things were like when they were younger and raising kids. If you’re making aliyah on your own and your parents aren’t in Israel, you’ll be forced to do without the wisdom and guidance of previous generations. You may find helpful older couples along the way who will “adopt” you, but it may never feel the same as having your family around, especially when things go wrong and you need support.  You’ll be rootless (parachuteless, if you prefer that metaphor), reinventing the wheel and creating your own traditions, with all the tears and frustrations that entails.

3) A fresh start

If you’re looking for a husband or wife, finding him or her in Israel is a great way to ensure that you’re on the same page in terms of whether or not to live in Israel! And starting out here as a young married couple means less of a shock as you transition from doing things one way (measuring in cups, ounces, and pounds, for example) to doing things another way (ovens and temperatures in Celsius). After a few years on your own in Israel, you may not remember doing things any other way.

I don’t want you to think I’m judging anybody.  As always, your mileage will vary.  Every single person’s aliyah experience is influenced by so many different factors that it’s impossible to predict exactly what it’ll be like for you.

Also – these are just my thoughts.  If you’re already living here in Israel, I’d love it if you could share your experiences (challenges AND silver linings) and maybe that will help others as well.

But if things are looking down and you don’t think you’ll make it, it can help to have a sense of perspective and remember that there IS no perfect age.  A couple of years ago, I shared this brief guest post by Judy Resnick asking when the right time in life is to make aliyah.  She seems to agree –- it’s always the wrong time. 

So it’s up to us to find the silver lining… and MAKE it the right time if we possibly can.

Tzivia / צִיבְיָה


  1. This is a well thought-out post. Just one question. You wrote "If you’re under 35, the Ministry of Aliyah will currently pay for the first degree you earn in Israel, either a Bachelor’s or Master’s, depending on whether you already have a degree." I was just wondering where you got the age 35 number? Because from what I've heard (via NBN) it's up to 30. Here's info copied from : "Students must begin studies for an undergraduate degree, practical engineering program and certificate studies before the age of 27.
    Students must begin their studies for graduate degrees, certificated for undergraduates and re-training programs before the age of 30."

    1. Aha! I appreciate your letting me know, and I'll change the post accordingly. BUT the age and any other information / restrictions is subject to change at any time, so please check current info when you are making aliyah. From our experience, entitlements vary even between Canada and the U.S., so please check your individual situation as well.

  2. We made aliyah soon after our wedding, came young and dumb, and I never considered it difficult. Learning Hebrew was hard, but big deal. I never planned on working, though I ended up in all sorts of jobs. Gd willing just another year and a half and we'll hit the half century mark. Wow, we are ancient.

    1. After half a century, and having raised a family here, you're barely olim -- you've created the next generation and actually molded and shaped what Israel is today. You are the Establishment, and that's awesome. God willing by me someday. :-)
      My first husband and I talked about coming when we were first married, but since we didn't do it, I had my parents around while I was having kids. It was not the same blessing, but it was a HUGE blessing and I do feel sad for young couples who come here on their own who don't have parents and grandparents nearby...


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