Tamar Sobel, Rabin, Karmiel
We moved from Lakewood, New Jersey to Karmiel eleven years ago. Of course, we wanted to live in Yerushalayim, but my sister-in-law who was living in Karmiel suggested we would have a “softer landing” in a small community, and an easier time integrating. At the time our oldest daughter and son were in the ninth and eighth grades. B”H, we all acclimated very nicely.
The first six months, though, were very difficult for the kids. Back in Lakewood they had been very popular in school, and here, not really knowing any Hebrew, they couldn't understand what was going on. My 11-year-old son was especially upset. One day he threw a tantrum and was literally on the floor, complaining “Why did you bring us here?” and screaming so loudly that the neighbor called the police! It was a very embarrassing scene. If you'd meet him today, you'd never imagine; he's totally Israeli, and is learning in Beis Mattisyahu, a respected Israeli yeshivah in Bnei Brak. The younger kids also became Israeli, though the ones older than him remained more American.
Like my kids, most of the Anglos here in Karmiel came without really knowing Hebrew. They did come with an open mind, though, trying to learn the language and otherwise integrate. This is very important here, so that one would be able to communicate properly where necessary, such as with the rebbeim and teachers of the children, and with the local rabbonim. It's not like some other places in the country where a large percentage of the population knows English and you can get by without Hebrew.
So what does attract frum Anglos to Karmiel? As the only Anglo real-estate agent in Karmiel's frum community, I can tell you from my perspective, and from what I heard from others who have come here or considered doing so.
Housing is much cheaper here than in Yerushalayim or Beit Shemesh. For 2.5 to 3 million shekels, you can get a beautiful private villa with a piece of land and possibly even a pool. For those looking for something really affordable, there are also decent three-bedroom apartments suitable for young or small families going for about 750 to 800-thousand shekels. The Dromit neighborhood – one of the two primary areas where members of the frum community live, and where the mosdos chinuch are located – has many styles of housing at different levels of affordability, all within a small area. This is conducive to the growth of the community, as it allows families at various socioeconomic levels to be a part of the community.
People also come here because they want to be a part of something. Living in a small community far out from the center, each and every family matters. People help each other out and are there for each other. In general, the kehillah, numbering over 200 families, is community-oriented, and the 30-40 Anglo families even more so. We try to do shabbatonim for the Anglo families maybe once or twice a year, to get to know the new families.
It is a small, diverse but cohesive kehillah, all under the leadership of Rav Avraham Tzvi Margalit, shlita, who works specifically to maintain the unity and to otherwise make things happen here. Our shul, headed by Rav Kaniel, shlita, includes avreichim as well as people working in various fields, including health, law and accounting. The more yeshivish and the less yeshivish all get along, forming one kehillah even while sending their children to different schools.
All the mosdos chinuch are under the auspices of Rav Margalit. Although there already was a standard Chareidi cheider here, the rav opened another one to cater to the needs of those who wanted a higher level of limudei chol alongside a serious limudei kodesh program. Aside from some of the Israeli Chareidi families, this included some of the Anglo families, as well as some of the local families who had become baalei teshuvah through kiruv outreach but were not really a match for a classic Israeli cheider. This cheider also has very good rebbeim. There are English speakers among the staff of the various mosdos, which is a big help with integration.
As for boys' high school, there is a local yeshivah ketanah which is very Israeli and very Chareidi. There are no limudei chol and it is not at all American style. I sent my kids there and I was very happy with it. There is also the recently-established Ziv Ohr high school, a branch of Nehora, which has a limudei chol curriculum but a lower level of limudei kodesh.
I think the success of my children has to do also with our “we are here now” attitude as parents. We were not complaining about or trying to change the system. Even within most Israeli yeshivos there are all sorts of people, and if you come with an open mind you will find others like you. If you can't or are not willing to mend yourself to fit into one system where you might have to let go of some of your American expectations, look for another one where you can find your way within.
Although Karmiel is a planned city with all the conveniences including malls, supermarkets and a train station, there aren't too many frum shopping options. From a materialistic point of view, I would say that for frum Jews, Karmiel is twenty years behind. In my opinion, this is a good thing. Even my teenage daughter doesn't go shopping for clothing more than maybe twice a year, as this involves a trip to the Chareidi population centers. Instead, she spends time with friends by going for walks and other simple activities. Kids grow up more mature and less spoiled or pampered. There are, though, parks all around, places to ride bikes, and the physical space that provides menuchas hanefesh.
Putting Things in Perspective
Reminiscing about our move from Lakewood to Karmiel, my daughter mentioned an interesting aspect of her culture shock.
When we were living in Lakewood, she had attended an upper-class school where there were girls from well-to-do families that would come to school with designer items. Though we were living comfortably, my daughter didn't have these things, and she felt like she was sort of second class.
Among her friends in Karmiel were those who had to earn their own money by babysitting and the like to buy their own clothing! This was something she had never seen before, and it helped her put her own challenges and hardships into perspective.