Eli Mendel, Tzefas
I grew up in Manchester, attended school in Yeshiva Ketana Chayei Olam in London, and then the Yeshiva of Gateshead. Afterwards, I went to Eretz Yisroel to learn by R' Tzvi Kushelevsky for two years, just because that's what people were doing.
A shidduch was suggested for me with an American Israeli from Tzefas, but I wasn't sure if I wanted to live here or in Manchester because of the extremely different mentalities. Because I wanted to leave the door open to go back to Manchester, the shidduch was finalized without my commitment to living here in Eretz Yisroel. My wife suggested we first try living here for a year, and I felt secure doing so as I had "pas besalo"—that if I ever wanted, we could move back to Manchester. We have been here for nine years already and are very happy here. I see no reason to go back. In fact, we can't even see ourselves living in chutz la'Aretz anymore.
We started out in Yerushalayim. It was quite ridiculous to pay a whole month's salary for renting a basement, so we moved to Tzefas where the housing is much more affordable. You can even buy a private villa here—including a small unit to rent out to others—for less than a small apartment in Yerushalayim.
We came to Tzefas several years ago as part of the first major wave of young Chareidi families to move in. Back then there were four dogs in my building, which is not a common sight in your typical Chareidi neighborhood. Today there are none, and instead, you get to see lots of frum kids crossing the street to cheider or to school, just like in any other Chareidi city. If your impression of Tzefas is based on what you saw when you came here for vacation—even if it was only a few short years ago—I suggest you come to check it out again.
Here in Tzefas there is an atmosphere of peace and simplicity—you can be your real self here, as there is no need to show off. People here are friendly. In a way it's like a shtetl [little village], but it's also like a city. Besides for being beautiful and peaceful, Tzefas has everything we need. There are all kinds of mosdos and shuls here. Though I send my kids to a good Chassidish school, I am learning in a Litvish kollel. There are good Litvish and Chassidish chadorim and schools through high school. The Chassidish are united here and not sectored. We feel we all need each other, so there can be a kana'i, a Belzer chossid and a Rachmastrivka chossid all joined, putting their personal yichus aside to make things happen in the community.
There are shops of every kind here and none of them are open on Shabbos. Though there are many Jews here who are traditional, they are nonetheless connected to and have respect for Yiddishkeit. Neighborhoods are becoming more Chareidi as the non-religious are not really moving in. There aren't any churches or mosques here either.
There are also interesting job opportunities here. I get paid by someone to drive down every day to nearby Amuka to daven by the kever of the holy Tanna, Rabbi Yonasan Ben Uziel. I am also an agent for vacation apartments up north, for groups, yeshivos, and families. There are jobs specifically suitable for English speakers to engage in because of so many English-speaking tourists, including in the field of tourism and kiruv.
Tzefas has a very large English-speaking community, though they mostly are those who have come here to Eretz Yisroel at a young age and are therefore completely integrated with the Israelis. There are many Jews from France as well.
The calm atmosphere and the comfortable weather here have an appeal no less than places in chutz la'Aretz like where I grew up, while there is also the additional kedushas Eretz Yisroel. Being the highest city in Eretz Yisroel at nine-hundred meters above sea level, the breeze makes it comfortable even in the summer heat. The cold of the winter is something I'm used to from back in England. Being so elevated it often snows here. Magnificent views include the close-by Kinneret to the southeast and the snow-capped Hermon mountain to the north. On a clear day you can see all the way to Haifa on the west coast.
From here I can also easily and quickly get to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in Meiron whenever I want to. Some people from chutz la'Aretz pay thousands of dollars to come just for Lag Ba'omer, and for me it's almost free.
After all is said, I don't know where people get the notion that Tzefas is all about old mekubalim and broken-down houses. With such misconceptions, many people would not dare to live here. If they'd come for just a few weeks they'd be shocked to find it's such a beautiful and livable place, modern, yet with a lot of "character." If they would know how it really is here, they would wish they would have the opportunity to join us. Though maybe not for people who would really miss hectic city life, those who are looking for quiet would really enjoy it here, living in "vacation land" the whole year round.
It's All in the Mind
Among the countless great Tzaddikim buried in Tzefas there is one known as R' Leib Ba'al Yissurim [the afflicted one]. According to legend, he promised that he would help anyone who needed a yeshua who would come to his kever and say the whole Tehillim on Erev Shabbos after chatzos.
He was one of the first Ashkenazim to settle in Chevron, moving in his later years to Tzefas. Although it is not known what yissurim he went through to acquire this title, all of the early pioneers here in Eretz Yisroel went through substantial yissurim to be zoche to live here.
In these times, the yissurim for us to be zoche to live in Eretz Yisroel sometimes just amounts to changing our mindset.