Mindy Meyer, Rasko, Nof HaGalil
Between our engagement and chasuna, we scoured the entire Eretz Yisroel to find a place to live which would suit our preferences. I personally love traveling around to see different places here, and it's very empowering to know that each daled amos is also a mitzvah.
I wanted a yishuv, while my husband was more interested in a city, so we settled on (and in) Nof HaGalil. It is a mixture of out-of-town feel and style, with all the advantages of being a full-fledged city. Everyone here gets along, Jews and Arabs, frum Jews and chilonim, and it is perfectly normal to see different kinds of people sitting together. (Yes, this is being written soon after the time of Operation Guardian of the Walls, when there was some major unrest in some other cities with mixed Jewish and Arab populations, but we had absolutely none of that here.)
We are part of a small, warm and close-knit Chareidi kehillah of about 25 young families. There is also a small and similarly-sized group of families connected to the Torat HaChaim yeshivah of Yad Binyamin (formerly of Neve Dekalim, Gush Katif). Although they are culturally similar to Dati Leumi (National Religious), still, they are actually much closer to us hashkafically. They don't believe in the Medinah (State), nor do they send their kids to the army. Both groups daven together in the same central shul. I like it this way, where there is one place for everyone who wants HaShem in the center of their life.
Both groups also participate together in activities, shiurim, and various courses, and my personal circle of friends is mixed as well. Our chinuch is different though; while our kids may play together with theirs, we send our kids to the Chareidi mosdos in the nearby exclusively-Chareidi neighborhood of Har Yona, while they send to other mosdos. In another area of Nof HaGalil there is also a significant Chabad kehillah, which also includes some Anglos.
In a small community like ours, and in general in what is known as Eretz Yisroel's periphery (places a bit far from and smaller than the major population centers in the center of the country), there is more leeway; people are more accepting. People from solidly frum homes and more modern ones may all go to the same school, which usually also has smaller classes, allowing for more loving care and attention. This may be similar to out-of-town communities in America. I taught here in a Dati (religious but not Chareidi) school, and they were fine with having a Chareidi teacher.
In many out-of-town kehillos like ours, there is a young atmosphere, where people go after their dreams, and just go with what they believe. People can do their own thing if they want to – I know frum people who homeschool, and are still a part of their communities. Also, anyone who has a skill, whether or not they have an official degree, has a place to put it to use. It's not like in a big city, with many people already doing everything; here you have a better chance to find a place to express your talent.
Though the kehillah is centered around a kollel, those like my husband, who are working – he's a rebbi in a cheider in Chadera – are no less a part. The women get together once a month for a program and to shmooze, and being far from family, are all there for each other, helping with meals, babysitting, Shabbos and more, as needed. Recently the entire kehillah went away for a weekend get-together, and it was a beautiful bonding experience.
Although I'm a chutznik (from Gateshead) – and in terms of mentality I will stay a chutznik – I have found that Israelis will be accepting of me as long as I am also accepting of them and open to understanding and appreciating them. Their culture includes telling you straight out what they think, being straight to the point, and no shows. Their attitudes and behaviors, stemming from their different culture, may sometimes drive you mad, but – from my own experience – at the end of the day, they really care, and ultimately, they'll be there for you “ad hasof” (i.e. entirely, lit. until the end). I know what I believe in and sometimes choose to do things differently than they would – it's my life, after all – but I do realize that there is a sense of logic to their culture as well, different from mine as it may be.
Learning Hebrew made things a lot easier for me. Don't be scared of making mistakes: I initially made loads and loads of embarrassing mistakes, but Israelis are very understanding and helpful. The truth is that many people here understand English, even if they say they don't. A cousin of mine once got on a bus here and started speaking to the driver in English. He responded in Hebrew that he didn't understand English. She replied in English, “You're a liar! They told me that everyone here knows English!” to which he burst out laughing, understanding exactly what she had just said...
It was important to me that my kids would be proficient in English at mother-tongue level, so I started an English-speaking gan (kindergarten). The amusing result is that the gan-aged kids in our kehillah know English while many of their parents don't…
Fulfilling a Dream
I recently fulfilled an old dream of mine, to hike through the Shvil MiYam LeYam (Sea to Sea Trail) which crosses the north of Eretz Yisroel, spanning from the Mediterranean until the Kinneret. It takes three days of trekking from morning to nightfall, part of it going through Nachal Kziv stream. It is relatively family-friendly; I saw a seven-year old doing it too. There are so many such wonderful opportunities here in Eretz Yisroel!