Navigating the Pilot Trip
Updated: Jul 2, 2020
When my oldest was a year and a half and I was pregnant with my second daughter, we decided to take a "pre-pilot" trip. I know what you are thinking – "hey, Rayla, don’t you mean a Pilot Trip?" No, no I do not. A pilot trip is for people who want to travel to Israel to plan for Aliyah. A pre-pilot trip is for people who want to travel to Israel to plan for Aliyah but are too scared to actually call it a pilot trip. We were definitely in the latter category.
On our pre-pilot trip, being the planner that I am, we carefully mapped out our days and times and chose which communities we would check out. We made lists and schedules and checked google maps (pre-Waze era) in advance so I could map out the most efficient driving routes). We spoke with very helpful people from Nefesh b'nefesh and we "networked" with potential contacts to help with our careers (i.e., a much nicer way of saying we spoke to people who we could potentially use later on in life).
To be honest, with all of our planning and scheduling, the trip was NOT A SUCCESS in terms of our Aliyah progression. I'm not exactly sure where the trip took the wrong turn but, looking back, I feel like my planning was focusing on the wrong goal for the trip. Typically, when something makes me nervous or anxious, I make lists (also when something makes me happy or excited or angry…you get the idea). It helps recenter me and gives me a plan. Clearly this trip and the whole idea of moving was something that made me feel really anxious. In order to reduce my feelings of apprehension, I planned our pre-pilot trip to focus all about the practical and logistical issues of how one makes Aliyah work. Practical and logistical issues I can deal with – i.e., the when's and how's of Aliyah. I forgot to focus on the 'if' part. Is this a place we can actually see ourselves living and raising a family? I did not plan for that question and instead it snuck up on me when I was in this strange country with a screaming toddler and very active pregnancy hormones.
It was like we were planning the wedding with Israel when we should have been going on our first or second date.
We ended up getting so completely freaked out from all the discussions we had with people and all the crazy things we needed to consider and prepare that instead of the trip serving as a stepping stone for our Aliyah planning, we both left Israel feeling that the move was not for us. Thinking back, I think we put way too much pressure on ourselves too early in the process. At that point, we were not realistically planning on making Aliyah for at least another 4 years. I personally think the trip would have been more successful if we put less pressure on the outcome and the plans and just used it as a time to get to know the country so it didn’t seem like such a strange place to us. It was like we were planning the wedding with Israel when we should have been going on our first or second date.
So many people we met with during our trip said, "living here is so difficult, but we really love it." I remember Yosef and I driving back to our airbnb from one of these meetings and Yosef (with a hint of panic in his voice) said, why would we want to live somewhere that everyone says is so difficult?" Only now, after living here for 6 years, I understand. It's kind of like having children. No one will tell you having children is easy. I love my kids but they are definitely NOT easy – they can be dirty, messy and emotional, needy and high-maintenance and sometimes just plain 'ol crazy (it must be from Yosef's side), but I wouldn’t change having them for anything in the world. They quite literally add color to my life. The decision to live here, is kind of like that (except the childbirth pains are less physical and more emotional).
To be honest, I think if you are able to take a pilot trip (or pre-pilot trip for those commitment phobes out there) it is very helpful and makes the landing a bit easier. In my personal opinion, I do not think it is an absolute necessity (although I am sure others may disagree). On our pilot trip we never looked at the community we ended up choosing and, overall, it wasn't very helpful in terms of actual decision making. If finances are an issue, I firmly believe having the extra money when you make the move to Israel is more important than spending it on the pilot trip. Having said that though, if you can afford it, I definitely recommend it.
If I could go back and plan the trip all over again, here is what I would have focused on - consider this the first of my many "lists":
Pilot Trip Tips
If you are able to go to Israel multiple times before Aliyah, great. Assuming that is not the case, I recommend taking the trip closer to the actual Aliyah date (about a year beforehand). In my opinion, this will make the planning aspects much more practical and less theoretical.
2. Career planning
In a country as small as Israel, so many opportunities arise just based on who you know. Consider this trip as an amazing opportunity to network. Before you go, find people who have your educational background or career background by contacting organizations like nefesh b'nefesh and by searching on Facebook groups like "Living financially smarter in Israel" or "Anglo-Israel Job Network." For woman, you can also try the Facebook group "Ima Kadima." Stalk Linked In for the type of companies you may be a good fit for and see if you have any connections to people who work there. These are great resources to start getting names of contacts who can help you. Ask questions and gather information – don't be shy about asking for help! Before I became more "Israeli" I was so shy and embarrassed to ask for help but Israelis usually love helping (whether you want it or not). If possible, on your trip aim to try to get an idea about potential salary ranges for someone with your background. Schedule interviews (or, if it's too early before your Aliyah, coffee meetings or something more informal) to discuss job opportunities.
3. Choosing a location
This one is one of the most complex and important parts of the Pilot trip. I recommend the following:
- Before you go, research. Speak to Anglos in different communities in order to be able to narrow down your list of potential locations (at some point I hope to upload a post about different communities, until then you will have to be your own investigator). Check out the nefesh b'nefesh site for an overview of a few popular Anglo communities. If you don't have a contact that lives there, cross it off your list. Just kidding, if you don't have a contact and can't find one on nefesh b'nefesh, look for a Facebook group with Anglos from that community. For example, in Givat Shmuel we have a group called "Sam's Hills Anglos." This was an amazing resource for me and I am sure something similar exists for most other communities.
- After you narrow down the locations to your top few choices, I would spend a few hours in each of those communities. For people making Aliyah with kids, I recommend staying around in the early evenings when not everyone is in school and you can meet people in the parks or malls. See if your contact can give you a tour and tell you about the neighborhood. This one I like to call "find yourself a Melanie." Melanie is a friend I made through Sam's Hills Anglos when I posted a question online right after we made Aliyah. 5 minutes later, this random (extremely persistent) person calls me and tells me she is picking me up in 5 minutes to drive me around and give me a tour. I was scared for my life at the time, but I really wish I had found a Melanie prior to our Pilot trip.
- Spend Shabbat in the place that you are most interested in. This is the real way to get a feel of the community and people who live there and determine if its right for you.
- The most important thing to keep in mind is to leave all preconceived notions at home and go with an open mind. Before our trip, Yosef and I were both convinced that we were moving to Modiin. We visited multiple places on our pre-pilot trip and ended up moving somewhere we didn’t even know existed at the time. When discussing this list with my friend Abby, she said that on her pilot trip she told herself to pick 3 communities to look at but to go into the trip knowing that it's possible they may choose somewhere else entirely and that’s ok too. Abby is smart, listen to Abby.
- If you already decided on the location, you can spend more time on the details and getting to know the community (e.g., schools, apartment, shuls (if applicable), health insurance options, shopping, etc.)
4. Get to know the locals
Seriously, just speak to everyone you see – Israelis, Anglos, Russian, etc. This is the best way to get a feel of the land and the people. If you are open to it, you can walk into a Makolet (grocery store) to buy gum and leave knowing the owner's full life story, names of his grandkids and all about the one time his third cousin went to Brooklyn ("maybe you know him?"). Israelis love to share their knowledge and talk.
5. Visit an Israeli apartment
I highly recommend seeing a sample or two of the type of home or apartment you plan on living in (sizes vary depending on the location). For example, if you are only visiting friends who live in huge homes up North but you are planning on living in a 2 bedroom apartment in Tel Aviv, your expectations may be a bit unrealistic. This will also give you an idea of how much you should be bringing from your current home when making Aliyah.
6. Make fun a priority
Yes, it's true that the purpose of your trip is to gather information and get things done, but one our biggest mistakes is that we didn’t take the time to really fall in love with the land. Israel is beautiful. There are amazing hikes and trails, great museums and historical sites (check out loveloveisrael for planning ideas). Make sure the trip is not 100% about planning but also has fun components. Feeling stressed and anxious the whole trip will definitely contribute to you leaving the country with less of a desire to return and live there.
In the planning templates section I also uploaded a simple template that you can use to start planning your trip and utilize your time efficiently. Obviously, the template will need to be tailored depending on the age group of the family members, potential communities, time allocated, etc. It's just meant to be an idea of how to organize the trip.
If any of you reading this have taken your own pilot trips (or pre-pilot, no judgement here) and have advice or points to add, please leave it in the comments. I am happy to update the template with your suggestions as well!