Packing for the Desert + My Israeli Apartment
Have you ever participated in one of those icebreakers where someone asked you what you would bring to a deserted island if you could only bring 3 things with you?
When I first made my list of what I should pack on my lift from America to Israel, this is basically what I asked myself but instead of 3 things I replaced it with a 20ft container. Otherwise, the thought process was the same. I imagined Israel as a deserted island where I would never be able to buy anything again except for hummus, hippy looking sandals, Judaica and head scarves.
In my mind, I needed to bring everything with me and if not, all hope was lost. Obviously, the startup nation could not possible have paper towels with just the right amount of strength and absorbency as my beloved American paper towels. There is no way Israel, a land in a desert, has the professional know-how to adequately smash tuna into a can. Therefore, I must pack enough on my lift to sustain my family for the foreseeable future, right?
After 6 years on this "deserted" island, this is what I have learned: Israel has paper towels and tuna. They have furniture and appliances. They even have ziplock bags! Whatever we don't have here, you can also get on Amazon or other sites. So the first step in deciding what to take with you on the lift is understanding that you can survive on products in Israel. Having said that, there are often better quality and cheaper options outside of Israel. Despite the fact that I now understand that I can survive without my American products, if you are bringing a lift anyway, it can certainly help make you more comfortable and make the transition time in the beginning easier.
The first few times we travelled back to the U.S., I had a running list of items I updated throughout the year of all of the "must haves" to buy in America. I think one of the "secrets" to managing life in Israel is understanding that those items are not necessarily "must haves" but rather "nice to haves." For the most part, we have fully transitioned into Israeli products. My kids prefer Osem ketchup to Heinz (judge-free zone?) and have adjusted to Israeli cereals (or at least American cereals that they sell in mainstream supermarkets here). The only products we have trouble finding here are certain health food items we love like nutritional yeast and hemp seeds (ya, we are that kind of crunchy) but these we can manage to buy through iherb.
Below is a breakdown of some of the "nice to haves" and general packing tips. This list is compiled not just from my personal experiences but also from several other resources, including friends and from various Facebook groups to make it as comprehensive as possible (shout out to one of my besties, Ayelet from Raanana, who made Aliyah more recently than I did. We had different views on a couple of things but her insights were extremely helpful and included in this post). Just keep in mind that, to each their own, things that are important to me may not be important to you and vice versa.
I am including some pictures below of my Israeli apartment so you can get an idea of my setup. There is no such thing as an"average" apartment in Israel but my apartment is an average apartment in that we are fairly average people. We are not fancy people and did minimal "shiputzim" or construction in the apartment before we moved in. Our furniture was bought based on a budget and the fact that I am too practical to spend a lot of money on something that will likely be used and abused by my children.
"Front Closet" area
Be prepared that most Israeli apartments do not have a front closet. We hung up hooks and shoe boxes from IKEA to help organize this area but the best way to set this up will depend on your specific apartment layout.
To the extent you plan on buying things from IKEA, know that the IKEA in the US is significantly cheaper than IKEA in Israel but hooks, etc. are not big ticket items so you can buy them here without a problem.
Less is more. No need to pack huge winter coats and snow suits for the family unless you are planning on taking annual ski trips. Depending on where you will be living, in many areas in Israel the winters are fairly mild.
If you plan on paying for a lift anyway, I say bring everything you can from this category.
It has seriously been Yosef's dream to buy an L-shaped couch since we first got married but I was too nervous to buy one before we came because I didn't know if it would fit into our apartment in Israel. Instead, we brought a leather couch and loveseat with us that we found on Craigslist 11 years ago. We debated with this decision for a while.
On our first night in our new apartment after we made Aliyah, we felt so lost and overwhelmed. We felt like this new apartment should feel like our "home" but instead it felt like we were in a strange country and a strange apartment. This sinking feeling changed to hope the second we unpacked our sofas and carpet and our living room looked familiar again. We sat on our familiar couches looked at each other and said "we can do this." Who would have thought our ugly, used brown leather couches from Craigslist would give us the strength to get through the first night? From an emotional standpoint, especially if moving with kids, there was something very comforting about bringing furniture that feels like home.
Only recently, after surviving through 11 years and 4 kids, did we give our couch away and buy a new L-shaped couch. I was emotional about giving away this couch that has been with us through so much and Yosef was emotional about finally realizing his L-shaped couch dream. We love the new couch but overall, I still think when it comes to furniture, you have more options and better quality options outside of Israel.
As a general tip, my personal opinion is that leather couches can get a bit uncomfortable in the summer heat when you wake up from your Shabbat afternoon nap stuck to the leather (don't pretend you don't know the feeling).
With respect to bookshelves, in my experience, Israel has cheap quality bookshelves like IKEA-style options or high quality but very expensive options. There is often not much in between so I would bring these on the lift if you can.
Keep in mind that most Israeli apartments have stone floors. In the winter this can get very cold. I suggest bringing an area rug for the living room. You can buy this in Israel too but you can probably find cheaper options outside of Israel (e.g., buying from Wayfair or another similar website).
The real best tip I can give you is find a friend who is an interior designer and can help direct you to good places in Israel to shop. Liora Gordon is an amazingly talented designer friend of mine who gave me a lot of tips for my apartment and has been an excellent resource.
We brought our dining room table and chairs from America and, similar to the other furniture, it was certainly easier not having to deal with finding one right after we moved.
A few years ago, our chairs fell apart and we bought new ones here. So far we love the ones we bought and they were fairly reasonable. You can definitely find good stuff here but it's harder to find reliable, good quality pieces for reasonable prices, especially if you don't know where to go.
With respect to a table, if you plan on buying a table specifically for the purpose of taking on your lift, I recommend buying the tables that can self-store extra leaves. Keep in mind that storage space and the overall rooms in Israel is much smaller.
Bring beds. The mattresses in Israel do not compare to the mattresses in America (not sure what the mattresses are like in other countries, sorry) and, in my personal experience, they are pretty expensive here.
We currently have a 4 bedroom (5 room) apartment but when we first came, we moved into a 3 bedroom. I brought beds with us for the master bedroom, 2 hi-risers and a crib from America. Since then, the ages and stages of my kids have changed so we ended up getting rid of the crib (yes, I cried...a lot.) and we sold one of the hi-risers. It's not because I didn't love having the American beds but my two oldest girls were sharing a room and after one of them slept on the bottom of a hi-riser for over a year she begged me for a bed that didn’t roll around every time she turned over. That seemed like a reasonable request. SO I begrudgingly said good-bye to the American hi-riser and instead purchased 2 matching "big kid" beds from a store in Israel with real wood frames, storage drawers underneath and one with an extra pull out bed stored underneath. In terms of space and storage I love them but you can't compare the quality of the mattresses to American ones (even when spending money to add "extra quilting").
Bedroom furniture – Personally, I find chests of drawers to be a real waste of space here but it depends a lot on the size of your apartment. Huge closets maximize storage in the small spaces and this should be an item of importance when looking for apartments. When we came, we bought our first real bedroom set. In our first apartment in Israel, the chest of drawers ended up living in our living room since there was no space in our bedroom. Manage your expectations when buying furniture for your lift. Size does matter. Now that we have an apartment that can fit it all, we love having it but plan accordingly.
With our crib we also brought a matching baby dresser and changing table. When getting rid of the crib, we also tried selling the matching furniture and no one wanted them because they just aren't super practical for Israeli apartments. We ended up giving away the changing table for free and the dresser is still sitting outside our apartment waiting for a loving home (by the way, if you happen to live in the center of Israel and need a dresser in great condition, feel free to contact me).
Bring linens, blankets and pillows with you. Remember that standard size mattresses are different here so it will be difficult to find the right fit as easily as the country in which you bought the mattress.
Large appliances like a fridge and oven, I recommend buying in Israel unless you are buying or building an apartment and know you can fit an American sized oven. Many apartments in Israel have free standing ovens while other have built in wall ovens. If you don't know for sure what you need, don't buy. Also, if you are on a tight budget, you can probably find good quality used ovens for sale on facebook groups such as פשפשוק – חשמל ואלקטרוניקה , Buy, Sell, Swap (Israel) or פשפשוק- יד שניה. If you want to buy new or get an idea of prices, go to zap.co.il where you can check out a bunch of different options and how much they would cost.
For small appliances, we took everything with us with a converter. We ended up spending money on 3 different converters all of which blew out at some point or another and we ended up just buying appliances here instead like a new blender, juicer, mixer, food processor, etc. Assuming you are from a country that doesn't have the same voltage requirements as Israel, I personally think it's much easier to just buy these items here and sell your current items before you make Aliyah but it's worth checking out zap.co.il to determine the prices of specific items, if you can find what you are looking for and if it's financially worthwhile. Also remember that converters require counter-space and may make your already small counters feel even smaller.
For all other kitchen items or cookware – BRING WITH YOU. Pots and pans are ridiculously expensive here. I know this because all of my passover items were stolen this year from my machsan (storage unit) a few months before the holiday and we had to buy everything from scratch. It was during Corona and Amazon shipping to Israel was suspended. I couldn't bring myself to spend the ridiculous amount of money on mediocre quality items so I just purchased a large soup pot, a meat frying pan and a dairy frying pan and managed an entire pesach for a family of 6 (including one 'mostly-vegan' and one vegetarian) and no one starved. Feel free to send an applause emoji my way. I like to look back at this as the real Passover miracle, only slightly outdone by the splitting of the sea.
We bought our porch furniture here from IKEA (Funny story - I sent Yosef to buy a large table and 6 chairs and he came back with 6 small tables and 12 chairs. Since I wasn't planning on opening an outdoor cafe, we exchanged it all but the Israeli customer service employees loved the story about the 'funny' Americans).
I believe certain outdoor furniture may be an exception to the customs exemption so confirm this before shipping. You can also look at zap.co.il or yad2 to see if you can find what you are looking for here at a reasonable price.
Mirpeset Sheirut (AKA Laundry "room")
Apartments in Israel generally have what's known as a mirpeset sheirut which houses the laundry area.
The word mirpeset (Hebrew for porch) connotes an airy space. Don't be fooled. These rooms tend to be anything but. My mirpeset sheirut is fairly small and not for those with claustrophobia.
I employ my ballet training and secret ninja skills every time I need to squeeze into the room and move stuff from the washer to the dryer.
In terms of bringing a washer and dryer, we bought them specifically for the purpose of our Aliyah since I wanted a large size washer and dryer and took them on the lift. For us personally, it was a huge mistake. Our washer was fine and we still use the one we bought. We bought our dryer for about $900 (I think, don't quote me on this) 6 years ago. We ended up having horrible issues fitting the dryer into the designated space and updating the voltage and amps to accomodate an American washer and dryer. We ended up using the dryer for about 7 months and then sold it for 200 shekel. We lived without a dryer for about 2 years (don't ask) and only bought a new one when we bought our apartment about 3 years ago. Now, I bought an Israeli dryer and I love it. Its large and fairly efficient and just wish I did this 6 years ago.
A lot of my friends, bought a stacked washer and dryer with them and are so happy that they did. They have had a very different experience than we did. So the bottom line is 1) confirm all necessary requirements for the dryer to run (size, voltage and amps) and whether your apartment can handle it, 2) check zap to confirm if you can get the same size and efficiency in Israel and what the price difference would be, and 3) make sure your warranty will be valid in Israel. Whichever decision you make, let it be an educated one.
Bring toys with you. The price difference between toys in the U.S. and in Israel is substantial.
I would also bring birthday presents for friends' parties because you can find something in Amazing Savings or Target for $5 that would cost you 90 shekel here.
These are all the general tips I can think of but for a specific suggested packing list, see my excel list posted. You can sort the list by household room or by category to make the shopping/ packing most efficient for you.
In terms of other shipping tips:
Make sure to get multiple quotes from different shipping companies
Check out reviews of any company you plan on using
Make sure the proposal includes ALL expenses
Everything is negotiable - if you like one company better but it's more expensive, try to get them to meet the competitor's price
Color code or at least label each box to correspond with the room in the apartment it will need to move into. This will make the unpacking process in Israel much easier.
Personally, if you can afford it, I recommend having the movers pack for you. You will likely be an emotional wreck that day. Best to leave the China and glasses to the professionals.
Start contacting the shippers about 3-4 months before your move.
Use every space available. For example, if taking bookshelves, fill them with paper towels, etc. Once, you are paying for the lift anyway, get your money's worth.
The bottom line is do the research and make informed decisions. But don't panic because, at the end of the day, you are not moving to a deserted island. You too can learn to love Osem ketchup (and if not, you can buy Heinz here too). Use my customizable excel packing list here to help streamline your process and feel free to pack some extra hemp seeds for me :)