Jerusalem — Aaron Press used to love to watch the ponies run at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, home of the prestigious Preakness Stakes, the second jewel in horse racing’s Triple Crown.
But, alas, there no are no racetracks in
Israel’s capital city, his new home.
Press, 86, smiles warmly in the apartment he shares here with his son, daughter-in-law and twin grandsons, who made aliyah with him two weeks ago.
“I have to get used to certain things and I had to leave certain friends behind. I used to occasionally go to a casino or the racetrack with friends,” Press said. “And I wish I was 20 years younger.”
Press’ reservations aside, for the aliyah advocacy group Nefesh B’Nefesh Press is exactly the kind of person they’d like to see move to Israel in greater numbers.
Believing that the more prospective immigrants know before they move to Israel, the smoother their absorption — which can be jarring, even if the olim is an active senior with family in Israel —Nefesh is launching a series of seminars in the U.S. geared toward seniors and their adult children.
A recent seminar on the subject held in Jerusalem attracted mostly veteran olim who would like their aging parents to move to Israel. Roughly 5 percent of North Americans who made aliyah with NBN in 2009 were over 55, the organization said.
Although NBN has long been providing one-on-one advice, and has held some senior-oriented seminars every year, “we recently decided to make a more intensive, more organized effort,” said Tzvi Richter, director of NBN’s aliyah guidance and process.
The impetus for the seminars was two-fold, Richter said. As time passes, and the parents of NBN’s immigrants age, separation can become problematic. At the same time, parents who once thought making aliyah was too daunting at their age may decide to take the plunge after seeing how well their children are doing.
“There are parents who see their children successfully settled into life in Israel, and they believe it’s possible to make aliyah, too,” Richter noted.
In her Jerusalem seminar, Joy Epstein, a clinical supervisor in NBN’s social services department, focused on health care, housing, finances and leisure activities for seniors making aliyah.
Epstein explained that every new Israeli citizen is entitled to a year of free basic health care and that the monthly fee, as well as supplemental insurance, are very affordable. No one can be denied health coverage due to advanced age or a pre-existing condition, but citizens must reside in Israel the majority of the year to be eligible for coverage. Unlike U.S. Social Security payments, Medicare is not transferable to Israel, Epstein emphasized.
The social worker urged seniors to check whether the long-term nursing/catastrophic coverage they may have in North America can be used in Israel. Israeli nursing insurance will cover only five years’ worth of full-time nursing.
Israelis are able to stay at home longer than their American counterparts, Epstein said, thanks to the relatively low cost of caregivers, who typically earn about $1,000 per month for a 24/6 work week.
“When it comes time for your parent to pick a health fund (HMO), it’s important that it fits their needs, not yours,” Epstein said. “You may need a pediatrician. They need geriatric specialists.”
In terms of housing, Epstein urged listeners to find an apartment in a location with many activities, such as Jerusalem, Netanya, Ra’anana, Herzilya and Modi’in. “When grandparents come for two or three weeks they’re surrounded by family, by grandchildren. But in day-to-day life kids have school and after-school programs and may see the grandparents only on Shabbat. Your parents need to have a life of their own.”
Senior residences, though plentiful, are expensive, and — unlike the U.S. — adult children are routinely expected to contribute to the cost of a nursing home if their parents can’t afford it themselves.
If older parents will be entering assisting living, Epstein said, it’s best to choose a facility that provides levels of care in one setting.
“The transition to living in Israel is hard enough without having to move again for stepped-up care,” she said. “There are several with English-speaking staff and residents.”
One of the audience members, who specializes in decision-making for the elderly, urged families to have a lawyer read all housing contracts.
Epstein said the Israeli government does not permit seniors to bring over their American caregivers, and explained that Filipina and other foreign caregivers in Israel work via employment agencies. Since the process of being approved for a caregiver takes time, families may wish to hire short-term caregivers, who earn $6 to $10 per hour.
Foreign pensions, including Social Security, are not taxed in Israel, and money earned outside Israel is tax exempt for the first 10 years following aliyah. Money a new immigrant earns in Israel itself is subject to taxation.
“It’s very important that people get good solid economic and accounting advice before making aliyah,” Epstein said.
It is vital, Epstein said, for both parents and children to discuss their expectations with one another, and for parents to articulate what, exactly, they want to do in Israel: volunteer work, travel, paid work.
“We advise them to be very realistic about their job opportunities in Israel,” Richter said. “There is ageism in America, and it exists here as well. Here there’s the additional challenge of both the language and new culture, and while Western [job] experience is valued here, the other disadvantages can prove to be significant.”
As for Aaron Press, his main goal right now is to connect with a senior center and meet people his age.