Exactly two years ago I made my “pilot trip” to try to figure out if I wanted to move to Israel. Could we live here? Was there a life for us – jobwise, affordability, educationally, culturally, military service for my son? Where would we fit in? What sort of community? House or apartment? Buy or rent? English speakers? These are all important questions (and lots more!) that every new Oleh (immigrant) faces. I traveled the country from the northern border (Kiryat Shemonah) to the south (BeerSheva) – from the western cities (Ashdod, Tel Aviv, Haifa) to the eastern border. I must have looked at several dozens of cities, towns, moshavim, and kibbutzim, sometimes scouting out as many as four or five places in a day taking copious notes on each! Listing all the pros and cons. Whew!!!!
When I first found Karmi’el early into my trip, I just knew that it was ‘the place.’ It is a growing town with a small-town feel situated in the Galilee mountains. Topographically, it looked similar to our Southern California area. Karmi’el seemed to fit all our needs. It is a family town – lots of parks and activities for kids, which is always a good sign. It is diverse – native Israelis, many English speakers, as well as Russian, European, South American and African immigrants. It has a combination of secular Jews as well as an Orthodox population – both Ashkenaz (European Jews) and Sephardi (from N. African/Spanish descent) and has both a Masorti(Conservative) and Reform synagogue. It is a city where Jews and Arab Muslim, Christian, and Druze seem to cohabit peacefully. There is a nice mall, a small local college (Ort Braude), and a civic arts plaza. Much like our old home, Thousand Oaks (except here it’s Thousand Olive Trees). Also, there are three industrial and business parks nearby, including the defense industry, if John decides to come out of retirement.
There is always a lot going on in Karmiel – from lectures to plays at the local civic arts plaza or concerts in the cultural hall. There are so many varied clubs to join, including English Speakers Clubs, hiking groups, activism groups, foodie clubs, Karmiel Folk Club, dance groups, retirees clubs, service organizations. In July, the city is famous for the Karmiel Dance Festival. People come here from all over the world to take part in both the classes and performances – many of which are free – ranging the spectrum from International Folk Dance to ballet, jazz, tap, and modern. At night during the festival, every gymnasium floor, park, field, and dance hall is packed with people enjoying the art of dance. Also, there is a community center for each neighborhood where afternoon activities and classes are offered at low-cost to the children. We have our own soccer stadium (“football” is really big here) with a competitive team. There is a community ‘country club,’ the Top Club, offering an olympic-sized swimming pool, gym, spa, and restaurant. All are welcomed. A popular place during the heat of summer.
Hiking and cycling trails encircle the city, all having the most impressive views of the sweeping mountains and countryside. Another great way to keep in shape for free: all the neighborhood parks are equipped with exercise equipment – no need to join a gym. Enjoying the sunrises and sunsets are a leisurely and meditative way to start and end the days here. We are also fortunate to have a view of the mountains and Haifa Bay from the balcony of our home (all homes and apartments have balconies to enjoy the views here). It almost feels like we’re living in Malibu, but without the expense!
Each city has its own insignia art-style proclaiming who they are or what they represent. In Jerusalem, it’s the mighty lion – for the Lion of Judah – the tribe of Judah was here. You will see lions everywhere – from statues to fountains, from flags to gate decorations to manhole covers! In Ashdod on the Sea, there is a nautical scene. Tsfat has lots of Biblical sculpture in the roundabouts and city squares. Tiberias, home to rabbinic scholars, there are artistic representations of the development of the Hebrew language. For Karmiel, we have a very family-themed atmosphere, much of it whimsical, all very colorful. It’s warm and welcoming. Our mayor also takes delight in beautiful flowers planted in the roundabouts, parks, and promenades throughout the city.
Karmi’el is a great place to live. It has its own absorption center for immigrants from all over the globe. The absorption center has very affordable temporary efficiency apartments, and there are offices inside to help train new immigrants to enter the workforce and settle into a new culture and society. It is here that I attend my Ulpan, intensive Hebrew, classes -still. They organize tours of the country for the newcomers, and have their own social hall and rec rooms as well as a fully-staffed dining hall. Located downtown and close to everything. This sleepy city of almost 60,000 is rapidly growing. There is new construction everywhere. New apartments, condos, duplexes, luxury homes, shopping areas, 2 new cineplexes (yay!!!), new roads. Next year, the train linking Jerusalem and TelAviv to the North will open with Karmiel as the terminal for the Galilee. Things are really picking up and expanding here as we become a true larger city. Public transportation here actually works. The local Egged bus line runs through each part of the city regularly from early morning until midnight Sunday -Friday afternoon. At the main bus station, you can catch a train to anywhere in the country. Monthly discount passes are available, as well as discounts for seniors and students. Military and Mechinah kids ride anywhere (bus or train) for free. Cabs and shuttles round out the transportation here. Still, for us we decided on a long two-year lease of a car for more flexibility. And we are close to Haifa as well as the beautiful towns of the Galilee.
So, this is my new home. The place where I live. Plenty of things to do, plenty of room for growth. Large enough, but with a small-town feel. Good neighborhood schools, nice parks. It is a place where everyone is friendly. So – come visit…you won’t want to leave. Especially this time of year, during all the spring holidays, when the flags of Israel and the flags of each city line every lamppost, bridge and freeway. I leave you with a few more photos of this fabulous place. Shalom!!