JERUSALEM—As July ends and Elul begins, a new group of American students will make their way to Israel for their gap year in Yeshiva or Seminary. These young adults will leave everything they know behind to take a break from the outside world and spend time connecting to themselves and Judaism. It also means taking a break from their comfortable lives in the United States to spend 10 months in Israel, a foreign country where everything is very different from home despite being home, which is a daunting task indeed.
For parents, sending their child into the familiar unknown is not easi either, especially since Israel has changed quite a bit since they spent their gap years there so many decades ago (asimonim, anyone?).
Fortunately, the twenty first century and its technological advances have made it much easier for the American 18-year-old to adjust to, between new technologies for connecting to home and services that help new students settle in to Eretz Yisroel. The JLBC has compiled a guide to these services, which are beneficial both for gap year students and parents, as well as tourists to Israel:
Technology and Communication: Cell Phone Rentals
Until recently, the foreign student cell phone market was dominated by proprietary rental services and other pricey providers which gap year programs endorse and offer though a “special student rate.” Recent de-monopolization of the Israeli cell phone market has given way to new low cost carriers, such as HOTMobile, Golan Telecom, and 012Mobile offering special package deals. They’ve opened up registration to non-Israeli citizens as well. In particular, HOTMobile and Golan Telecom, very popular with foreign students in Israel, offer an extremely inexpensive special 99NIS all-inclusive package, with unlimited calls and SMS within Israel, unlimited 4G data, and unlimited calls to 30 international countries (including US, Canada and UK).
The downside is that these carriers do not rent out phones, and one would need to come to Israel with a carrier unlocked phone to take advantage of them. For those who do not want to worry about that, or dealing with an Israeli-level customer support team, it is often more convenient to use cell phone rental services aimed specifically at American students. These services, while more expensive than purchasing a SIM card directly from an Israeli carrier, are often more convenient as they offer a way for parents to pay for the phone bills from the US in dollars, and sometimes also offer convenient English customer service and easy replacements for broken devices.
In particular, NESMobile and TalkN’Save offer great service for student phone rentals, with the former offering a smartphone SIM card with unlimited calling, SMS and mobile data for $40/month ($35 for a standard SIM), and the latter offering a rental phone, including insurance, plus unlimited calling and SMS for $43/month plus VAT and a one-time $18 setup fee. Most of these phone rental companies also offer plans for tourists, with attractive per-day rates for their phones and service.
For those who want to bring their own phones to Israel, it is important to check first to make sure your handset can work with Israeli carriers, and make sure that your U.S. carrier and plan permit you to unlock your phone. It’s also advisable to purchase some type of phone insurance or warranty, as, unfortunately, expensive mobile phones are not as good at hiking or swimming as we are.
For more information on Israeli low-cost phone carriers:
HOTMobile (99 NIS unlimited plan)- English website: https://www.hotmobile.co.il/HOTmobile_en/Pages/default.aspx, or contact +972 53 5003000.
Golan Telecom (99 NIS/month, first two months free)- Enlgish website: https://www.golantelecom.co.il/web/, or contact +972585555858.
The most reliable means of getting around Israel is its extensive bus system, operated country-wide by Egged, and incorporating regional carriers like Superbus (Bet Shemesh/Modi’in), Ilit Transport (Beitar Ilit), Veolia/Connex (Modi’in), and Dan (Gush Dan/Tel Aviv area). Most of these carriers offer consistent service between major cities and within their focus city, though Egged is by far the most reliable carrier for country-wide transport and within the Jerusalem metropolitan area. In Jerusalem, there’s also a new light rail line, which mainly covers popular areas of the city including King George/Ben Yehuda area, Jaffa Gate, Mahane Yehuda, and the Central Bus Station, with the entire line extending from Har Herzl to Pisgat Ze’ev. The average ride from the Central Bus Station to Ben Yehuda takes under 15 minutes during peak times. Egged has recently released a comprehensive online bus schedule, which shows all possible routes and prices from point A to point B with a list of stops in between.
Google Maps also recently began to feature Israeli mass transit in their online transit directions. For those who own smartphones with a data plan, many Israeli start-ups have created applications for getting efficiently around Israel, some of which are very popular in New York as well. In particular, Moovit (available for iOS and Android), is very commonly used both with native Israelis and visitors, as it features door-to-door transit directions using GPS and Egged busses’ real time locations to ensure a safe and efficient trip. The app includes a handy feature which notifies the user immediately before they need to get off. For those who are not quite for the “full Israeli experience” which comes along with taking public transportation, there are many reputable taxi services, most of whom have English-speaking dispatchers, who can help students and visitors get around, a more expensive ride.
One important tip for students: when taking taxis in Israel, especially ones that are flagged off of the streets, drivers will often try to offer a “special deal” which may in fact be special in that it would be more expensive than using the meter which is fitted in all cabs as per Israeli law. Passengers are advised to request the meter (in Hebrew moneh), to help ensure that they will get the best price and will be transported in a safe and reputable manner.
For more information on mass transit in Israel, contact:
Egged: http://egged.co.il/Eng/ or *2800 from any phone in Israel
Google Maps: http://maps.google.com
Moovit: http://moovit.co.il (app is available on the AppStore and Google Play market)
Here are a few other important services for students and visitors:
Linens and Toiletries
While most basic toiletries can be purchased at SuperPharm or other pharmacies, many students feel more comfortable with supplies from home. Instead of having to pack these items from the States and carry them to Israel, when baggage is also getting pricey, services like Blanket Express Plus parents the option of ordering bedding, toiletries, and even basic appliances to be delivered directly to their children’s programs at a reasonable price. For more information, visit http://www.blanketexpressplus.com/ or contact 718-360-4534.
Food and Treats
The gap year in Israel can be very difficult for parents as well, as they miss out on spoiling their children. Luckily, some services offer this opportunity. Gili’s Goodies (http://www.gilisgoodies.com/) and Cakery Bakery (http://www.cakerybakery.net/) offer a wide range of candies, cookies and other goodies for parents to send their children as they learn in Israel. For more substantial food packages, Shabbos Kodesh (http://www.shabboskodesh.com/) offers everything from cakes to full Shabbat packages, ideal for those last-minute unplanned in Shabbatot, and offers free delivery (Jerusalem only).
The gap year in Israel is a time for branching out, for exploring, and Shabbat is the best time for this. Whether one has no relatives in Israel or the entire family there, it’s often nice to spend the holy day someplace new. Anywhere in Israel, is a free service which helps link students, singles and families with a warm family for Shabbat, usually at random, though they do take preferences based on location, religiosity, and family size. According to the service’s website, students are asked to make a Shabbat request by Tuesday afternoon the latest, though sooner is better as spots get reserved very quickly each week, and every Anywhere in Israel Shabbat is guaranteed to be an exciting and new experience. To make a request for Anywhere in Israel, call 02-994-4326 no later than 12:00 PM on the Tuesday afternoon before the Shabbat you would like to get set up for. Anywhere in Israel is sponsored by the Yeshiva University S. Daniel Abraham Israel Program.
Tzvi Silver, Israel Correspondent