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November 6, 2008

Three (financial) reasons to make aliyah

http://www.jewishjournal.com/opinion/article/three_financial_reasons_to_make_aliyah_20081106

When my old Harvard friend Ronnie and I decided to meet after many years, the first place that came to mind was the Brasserie. Located just across from Rabin's Square, the Brasserie is one of the most chic, sophisticated places to eat out in Tel Aviv.

The French-Italian cuisine it offers is indulgent; the jazzy music played in the background is an appetite-booster and the vibe dominating the scene is juvenile and intoxicating. If anything, the Brasserie has always reminded me of my favorite Harvard restaurant, Cambridge One, with its intellectually dazzling style.

What I didn't know about the Brasserie, though, is that it had a valet service -- one of the only three restaurants in Tel Aviv that offers this elitist luxury. While waiting for Ronnie outside the restaurant, and watching the handsome Israeli valet boys handle their customers with a pseudo-IDF smile, I could not but think to myself, "Geez, Israel has come a long way in 60 years. Shouldn't more Jews enjoy this jewel, especially now?"

And thus I came up with three (financial) reasons for Americans to make aliyah (immigration to Israel) sooner, rather than later.

1. "Jonathan the Plumber" vs. "Joe the Plumber"

While U.S. banks aren't in their heyday, American consumerism is going down and recession is just around the corner, Israel's economy seems to be handling the global crisis pretty well. Credit is still as prevalent as before, not a single bank has collapsed, and the Israeli public still trusts both in its financial leaders (such as ex-MIT professor Stanley Fischer, now chair of the Central Bank of Israel) and the financial system as a whole. There's much less panic on Israel's Main Street than there is on Wall Street. The explanations are numerous, but let me give you just one: Israel's financial system is far less complex, and far more transparent, than the United States'. While the credit crunch in the United States stemmed from the implosion of secondary markets (and specifically, of financial instruments such as MBSs and CDOs), Israel was fortunate enough to evade the contagion because it did not have such secondary markets to begin with. The securitization of mortgages that accelerated the crisis in the United States simply didn't exist in the Tel Aviv stock exchange. Which means, except for a few Israeli tycoons that suffered from the crash of U.S. banks, the Israeli "Jonathan the Plumber" is still doing pretty well.

2. In Israel, You Can Profit From Being American

If you are an American businessman or businesswoman, or at least think like one, I'd argue you could live off of your Americanness in Israel, just by being American. Globalization has made most young Israelis crazy about living, working or studying in the United States for at least a few years in their lifetime. Israelis crave a U.S. college or graduate degree. But the great majority of Israelis have no idea where to begin and how to make themselves attractive in the eyes of U.S. institutions. That's where you and your family can step in. Your contribution then becomes a two-way street: You help Israelis realize their dream, and they help you feel like a Sabra. (It shouldn't be a population-swap, either, simply because many of these young Israelis return to Israel more educated, more experienced and wealthier.)

3. Israel Can Profit From You

The latter point could not be stressed enough: your contribution to Israel's society can be huge in terms of long-term economic growth. Israel is a country full of really smart people. The problem is that sometimes, because we're located in the midst of a faraway desert, we forget how good we can be and how high we can aim. That's why the professional and academic interactions between Israelis and Americans in Israel can be vital: it reminds (or teaches) us what standards are required for professional and academic success, U.S.-style. Americans who come to Israel with this kind of mindset can help Israel make giant steps on the road to prosperity. And eventually, the same prosperity is shared jointly by all of Israel's citizens, newcomers and Sabras alike.

If you've contemplated making aliyah to Israe and never thought it was a feasible idea, now may be the time to reconsider. Just think of the 15,000 expatriates who are expected to return to Israel from the Diaspora in 2009, largely due to financial reasons. Despite the crisis, Israel is booming economically and is still growing faster than most Western countries. Your contribution to Israel's growth can be immense. So what if no one has mentioned financial Zionism before?

Shira Kaplan is a 25-year-old Harvard College alumna from Herzliya. She is currently a Milken Institute Fellow in Tel Aviv, researching regulation in the Israeli stock market. She is also the founder of the Exigo Group, which coaches Israelis on how to leverage their academic and business talents. The views expressed in this article are hers alone.

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