By Larry Luxnor
Warren Isakow is an intensive care physician who regularly works a 12-hour night shift, treating ICU patients for heart attacks, strokes and other medical emergencies.
What makes his job unusual is that his patients are scattered throughout hospitals in 30 states, from Massachusetts to Missouri — and that Isakow treats them from his home in Modiin, Israel. Thanks to a dedicated software monitoring system, Isakow, who immigrated to Israel in August 2018, can direct procedures via video link from half a world away. His hours are 4 a.m. to 4 p.m., 14 days a month.
Living in Israel while telecommuting to a U.S. job has been key to the success of his aliyah, or immigration to Israel, says Isakow, 45.
“It’s like we’re in the ICU with them,” said Isakow, who headed an intensive care unit at a St. Louis hospital before moving to Israel. “Working 14 days a month and never having to work on Shabbat or Jewish holidays are some of the perks of this job. And contracts are dollar-based, so the compensation is about double what I’d earn at an Israeli hospital.”
In nearby Bet Shemesh, Bronx native Brian Thau works remotely as a fundraiser for Bayit V’Tikvah, a Netanya shelter for 110 girls suffering from abuse and neglect. As executive vice president of the nonprofit American Friends of House of Hope, the Orthodox rabbi, who made aliyah seven years ago, is constantly on the phone and occasionally travels to New York to meet with potential donors.
“Having somebody here in Israel means there’s a lot more cross-communication and working together,” Thau said of his relationship with Bayit V’Tikvah, which he visits about once a week. “If I were in the States, there would be a lot less interaction.”
Isakow and Thau are among the growing ranks of American immigrants to Israel who telecommute to jobs back in North America. In 2019, 3,570 new olim arrived in Israel from the United States and Canada, according to Nefesh B’Nefesh, the agency that facilitates aliyah from North America in partnership with Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah and Integration, the Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael, and the Jewish National Fund-USA.
About 20-25% of new immigrants from the United States are working remotely for U.S. companies, according to Rachel Berger, vice president of employment at Nefesh B’Nefesh. Keeping U.S. jobs while living in Israel has its advantages, she noted.
“While some immigrants come with a good Hebrew background and want to integrate, others have very weak Hebrew and know they’re going to live their lives here as English-speaking immigrants in an Anglo bubble,” Berger said. “But it’s worth it for them, because they’re doing the work they want to do and it fits their lifestyle.”
Immigrants aged 35 and older — especially those who already have children and established careers — are more likely to pursue remote employment, either from their own homes or at shared workspaces.
Telecommuting can have its downsides. Working remotely, especially from home, can be isolating. Maintaining U.S. hours can be a challenge, especially for those with kids at home in the evenings. And for Sabbath observers, Fridays can be tricky: There is only a small window between the time offices open in the United States and the sun sets in Israel — especially in winter.
But those who work remotely say any disadvantages are outweighed by the benefits: flexible mornings, quality time with their children during the day, opportunities to control more of their time. Perhaps most importantly, moving to Israel doesn’t have to mean giving up a chosen career or employer.
Each job is its own story. Shira Kallus, a native New Yorker, already had her own PR consulting firm when she came to Israel in 2006 to earn a master’s degree in creative writing from Bar-Ilan University. Thirteen years later, she’s still in Israel. At present, she represents two digital marketing agencies — one in Georgia, the other in Pennsylvania.
“Most of my clients are in the flooring industry, so I work with social influencers in the home decor and interior design space,” said Kallus, who puts in 120 hours a month from her home office in Jerusalem.
“I have no frame of reference because I’ve never tried to get a job here,” said Kallus, 43, a mother of three. “From an industry perspective, I definitely make less money than I would if I was in America. But I don’t have to worry about the language, and to some extent, the cost of living is slightly lower than it would be in Manhattan.”
Brad Shulman, who lives in Hashmonaim, a community near Modiin, is director of business development for Online Trading Academy. The company offers web-based courses on how to invest in stocks, futures, options, and foreign exchange markets. He does most of his work from home but spends a week each month at the company’s headquarters in Irvine, California.
“My role is to help the company grow through strategic partnerships,” said Shulman, 46, who has been living this life for two and a half years. “The days of people flying around and meeting face to face are long gone. Now, for a number of reasons, most people handle those initial conversations remotely. And it’s easy for me to do it from Israel.”
Shulman isn’t the only telecommuter in the family. His wife, Shoshanna, is an occupational therapist who works with special-needs kids in the States via webcam. She teaches them everything from handwriting to how to tie their shoelaces.
Dan Cohen works in PR from his home in the Tel Aviv suburb of Raanana. Four nights a week, after dinner, Cohen sits down at his computer and works until 2 a.m., sometimes later. He’s the owner of Full Court Press Communications, a social marketing firm in Oakland, California. He and his seven-member team represent the California Executives Alliance, the Hispanic Foundation of Silicon Valley, and about 20 other charitable entities.
Cohen, 50, moved to Israel two and a half years ago with his wife, Aimee, and three kids. Every six to eight weeks, he flies back to Oakland for about a week. Thanks to high-speed internet, Cohen can live out his Zionist dream while earning a comfortable U.S. salary.
“Using Google Docs, my team and I can edit a press release in real time, at the same time, 10,000 miles apart,” he said. “I use communications to help make the world a better place — and I get to do it from a place where I’ve always wanted to be.”
This article was sponsored by and produced in partnership with Nefesh B’Nefesh, which in cooperation with Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah, The Jewish Agency, KKL and JNF-USA is minimizing the professional, logistical and social obstacles of aliyah, and has brought over 50,000 olim from North America and the United Kingdom over the last 15 years. This article was produced by JTA’s native content team.