Great Expectations

I apologize in advance to my writing coach who has told me on more than one occasion “Jews don’t confess, Catholics do – it’s not part of our psyche to confess!” I guess that means there’s something wrong with me because I feel the need to share this with you because #1 it’s therapeutic for me, and #2 one of the goals of this blog is to help olim (and prospective olim) NOT make the same mistakes I did.

During our pilot trip we received from an acquaintance who later became a friend (thanks Ron!) what I now know was the best piece of Aliyah advice:

Don’t expect Israel to be like the USA. Like most things in life, your experience here will be largely determined by how adaptable and realistic you are.

I was psyched to embrace this philosophy; prepared to live without my favorite American products, “rough it” using public transportation, cope with a different medical system and major climate change, send my kid to an Israeli school and even learn a new language! Yes! I could do it! After all I was no stranger to change or adapting to new environments and situations:

  • I’m the oldest of 4 children with dozens of cousins and extended family (requiring me to be flexible)
  • At 50 I had moved 22 times and lived in 6 states (on both coasts and in the middle of the US – qualifying me for cultural adaptability)
  • I’ve worked in some professions that required right-brain focus and others that required the left (and on one occasion both).
  • I spent a good part of my career helping companies and organizations evaluate processes and manage necessary change.
  • And I survived the Aliyah application process – I was a candidate for success!

Change was MY middle name and I was up for this new challenge!

Then the plane landed.

Expectation: Despite the fact that Yisrael and I often suffer motion sickness and that I can’t get out of my seat on a moving plane or train without feeling queasy, I had set myself up for a spiritually and emotionally uplifting flight with close to 300 people sharing the euphoric experience of making Aliyah.

Reality: I walked into my new life in the Holy Land exhausted and agitated from a sleepless night on a long flight surrounded by screaming, crying children who were literally bouncing off the walls and seats of the plane.

I can still hear the frum Brooklyn-accented woman with 5 children sitting in the next aisle whine “where’s da baby?” Her husband, who was sitting in front of me with their 4-year-old screamer calmly responded, “I don’t know honey, I thought you had him.” And this was when they first got ON the plane right after the doors were sealed.

And then there was the flight attendant who scolded me for allowing “my” baby to be crawling in the aisle! She mistook me for his mother because I was the one who picked him up and soothed him each time he fell, his parents were oblivious to his whereabouts after that first query when they determined that he was on the plane.

Eleven hours of their rantings, which instigated the children behind us to join the whining, crying, screaming, and seat-kicking party, took its toll on me – as well as the two men who got up and threatened the father at one point.

Expectation: The Welcoming Ceremony and ease of processing at Ben Gurion would compensate for our horrible flight experience.

Reality: I was touched to tears by people we had met on our pilot trip to Ma’ale Adumim who came to welcome us along with dozens of soldiers and hundreds of people. It was overwhelming.

When the presentation began the hall was buzzing with so many excited people that we couldn’t hear what was being said over the speakers. And when people finally quieted down a little, a distinguished looking official was speaking to us IN HEBREW – a language we had yet to learn. We split up – Michael to locate luggage and me to obtain our teudat oleh and Misrad HaKlita package and managed to find each other in the huge crowd in baggage claim. And then we waited for someone to secure enough taxis to take us and our luggage to our new home.

Three taxis and almost 2 hours later Yisrael and I were in the taxi from hell! The driver was speeding, straddling the lanes on a winding mountain road and providing us with a Russian-accented English tour guide’s version of the landscape that smeared across the side windows as he pointed to this or that and yelled curses at the drivers who were blowing their horns at him. And then he asked THE question. The one we have heard so many more times since… “WHY?! Why would you leave America to come here? I want to go to America!”

For a second or two I had difficulty with that question – I was exhausted and beaten. Between prayers for safe arrival with Yisrael fast asleep on my lap (he had been up for more than 24 hours), I explained to “Boris” that America is not what he sees on TV or in the movies and that it is becoming an increasingly difficult place for Jews. I don’t recall everything I told him but at one point he assured me that he wasn’t religious and still wanted to go to America. “Good luck with that”, I thought to myself.

Expectation: We had only seen a few photos of our apartment and honestly had no good expectations of what our landlady who was scheduled to meet us upon arrival with the keys would be like. We had been warned by well-intentioned people that Israeli landlords are horrible people who take advantage of new olim. And that the apartments are not usually in good condition.

Reality: God sent us an angel of a landlady! We arrived to a spotless apartment with an Israeli flag waving a welcome to us in the warm July breeze. Our dear landlady, Sanne, temporarily furnished the place with 3 beds, a folding table and chairs, sofa, and food, drinks and toiletries! I cried. She suggested we get some sleep and before Yisrael was able to take more than a few sips of the Coca Cola she had purchased especially for him, he was fast asleep on a comfortable mattress.

Sanne, a native of Denmark and 30-year veteran olah, adopted us into her large and loving family for our first year of Aliyah. She showed us where to shop, drove us where we needed to go, interpreted for us, etc. Her husband is a sabra born in Jerusalem with Iraqi ancestry who went out of his way during the holidays to make sure Michael had everything he needed. Her children helped Yisrael with his homework – because we certainly weren’t equipped to do so!

Expectation: Israelis are rude and cold people.

Reality: When people write or talk to me about their fears that Israelis are rude and harsh, I tell them about the wonderful Israelis we’ve met – like our landlord’s family. I honestly don’t recall meeting any adult Israelis I would consider rude. I’ve heard people on buses strongly giving unsolicited advice to others, which might be considered rude except that I’ve witnessed those same people behave like family caring for a toddler of the mother who is overwhelmed with a crying baby. And then there are the teenagers who seem tough and a bit calloused until I watch them helping an old woman off the bus with her bags and insisting on carrying them the extra block to her apartment. And the ones with spiked hair and tattoos who get up to give their seat to an aging rabbi. Standing back and observing these things, the image that comes to mind is FAMILY (albeit a bit dysfunctional at times). And I think that is truly the best way to describe Israeli culture. There are no real strangers here, just Jewish souls waiting to become reacquainted.

Expectation: With all those terrorists running around, Israel isn’t a safe place. (note: this was not my expectation, it was imposed upon me by my dear, worrying mother and I’ve heard it from so many of you out there as well.)

myles-busReality: I have lived in New York City, Long Island and upstate NY, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Nashville… and have never felt as safe in any of those places as I do here in Israel. The difference (as I see it) is that Israel recognizes its enemies and takes preventive measures to the point that there are few places that I go where I don’t pass through a metal detector or a guard with a wand who opens and checks my bags BEFORE I enter.

idf_soldiersWhen I lived in LA there was one time when the security guard walked me from the parking garage to my office building, but that was the day someone shot out the glass on the marina side of our high-rise with a machine gun. That guard never did ask to check my bag, which did contain my handgun because in those days I felt I needed it. In the US, aside from airports, I only recall having my bags checked as I was exiting large gathering places (like shopping centers). I’ve rarely ridden a bus that didn’t have at least a few armed IDF soldiers on it. Security is top-notch in Israel.

Expectation: Since Israelis invent and produce an abundance of hi-tech gadgets and have made important advancements in the medical field, they must have excellent schools.

Reality: There may be some excellent schools in Israel, but not all schools are excellent. And then one must also take a step back from the American mindset of what an excellent school is – is it one that follows a specific curriculum and provides strict discipline? Or is it possible that there is a different formula that works just as well, or even better, in Israel? This was a real tough one for me because my initial impression of Israeli schools was horror over the balagan (chaos) and violent “play”. I’m now trying to place more value on the results, than the methods. And try to remind myself that most of these children will serve in the IDF and since the IDF requires strict discipline then at some point in this education system it must be part of the plan.

Attitudes: Being the stubborn, control freak that I was upon arrival in Israel I did not heed my friend’s advice – as is evidenced in my earlier writings on this blog. The nasty New Yorker (another mythical stereotype we must dismiss eventually) that had been lying dormant in me for years reared her ugly head (possibly aroused by that nagging Brooklyn accent that went on for hours during the flight) and prepared to fight every peculiar turn along the Aliyah path. Instead of cheerfully accepting the cultural differences, I often found myself annoyed, angry and/or frustrated – and it was during those times that I craved the American things I couldn’t find here, and had difficulty digesting Hebrew.

If you were in my firing line during any of those difficult times, please forgive me – I plead temporary insanity! If you are one of those smart people out there planning Aliyah – or a recent oleh/olah – please know that it does get better and it doesn’t have to be so difficult if you will only heed my friend’s advice:

Don’t expect Israel to be like the USA. Like most things in life, your experience here will be largely determined by how adaptable and realistic you are.

Most of the people behind the windows you will at one point need service from really don’t get their kicks from giving you a frustrating experience. It’s good to keep a mental conversation repeating over and over in one’s head “you’re not in Kansas (or wherever you’re from) anymore and there’s no place like home (and you are home now – ding, dong the wicked witch is dead).” If nothing else, the imagery should make you smile.

Becoming Israeli

I didn’t realize that successful klitah had actually happened until Purim this year. We were thrilled to be invited to a Purim seuda in Ma’ale Adumim where we celebrated with three of our favorite families thanks to Fred and Barbara.  But before the seuda we attempted (unsuccessfully due to time constraints, I’m sorry to say) to visit with – and bring misloach manot to – the many families who became such an important part of our lives during our first year of Aliyah.

courtesy of Bryna LeeWhen we surprised our friends Nancy and Bill, Nancy said something to me that really awakened me to my current state of mind/growth: “You look great – so relaxed! she exclaimed, “You never looked so good when you lived here, you always seemed stressed.” Nancy was right, at 20 months post-Aliyah I have finally relaxed and feel like I’m home, and that America is a foreign land that I wouldn’t even consider visiting if I didn’t still have family there. And so I owe Nancy (and Fred, Barbara, Ron, Esther, Sarah, Devorah, Bryna Lee, A.J., Sanne, Ezra, Shoshana, NBN, and so very many new friends) a huge THANK YOU for giving me cause to rejoice!

One Final and Very Important Expectation: Spending Chagim (holidays) in the Holy Land is an incredible experience not to be missed!

Reality: No amount of money in the world could make me want to be any place other than Israel for the chagim. There is a special feeling shared by all Jews here regardless of religious observance or affiliation. “Strangers” wishing each other “chag sameach” (happy holiday), Jewish holiday foods on sale weeks ahead of time (with many free tastings), beautiful voices singing out from betai knesset (aka shul, synagogue, temple, etc.) overflowing beyond capacity, streets filled with happy people enjoying the fact that they are finally “home”. And my personal favorite is the “Shabbat Shaloms” that begin on Thursdays and come from the mouths of the people who don’t appear to be religious. Hidden tzadakim…

Your Expectations
Please share them in the comment section and if possible I’ll be happy to post my take on the reality.

This post is dedicated to my dear and courageous friend Leah Bracha who is scheduled to make Aliyah solo on the March 15th NBN Group flight. Leah will be staying with us in Ra’anana through Shabbat and then temporarily in Netanya until she finds her place. If you’d like to welcome a new retired olah, please be in touch with me.

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