This week I celebrate the anniversary of making aliyah in 2004. Five years. I share this anniversary with my wife and children of course, but also some 250 others who boarded a chartered El Al plane organized by Nefesh B’Nefesh, and made aliyah together. I had planned to make aliyah for most of my adult life so this was not just about moving my family to Israel, but fulfilling a 25 year old dream. On many levels I was well prepared and excited about the move. And on many levels I was ignorant and there was trepidation. What I found was that actually picking up and doing it, getting on that plane and settling in Israel, was one of the most moving and emotional experiences in my life.
Living in Israel is not just about having the privilege of raising my children here and having a son born in Jerusalem. It involves a realization that for centuries, millions of Jews yearned for the opportunity to make aliyah and could not do so. Millions perished trying, or only just dreaming of Israel. Some were victims of hateful anti Semitism, others just did not have the opportunity.
And for those who made aliyah in the century before I did, I also realize that theirs was a process far less smooth, that many were fleeing persecution as well as risking their lives crossing parched deserts or freezing mountains. Many arrived with only the clothes on their backs, while our challenges involved sorting from among all our earthly possessions to see what would fit on the shipping container, and then dealing with the obnoxious staff on this end, annoying bureaucracy, strikes, and some broken furniture.
Comparatively, ours was a very easy process. This was made all the more so by Nefesh B’Nefesh ,and arriving in a welcoming community where many resources made our landing much easier than that of those who ended up living in the tent cities erected in the early years of the state.
Yet, in spite of this relatively simple process, there were (and are) still challenges to overcome. After five years as a veteran oleh, its worth looking back, and to offer guidance for the thousands of other Anglo olim who will arrive this summer.
Driving in Israel can be one of the most dangerous and maddening experiences. Buckle up. Beware of moves you could have never imagined because someone is going to make them. Israelis will be the first to cut you off and yell at you, and then wish you a Shabbat shalom as if there’s no contradiction.
Don’t talk on your phone without a hands free device. This can not only be unsafe, but you may end up with a big 1000 shekel ticket (which is mandatory if you are a new driver in Israel, even if you’ve been driving for 25 years). So I am told.
And while driving, or flying your Magic Carpet, if you should happen to make an illegal turn and get pulled over by a policeman, try speaking with your best English accented Hebrew, and forget all the grammatical rules you learned in ulpan. I am told that this can also get you out of a ticket, especially if the policeman corrects your poor Hebrew.
If adapting to the new “rules” of driving were not hard enough, note that when sitting at a red light you might hear car engines revving. The lights change from red to yellow to green as if at the Indy 500 signaling, “Ready, set, go!”
Get used to the fact that tissues come in a plastic bag and not a box. Appreciate that Israeli knowhow has created a disposable plastic cup that is made with the least plastic possible, down to the last molecule, so as to prevent waste and needless damage to the environment. Just be careful not to grasp it too hard.
French fries are meant to be a greasy condiment, not a crispy side dish.
When they ask you if you want “charif” on your falafel, schwarma, etc., note that “a little” is relative. And if your family hails from Poland, Russia or Germany, eat at your own risk.
At 10:00 every morning children across the county partake in a unifying cultural activity as if it were the 11th commandment, “Aruchat 10,” the 10:00 Meal. I am not sure what the origin is of this pillar of Israeli culture, especially coming from the land of “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” But be sure to pack your kids a culturally conforming meal so that they won’t be ostracized by other kids, or even their teacher. And when you get to work, when you see the 50 year old man pull out his sandwich at 10:00 and devour it in the middle of a meeting, think of Pavlov and smile inside, but don’t laugh out loud.
When your son pushes ahead of others in line and you tell him to say excuse me, be grateful that he didn’t push by saying “move!"
And when you’re waiting in line yourself, remember its totally fine to arrive, stake out your place, leave to run errands, have coffee, or visit someone in the hospital, and then come back and pronounce “hayiti kan,” I was here already.
Appreciate that when you call customer service Israel has advanced to a stage where there is often an English menu option. Until you actually speak to a person whose English is as good as your taste for charif.
One more little thing. Lice. Get used to it.
In spite of the challenges, cynicism, and jokes we make to overcome them, life in Israel is rich in meaning and values. My kids absorb so much of Jewish life just from being here, as well as living an appreciably higher quality of life in many ways. There is a great satisfaction from living and interacting with people whose families also made aliyah from distant places with very different backgrounds and customs, but with the common denominator is that we choose to be here to write the future pages of Jewish history. And there is pride in appreciating what we have built here together, and occasional pause when someone who is a long term veteran or native Israeli smiles with satisfaction that you have chosen to be part of this enterprise.
So happy anniversary to all the August 2004 olim. We’ve made it now. To those who came to Israel long before us, thanks for laying the foundation. Join us in a smile reflecting back on your own flourishing, and overcoming challenges, here. To those on the way later this month, welcome. In spite of what you’ve heard, many of us love both aliyah and olim.
And to those not here yet, what are you waiting for? There’s no time like the present.
INVITATION: Please send your own absorption tips and aliyah memories to no1abba_at_gmail.com
Jonathan Feldstein is the Israel Representative of the American Friends of Magen David Adom. He made aliya in 2004 and has pioneered the opportunity for tourists to donate blood in Israel.