(August 12, 2015 / JNS)
It has now been a whole month since my aliyah date, so I thought that this week I’d reflect on the process as a whole.
Unsurprisingly, many people from home ask how I’m doing with the transition, with some of the violence that has reared its ugly head in the last couple of weeks, and how living in Israel has been so far.
Overall, I am truly appreciative and delighted that I have been doing exceedingly well, perhaps better than I could have imagined. Almost every friend, old and new, sabra and oleh, looks me in the eye and lets me know, genuinely, that if I need any help during this journey, I should reach out. It’s heartwarming to know that so many people have my back.
An average day includes Hebrew in the morning until lunch, and then homework, errands, and sports/schmoozing/writing in the evenings. The Hebrew classes are enjoyable—a good mix of speaking, reading, writing, grammar, and singing the occasional Hebrew song. I am fortunate to have an energetic teacher who is always smiling and makes sure to tease us just enough so we don’t take ourselves too seriously. After all, it is quite the humbling experience to learn Hebrew!
The people in my ulpan (the immersive Hebrew school where I live and take classes) are friendly, intelligent, and fun. We’ve had a blast going to the beach in Tel Aviv, exercising and playing sports and games, going to concerts, shopping for apartment necessities, and of course, figuring out health care/license converting/banks, etc.
By now, most of us feel like we’ve been here for a while—I already see romantic relationships blossoming, people becoming close friends, and people settling in to our new lives in Israel. We know how to use the washing machines, take the buses, ask to try samples of food, and of course, negotiate, as new immigrants love to do.
The only things I wouldn’t write home about are the dinners provided by ulpan (but hey, at least they’re provided!) and the general organization (i.e., things aren’t fixed when they’re supposed to be, and the whole five months in the absorption center seems to be planned as we go along rather than organized in advance). These are just minor annoyances and are expected in Israel, and especially in ulpan. After all, we are living at an absorption center, not the Ritz Carlton (or the King David Hotel, for that matter).
I’ve also had my first bureaucratic mishap—which, looking back on it, was pretty funny. When I opened my bank account, my banker forgot to stamp something necessary in order to pay my ulpan fees. They also told me they’d send me an ATM card (which I still haven’t gotten). On Monday, which happened to be one of the hottest days in Israeli history, my friend asked me to go to the bank with him, as he had some bank issues as well. I knew that the bank had strange hours, so I asked my friend if he was sure it was open. “I think so,” he said. Of course, we got to the bank and it was closed. We walked across the street to a hotel to ask the concierge if any banks were open, and she found one, but it was a 15-minute walk uphill and it closed in 45 minutes. Mind you, it was HOT outside, more than 100 degrees fahrenheit. Challenge accepted. We booked it to the bank, walked up to the door, and knocked. A lady let us in with a confused look, and here’s how it went:
Israeli Bank Lady: Ehhm, can I help you?
Exasperated New Immigrants: Yes… (explains all problems).
Israeli Bank Lady: Ehhm, you’re at the wrong place. This is a bank for… ehhm… how you say… rich people?
Exasperated New Immigrants: Huh? Isn’t this Bank Leumi?
Israeli Bank Lady: (points to door that says Bank Leumi Personal Banking Center)
Exasperated New Immigrants: Oy.
After that, I felt that I had to do something productive, so I went to a friend to vent about it. We walked a lot, and after a very long day, I went to Gan Sacher—a large, grassy, beautiful park—to meet friends. Not having eaten since lunch (it was now 10 p.m. and 19,000 steps later), I treated myself to a gluten-free pizza that was to be delivered. Except the pizza man couldn’t find me for the life of him, and even though it says on their website they accept cards, their card reader was too old to read them. My friend saved me with cash as I munched on my cold pizza.
The truth is, bureaucratic failures are a rite of passage in Israel. The norm is when things don’t run as smoothly as planned, and the coping mechanism is merely to roll with the punches. For a country full of Jewish mothers, who are infamous control freaks, one of the most important things to be in Israel is flexible and forgiving. So I ate my pizza with my friends in the park on this very hot night, and I felt blissful.
When I returned to the bank for the fourth time to solve the same problem, something very heart-warming happened. I was waiting to enter the bank and I saw a Jewish woman find a chair for an Arab woman dressed in a burka. When the Arab woman said, “no you sit there” in Hebrew, the Jewish woman insisted and pushed the chair near her back for her to sit. Although not a particularly unique occurrence (these acts of kindness between Jews and Muslims happen more than you might hear in the media), this made all of my bank problems seem unimportant in the greater scheme of things.
But alas, not everything has been so blissful here in the past couple of weeks, as I’m sure you’ve heard on the news. At Jerusalem’s recent gay pride parade, Israelis were reminded that the term “terrorist” can also apply to those among us. During the march, a haredi man stabbed six people near the city center, killing a 16-year-old girl who was marching to support her LGBTQ friends. Just the next day, a Palestinian house in the West Bank was burned down, killing an 18-month-old Palestinian boy, in an act allegedly committed by Jewish extremists.
These events put a damper on my cheerfulness, to say the least. Both instances saddened me to my core. But the Israel and the Judaism that I know immediately reacted in the same way that I did to these events. Thousands of people around Israel gathered to show support for all of the victims of the two hate crimes. Naftali Bennett, a leader of Israel’s right-wing political camp and the country’s education minister, conveyed in a New York Timesarticle that Israel has zero tolerance for any type of violent fringe group.
This is the Israel that I know—one that is not afraid to call out evil and eradicate it, not because it makes us look better, but because it is just. This is my Israel, the nation in which I choose to begin my life, the nation that has high highs and low lows, and the nation that I am proud to call my home.
Eliana Rudee is a fellow with the Salomon Center for American Jewish Thought and the author of the new “Aliyah Annotated” column for JNS.org. She is a graduate of Scripps College, where she studied International Relations and Jewish Studies. She was published in USA Today and Forbes after writing about her experiences in Israel last summer. Follow her aliyah column on JNS.org, Facebook, and Instagram.