(February 24, 2016 / JNS)
By Eliana Rudee/JNS.org
I want to start by saying that I have a bone to pick with social media: People typically put out only the version of themselves that they want the world to see—purely happy, luxurious, clean, and beautiful—omitting the reality that life is complex and can be sad, dirty, and uncomfortable, and that sometimes we need to grip our fists just to get through another day.
I remember watching the TV special documenting Bruce Jenner’s transition to Caitlyn. His daughter cried as she described how confused she was as a kid seeing his lipstick and thinking he was having an affair and not telling anybody because they didn’t want their family broken up. During this time on the media, “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” portrayed a fun, luxurious life, in which the biggest dilemmas were catty interpersonal conflicts and probably scripted breakups. But underneath it all was something actually interesting that painted a not-so-perfect view of the family. So it wasn’t shown or discussed until years later.
I bring this up because I want you to know that I do my best to be real with my writing regarding Israel. I am not writing to say that life in Israel is perfect. It’s not. I will never try to hide something and I am not afraid to show the real Israel. In fact, that is exactly what I aim to do.
That said, I want to share the whole truth of how Israel has been going after seven months, with just more than two months out of the absorption center. The “real Israel” is beginning to sink in, for better and for worse. These last couple of months as a (mostly) “real Israeli” have been more difficult than I had imagined.
First of all, the landlords who I thought were quite nice in the beginning have turned out to be a little more cheap and dishonest than I expected. I know this is a phenomenon that people see all around the world, but I guess I expected more from the daughter of a Holocaust survivor who seemed so understanding and accommodating in the beginning. It turns out that the leaking problem in my kitchen and hallway when it rains was simply covered up when I moved into the apartment. Literally covered up. Now, two months after the fresh painting, the ceiling is falling piece by piece, revealing the mold and damage that the paint concealed when we rented the apartment. The landlord refuses to fix it because “it can only be fixed in the summer when it doesn’t rain.” Sounds legit, except I ran into a previous tenant of the apartment, and she says that’s what they say every year and never actually fix it in the summer. I’ve found that this is a very Israeli way of dealing with, well, nearly everything. Cover it up, act as if the problem isn’t there, and then do some damage control when people realize there is a problem. Repeat and use often.
Another challenge is with my Hebrew. Not to be fluent in Hebrew seems to get in the way of getting the best price with a taxi driver and (obviously) communicating with Israelis who do not speak any English, and yes, they exist. In the course of my work, I’ve been trying to conduct some phone interviews in Hebrew. After a five-minute conversation in Hebrew, my brain hurts. It feels great to be able to converse, but fluency is far away. As a journalist and writer, I’m a communicator by nature. It’s part of my identity. To not be able to communicate is not only a problem for me on a professional level, but on a personal level as well. When I’m unable to communicate, I don’t feel I can be myself, and it becomes very difficult to build relationships and show my true self to others.
Third, the poor weather is taxing. I know, I know: for someone who comes from Seattle, I should be the last person to complain about the rain. But when your ceiling leaks, and you don’t have built-in heat, and you didn’t bring your winter clothes to Israel (oops), the winter can be rough! It seems like the weather is slowly getting better, and it is kind of cool how rain takes on a new meaning here because it’s a desert that is usually lacking in rainfall. Many people rejoice when there’s rain, and even pray, although that might just be a coping mechanism.
On a more positive note, and to conclude, the magic of living in Israel has not diminished. Sometimes, when I walk outside on a sunny Shabbat morning, with Jerusalem all around me, I get chills. Israel is simply a place like no other. It is absolutely magical: The way the sun sets over the Mediterranean Sea, the families walk together outside on Shabbat mornings, the way you meet someone for the first time at a Shabbat table and know dozens of people in common. I have a feeling that this sentiment of Israel’s uniqueness and beauty is never going to fade away in my eyes. No matter how many drippy ceilings under which I live, no matter how many Hebrew mistakes I make, and no matter what other challenges come my way in the next several months, I still know that Israel is my place and my home. I can’t imagine being anywhere else in the world right now.
Eliana Rudee is a fellow with the Haym Salomon Center and the author of the “Aliyah Annotated” column for JNS.org. She is a graduate of Scripps College, where she studied international relations and Jewish studies. Her bylines have been featured in USA Today, Forbes, and The Hill. Follow her column on JNS.org.