(December 16, 2015 / JNS)
This week marked the biggest transition point for me since making aliyah—the end of the five-month ulpan (Hebrew-language immersion school) has come, I have moved into my new apartment, and I have started working full-time as a writer/journalist. All in one week!
Some of my benefits are coming to an end as I hit the six-month mark of being in Israel. The Israeli government provides an “absorption basket” to help new immigrants, in the form of cash, government subsidies on taxes, a discount on medical care, free Hebrew classes, and more. (No, I don’t work for the Israeli government. Yet.) In addition to finishing ulpan, my payments from the government are almost done. Yet some other new-immigrant benefits are just beginning, such as the 90-percent discount I get on “Arnona,” the property tax owed to the Jerusalem municipality. The six-month mark as a new immigrant is just one of the many transition points. For me, it has been an amazing transition so far.
Ulpan really did help my Hebrew and my absorption into Israel. Before ulpan, I could only form simple sentences in Hebrew, and now, I can conjugate in passive, active, reflexive, present, past, and future. In other words, I can hold a normal conversation. I have a very long way until I become fluent, though, and I presume this will only come as I take more formal classes as well as informal classes, aka speaking in real life to real people. Honestly, the best part of ulpan was the friends I made. The Hebrew was a plus. Only one day after leaving ulpan, I am already hanging out with my friends whom I already miss, after only 20 hours.
Finding an apartment was crazy. I started looking with my boyfriend a month ahead, only to find out that I should start looking in another two weeks. It’s a very fast process here, “chick-chuck,” very Israeli. Most of the places we saw told us they wanted someone immediately, which means we’d be paying two rents for the first month if we signed the contract immediately. We wanted an apartment in the city center (where all the cool kids are), but it’s very difficult to find a reasonably priced and livable place in the city center. Outside the city center, you can find a better place for a better price, but then of course, you’re far from the action. We ended up settling on a place with two other flat mates from ulpan (and one more to come) that is very cute, a good price, and in the city center. The downside: no living room. The upside: an AMAZING mirpeset (balcony) that overlooks one of Jerusalem’s coolest weekly fairs. So now we can do some bargaining right from our balcony, like true Israelis.
The landlords are two 90-year-olds, one from Hungary, a Holocaust survivor, and the other from Poland, who came to Israel when it was British Palestine. When we first called them, we had a good laugh. They kept asking us, “Do you have moneyyyy? How do you have moneyyy?” They were very sweet and reminded all of us of our own great-grandparents. When we met them to discuss the contract, they sat down with us like we were part of the family and forced cakes and coffee down our throats. They told us about their life and their apartment, which they hold so dear to their hearts. We promised to take care of it and water their plants on the balcony.
When it came time to move into the apartment, another process began. I must say, for a place that’s just a 20-minute drive from my old place and in the same city, it was much more difficult than I imagined. Packing up was one thing; moving everything was another. My boyfriend’s Israeli godmother-like figure helped us move by driving us from ulpan to our new place with all of our stuff. As I brought down bag after bag of my clothes, books, housewares, food, etc., I became skeptical that we could fit everything into her small four-door Ford Fiesta. She promised to play some car Tetris and make it work.
She strategically loaded the car until there was no more space, and my boyfriend got in the front seat. Then she told me to “jump in.” I looked around… exactly where was I supposed to “jump in”? It was either on her lap, or my boyfriend’s. To avoid any awkward moments, I chose my boyfriend’s lap. He’s not a small guy. In fact, I’m pretty lucky to have a Jewish boyfriend who is almost six feet tall—usually they don’t make ’em that tall. So I climbed on his lap, squeezed between him and the dashboard, with my head bent down, because I literally could not straighten my back. I felt like Alice from “Alice in Wonderland” when she takes eats the mushroom that makes her grow past the size of her house. I said to our generous car host, “If we get in an accident, I’m dead.” She replied, “It’s not an accident to be worried about, it’s the police who could give me a ticket if we are stopped.” But she didn’t seem worried at all. I just had to trust her, and hope that this was just one of those “cultural difference” moments and that this full car with three people in the front was completely normal. But alas, when we drove out of the ulpan, she said, “By the way, I’m the only person in the world who would ever do this.” So I closed my eyes as we drove off toward my new life in Jerusalem.
Eliana Rudee is a fellow with the Salomon Center for American Jewish Thought 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 aliyah column on JNS.org, Facebook, and Instagram.