Friday, July 09, 2004

Two Short Years Ago...

Today is the two-year anniversary of my aliyah (immigration to Israel). I remember thinking so many crazy thoughts during those first heady few days. So many worries, so many fears, so many shocks to my system (which I had previously thought was unflappable).

How would I ever learn the language?
How would I ever learn my way around?
Would I find a job?
Would I find friends -- real, true honest friends?

I remember being so overwhelmed with emotion. When I arrived, it was the height of the current intifada. Suicide bombings were occuring on a daily basis. More or less literally, by the way. That scared me far less than my concerns about adjusting.

And two years later....

I am mostly fluent in Hebrew. When I come across a word I don't know, I usually know another way to say what I mean. I have gone on job interviews in Hebrew. I meet with clients in Hebrew. I have gone on dates in Hebrew only. The first one, however, I remember thinking "Hey--not too bad. You understood about 75% of that!" Which was great until I started thinking, "So what happened during the other 25%?" Did I agree to marry the guy, tell him I hate him? Who knows?

I can argue, for hours, in Hebrew. I no longer even know where my "good" dictionary is. Time was, when I had an important conversation I either dragged a "translator" along, or made sure to look up all the words I thought I would need I just jump right in.

I have always been one of those highly approachable people. In a group of 50, I will be the one the tourist approaches to ask directions. And these days, I totally know them. I can give driving directions, bus directions, walking directions almost all over Jerusalem.

The 2 jobs I have held since moving here (one for 11 months, one going on 8) I found within hours of starting my job search. I am actually in better financial shape here than I was in America. I make the same salary more or less (which either means I was severely underpaid in America, or overpaid here) but my expenses (rent, etc.) are much less.

And friends....I have met so many wonderful people and found real true friends. That I can share my heart with, my feelings with, my worries with.

And yet, despite my adjustment to this beautiful and special place, I have made a conscious decision not to become inured to the magic that is Israel, and particularly Jerusalem. Everyone has an "only in Israel" story, and I am no exception. but I make sure to pay attention, and remember that life wasn't always this good.

I was going through some old emails, and here's one I sent about a week after I arrived. I think it sort of captures the head-over-heels in love feelings I had at the time. And though the love has matured and hardened with difficulties and time, I'm still loving living here.

"Almost a full week has passed since I last wrote, and
the marvels of living here have been coming so fast
and so furious, that I have barely had time to sit
down and write about them.

I went through all of the paperwork and lines that
other Olim have complained about, in about a day and a
half. In fact, in most places, all I had to say was
that I was one of the 400 Olim who came from America,
and the clerk would hug me, thank me and bless me, and
then whip through the paperwork. I'm not sure how
much this will last before I too will get to deal with
the realities, but for now this is wonderful.

One particularly amazing thing has happened so far,
truly illustrating that I am, in fact, in the Jewish
homeland. Most Israelis will probably think this was
de rigeur and not focus on it. While I was signing up
for a new cellphone, the man behind the counter asked
me "At Shomeret Shabbat?" (do you observe the
Sabbath?) When I responded that I was shomeret
shabbat, he told me that the cellphone company has a
"Shabbat Plan". I get 60 free minutes a month for not
using my phone on Shabbat. The real kicker is, that
if I use it to dial anything besides
police/fire/ambulance during the Shabbat, I get
charged a hefty fine!!!
G-d must be the CEO of the cellphone company!

While I was signing up for health insurance this week,
I again encountered what I hope is the face of Israel
forever. When the clerk who was helping myself and my
friend found out we were on the flight of 400
Americans, she thanked us so profusely, with tears in
her eyes. Over and over again she thanked us, and
blessed us. And the funny thing, she moved here not
so long ago from Russia, but she was still thanking us
for doing the same thing!!!

A similar story happened in the grocery store on
Friday, Erev Shabbat. I was shopping with a friend,
marveling at all the American "conveniences" that were
completely available in Israel (some items were
cheaper here than they are in America). In fact, I
realized that half of the items I imported in my lift,
thinking I was being such a jappy American, were right
there on the aisles.
My friend and I were speaking in English, and this
elderly woman came up to me and asked me when I
arrived here. Before I could answer she decided to
share with me a special recipe for tuna casserole from
her native country of Uruguay. I'd share it with you
but she made me promise to keep it a secret (one she
happily offered to me, just because I was a new olah).
After writing down the recipe, she again asked when I
arrived. When I said Tuesday, she asked me if I was
on the now famous flight of 400 Olim. I told her I
was and she too had tears in her eyes, as she blesed
me and thanked me for coming. She gave me her phone
number and address, so that I could come for shabbat
and introduced me to her daughter. Realize that this
woman came from Uruguay, which means she's an
immigrant as well. I can't wait until the day when I
can welcome people here as well!

Shabbat was beautiful. While singing the Shir
Hamaalot (a psalm that is recited before the Grace on
Shabbat), I was struck dumb by the meaning and how
fully I had just lived through the Psalm.

"When G-d returns us to Zion it will be like we were
dreamers". I can still picture myself floating off
the plane in Ben-Gurion. In fact, I still am in a
trance most of the time. The pictures and videotapes
will help me snap out, maybe.
"Then our mouths will be filled with laughter, and a
song will be on our tongues". I've described the
airport scene before, and as you can see from video
footage, we were all singling, laughing, and crying,
something the Psalmist refers to later on.
"Then the nations of the world will say how great is
the G-d that has done this to Our People, and we will
be happy" There were media personnel from so many
countries. The story of our mass aliyah made the news
everywhere. The nations of the world had to sit up
and take notice.
"G-d will return us like springs of the Negev" At the
moment tourism in Israel has somewhat dried up, and
dried up the economy along the way. But here we were,
400 of us, streaming into the country, like water in
the Negev.
"Those who sow in tears shall reap in happiness". We
all cried as we arrived, tears of happiness. Our
existence in Israel, I pray, will be joyous, and
though we acknowledge that life here can and may be
difficult, the benefits of living here will be reaped
plentifully and joyously.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seems to me that the good far outweighs whatever bumps in the road you may have encountered.




9:19 PM  

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