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Posts Tagged ‘aliyah’

I hate the phone.  I’m fine talking to people in person, and I love writing emails and letters.  But keep me away from the phone unless it’s absolutely necessary.  I don’t love it in English, and like most people struggling with a language that is not their own, I HATE it in Hebrew.  When the Cap’n worked at home, I had him do most of the phone calls, but now that he’s sitting all day in an office in Jerusalem, I have to call the matnas (community center) about enrolling the kids in swim lessons, the mothers of my kids’ friends about playdates and who’s going to bake the cake for the upcoming class birthday party (usually me), and the health clinic to make medical appointments, all in Hebrew.  Since those phone calls are often the only time I speak Hebrew all day, I suffer from arrested development in the language, and while I sometimes get out my thoughts just fine in fairly fluid Hebrew, if someone calls me out of the blue or wants to discuss something for which I have no context, I freeze up.

That’s what happened yesterday when Peach handed me the phone to give driving directions to the mother of a girl playing with Beans this afternoon.  I hadn’t given anyone directions in a while, and with a sleeping Bill in the crook of my arm, and half asleep myself, I couldn’t even remember the word “intersection” in Hebrew.  I stammered, made long pauses, but finally got out the information.  (She found us just fine a few minutes later.)  When I got off the phone, though, Peach looked up from her homework and said, “Wow, your Hebrew was really bad just now.”

Normally I don’t make much of those comments.  I try to be good-natured about them, laugh them off, and not take it too personally when my children make fun of my admittedly pathetic Hebrew.  But I had just finished correcting Beans on a question she missed on a Hebrew language test (telling her that luchot, despite the feminine plural ending, is an irregular masculine noun), I’d been caught unawares by this phone call, and I have days here and there when I’m feeling more vulnerable than usual.  I began thinking about all the things I gave up to come here: my family (which has already had to do without me every Christmas for the past 16 years since my decision to convert), my friends, my community, my quirky, charming Victorian house on a tree-lined street, my career as an English teacher (teaching it as a second language or to students who aren’t going to school in English is not the same), my shul community, and not least, understanding everything that is going on around me.  The vast majority of the time, I can focus on what is wonderful about living here, but every now and then, I think about what I don’t have anymore, and it gets to me.

Peach stepped on a landmine when she make that disrespectful crack (even more so since she’s working on a contract where she needs to demonstrate kibbud av v’em every day to earn a dinner out with me, one-on-one).  I kept my cool at first, but when I went up to her room to debrief her, I realized that my nerves were more raw than I’d thought and I lost it, listing for her all the things I’ve mentioned that I gave up so she could grow up here, speak the language, and feel at home.  Because while I don’t doubt for a minute that this is my homeland as much as a tenth-generation Yerushalmi‘s, it doesn’t feel like it every minute of every day.

Maybe this is good.  After all, while I sometimes miss the US, I don’t regret coming here, and can’t imagine going back.  But I think it’s also okay sometimes to let myself acknowledge that there are times when I feel like a fish out of water.  For Peach, too, I think it might have been good to hear that while we wanted badly to come here, doing so has not always been a joy ride for the Cap’n and me.  It will never be as easy for us as it will be for the kids.  Despite the fact that the girls, too, are immigrants, their Hebrew is very good, they’re going to school here from a young age, and will have all the formative experiences Israeli kids have that shape who they are, who their friends are, and their lives as Israelis.  As badly as I wanted my conversion (and as agonizing as it was), when I held Beans, my firstborn, in my arms in the hospital, I looked down at her and whispered, “I did it for you.”  Similarly, while the Cap’n and I knew we wanted to come here to live someday, we really let the children decide for us, and chose to come when Beans was beginning kindergarten so they would not be too far behind in first grade.

I’m not going to tell the kids I spent my childhood walking to school everyday through the snow, uphill both ways.  On the other hand, perhaps for them to know what I gave up to be here will make the experience of living here mean more to them, help them understand what it’s like for adult immigrants, and in some way tell them how much we love them in giving them this life.  It’s not like buying them a present and showing them the price tag; I think it’s more like giving them a rare gift and telling them it’s the only one like it.

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Living the dream

Westbankmama has a post up with several bloggers’ aliyah stories (including mine) in honor of her family’s twentieth aliyah anniversary.  Read the different stories about where these women came from, how they ended up here, and the greatest common denominator: how we’re all home.  Mazal tov, Westbankmama.

And when you’re done with that, check out the latest video from Nefesh B’Nefesh.  It doesn’t bring tears to my eyes like the photos of the three jets that landed August 16th 2006, but it is sweet.  Watch, and smile.

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A tale of aliyah

Westbankmama is celebrating her family’s 20th anniversary of aliyah this year.  (Chazak chazak!)  In honor of the occasion (and, I suppose, the Crunch family’s upcoming fifth aliyah anniversary), here is an account of our family’s aliyah.

The Cap’n and I met at a one-year program in Israel in our late 20s (what used to be WUJS-Arad).  He had come to continue his Jewish studies and involvement that had begun in graduate school a few years before.  I had come, after a lifetime in a mixed-married household with little or no Judaism, to begin mine.  It was my first visit to the country and his second.  Although neither of us had grown up in Zionist homes, we both found ourselves deeply affected by the country, and our time here solidified our Jewish identities and observance.

But it was not yet time to think about aliyah.  We were not ready to put that much physical distance between ourselves and our families, nor to contend with the realities of the language, culture shock, the rabbinate (both for my necessary halachic conversion and for our marriage), and finding a community into which to integrate.  We were still new to Orthodox Judaism and chose to marry and settle in the much more familiar U.S. for the foreseeable future.

And yet throughout the early years of our marriage, we found ourselves having The Conversation every six months to a year.  What about Israel?  Is it time yet?  Should we think about it?  In the first year of our marriage, we took a trip to Israel to visit friends and the country again.  The night we were due to leave, we were both in tears—I while packing, and he while prowling the aisles of the grocery store buying nosh for the plane trip back.  This visit, while a great delight to us, drove home the reality that once we began a family and were paying for day school and college tuition, it was unlikely that we would be able to visit Israel again until the children were out of the house and financially independent.

Finally, after the birth of our third child, we heard a bat kol (voice from heaven).  It wasn’t the supernatural kind one imagines from the Torah; it was disguised in a d’var Torah given by a friend at Kol Nidrei.  In his discussion of the expression timhon levav (confusion of the heart) our friend interpreted the phrase to mean “refraining from doing that which you know is right because it’s easier to stick with the status quo.”  On our walk home that night, we had The Conversation again, and this time decided that it was time to do a little research.  (To our relief, Nefesh B’Nefesh had been invented, which made the preliminary searches, quests for information, and paperwork much easier.)

Within a year, we were on a plane to Israel (plus three kids, three car seats, three carry-ons, and ten boxes of our stuff).  A year after that, the girls were speaking Hebrew, we’d sold our condo in Newton, bought a car here, and were looking for a place to buy.  Two years after aliyah, we moved into our own home in Efrat and a few months later, I gave birth to Bill (at home).

And here we are, five years later.  The Cap’n works for an Israeli company now, the girls can all read Hebrew and leyn (chant) Torah, and we feel with every passing year more and more like Israelis.  Our name is in the phone book, we have Israeli driver’s licenses, I’m a dab hand at head lice removal, our kids know more about Judaism before the age of 10 than we knew at 25, and while we are excited when we travel to America for a visit, we’re even more excited to come back to Israel and our lives here.

I guess we’re home.

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The Cap’n and I attended Peach’s second grade class’s ceremony marking Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terror) and Yom HaAtzma’ut (Independence Day) this morning.  To see the little girls reading Psalms, enacting a soldier’s leaving home and family and returning safe and sound (baruch Hashem), remembering each of the five members of the Fogel family who were murdered in Itamar, parading in costumes from dozens of countries from which Jews made aliyah in the last 63 years, and doing a dance with Israeli flags ending up in formation of the number “63” was a sight we did not even imagine when we made aliyah nearly five years ago.  Seeing Peach among other Israeli kids, seeing how Israel  is not an abstraction for her but her home, hearing her fluent Hebrew, seeing how she understands the Jewish people’s connection to this land, our history here, the Torah, and the injustice of those who would kill or expel us from here, is so much more than we ever bargained for.

I began to tell the kids at dinner last night, after we had stood for the 8:00 PM air raid siren ushering in Yom HaZikaron, the difference between the day here and Memorial Day in the US, but I just couldn’t.  When kids and their families here commemorate fallen soldiers and victims of terror, it’s Avraham David Moses, an Efrat teen who was murdered in the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva massacre a couple of years ago; Shmuel Gillis, the Efrat oncologist who was shot on the road (inside the Green Line) on his way to work at Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital; Yosef Goodman, the son of the owners of our local pizza shop, whose parachute got tangled with his officer’s, and who cut the strings of his own chute to save his officer’s life, falling to his own death; and Daniel Mandel, whose mother works at the same company as the Cap’n, who was killed in the line of duty when searching for wanted terrorists in Nablus in 2003.  Soldiers are not boys from Kentucky and Nebraska who volunteer for an army career, but whom we’ll never see.  Soldiers are Tzvi, Honi, Natan and Doron, Re’ut and Miriam, the boys and girls who live on our street.  White sales, parades, and government commemorations on national television are far more removed (for better and for worse) than what our children experience now.

Living in Gush Etzion is an amazing experience.  We are near where King David was born, and possibly where he herded sheep in his boyhood.  We are near the path that Avraham likely followed when traveling to Jerusalem with his son Yitzhak in the akeida (binding) story.  We are across the road from one of the battlegrounds of the Chanukah story, where the Jews fought Assyrian Greeks riding war elephants, and where Elazar, brother of Yehudah Maccabbee, was killed.  And Gush Etzion was the scene of fighting in May 1948, when the Jordanians overran the land Jews had purchased and farmed for years, and massacred the remaining fighters.  Visitors to Kfar Etzion, a kibbutz which has a field school and a heritage center, can learn more about the foundation of the kibbutzim here and their destruction in the War of Independence in a video presentation which takes place right over the bunker which sheltered Gush Etzion’s last fighters.  The following video tells a similar story:

May the memories of the fallen be blessed, and may we live to see the end of the need for such sacrifice.

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Relatively healthy

One of the things I have found remarkable about our lives in Israel since making aliyah three and a half years ago has been how relatively healthy our children are.  True, like most new immigrants, we were all dreadfully sick in our first year here.  The Cap’n missed three solid weeks of ulpan while the girls each took a turn with a week-long fever, which would begin on Shabbat afternoon and taper off the following Shabbat morning, to be followed by the next girl’s fever spiking and settling in.  That, plus our own colds, were not fun.

And this is not to say that the Cap’n and I are so healthy all the time either.  We have had our share of colds, but even worse than the occasional virus are the allergies here, especially in Efrat where it seems something is blooming or otherwise reproducing at any given time, and the regular doses of Loratidine we take are more for making us less miserable than for making us actually feel well.

But the children have been in the pink almost every winter.  Banana missed a couple of days with a fever this year, and Peach pretended to be sick last month (which we humored for a day, then sent her packing back to school).  But in general, they go to school feeling fine every day.

Oy—the memories I have of the flu, the chicken pox, the rotten colds that made me miserable for days and weeks on end!  Living in Hingham (Mass.) where my bedroom was an icebox, in Denver where we burrowed tunnels under the snow in the front yard, and in Portland (Ore.) where the rain could keep us indoors for days on end were what I grew up with, and the viruses I caught which kept me miserable cannot be counted.

It’s a particular joy, and one I hopefully anticipated before making aliyah, to see my children healthy (yes, they eat well, including their vegetables) and able to play outside nearly every day of the year.  Even if the wind is blowing or the weather is cold, the ground is usually dry and the sun is usually out.  I suppose if one really wants to live in paradise, one could move to Hawaii which has essentially one season—warm.  But I couldn’t give up seasons altogether, and now the almond trees are flowering, the tulips and narcissus are up and blooming, the cyclamen and anemones are dotting the rocks and grass on the hillsides among the ancient terraces here in the Gush, and we still get a rainy day here and there to keep it all green.  It’s all good.

Except for those allergies…

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The Cap’n and I often hear Jews in America say, “Well, I’d really like to make aliyah, BUT…” and after the “but” give lots of reasons.  Some of them make sense (elderly parents to care for, well-established careers that it would be impossible to replicate in Israel or to continue remotely or by commuting) but some of them are downright ridiculous.  Here is a list of the top 10 dumb excuses people give for not making aliyah:

1. Parnasah. One of the reasons one needs so much money in the US to be Jewish is because a house in the eruv, Jewish day school, Jewish summer camp (if you take advantage), kosher food, shul dues, regular entertaining, and getting hit up for mikvah renovations cost a lot of money.  In Israel, one can save around 95% on tuition.  Real estate (outside the main population centers of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv) is not nearly as insane as in frum neighborhoods in the US.  Camps are cheap and plentiful here.  There’s a shul (or two, or fifty) in every neighborhood, and dues are a fraction of what they are in an American shul.  Kosher food is available everywhere here, and shopping in a shuk can save a family a lot of money.  The government pays for mikva’ot and their maintenance.  And guess what?  You can AFFORD to have more kids here because of it.  Those who live in America and have to make their child-bearing decisions based on their finances would be free here to choose based on what they want and what Hashem gives them.

2. The rabbinate’s treatment of converts.  As if the American rabbinical establishment loves converts so much.  If certain Batei Din aren’t bad enough in the way they conduct conversions, there have been many American rabbis who have notoriously abused their positions of power with regard to women, children, and converts (including talk of revoking conversions for women who wore pants after conversion—the brazen hussies!).  There are mean people everywhere.

3. Hebrew.  Duh, you’re Jewish.  It’s your JOB to learn Hebrew anyway.  Why not use the Holy Tongue everyday rather than just for special occasions?

4. Fear of terrorism. Ahem.  September 11, London Tube, Madrid commuter train, Mumbai, Kuala Lumpur,…  And no one with the name of Umar who paid cash for a one-way ticket and had a bomb stashed in his underpants would have been allowed on a plane bound either to or from Israel.  Period.  It is interesting to note that despite all the awful stories that make it out of Israel, life expectancy in Israel is higher than in America.

5. Fear of IDF service. This sticks in lots of people’s craw.  But there are a few things to consider.  One is that besides gan, this is one of the great social foundations in the life of an Israeli.  Boys become men there, friendships are formed, skills learned, all while ensuring every day that Israel continues to exist.  Everyone wishes that service in the IDF wasn’t mandatory, but no one can deny its necessity.  You may be familiar with the observation credited to Shira Sorko-Ram (in the Maoz Israel newsletter, May 2004), “If the Arabs put down their weapons today there would be no more violence.  If the Israelis put down their weapons today there would be no more Israel.”  Need I say more?  And if someone doesn’t agree with the role the IDF plays in turning settlers out of their homes, there’s nothing like being a fully enfranchised citizen to give weight to one’s opinions.

6. Israel’s hostile neighborhood. True, Israel doesn’t have many friends in the Middle East.  Over time, however, that may change.  In the meantime, thanks to peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, there is a bus that departs from central Jerusalem for Cairo every day, and Petra is only two hours from the border crossing at Eilat.  In addition, beautiful beach holidays in Cyprus and Turkey are available, Europe is only a time zone or two away, and Israel itself boasts plenty to keep a family busy on the holidays.

7. Expectation of downsizing. Many people don’t like the idea of coming to Israel because it may mean having to live in smaller quarters than they have in America.  This is true for some, but certainly not for everyone.  We increased our square meterage from what we had in the US when we made aliyah to a rented apartment, and again when we bought a cottage (semi-detached house with garden).  Some people want to live in a McMansion, however, and there are a number of neighborhoods with such absurdly large houses here in Israel.  Rampant consumerism has gained some traction in Israel for those who wish to adhere to it as a value.  But most people find they can do with less, and the upside of that is that cleaning for Shabbat takes less time.

8. No Sunday. When can you go to the mall/make day trips/get together with friends from out of town?  I know, this is a tough one.  But if a family can be shopped by Wednesday and cooked by Thursday, then Friday (especially in the warmer months) is a great day for that.  People usually only work half-days during chol hamo’ed (if they work at all then), and life is short enough that everyone bailing on work and school once in a blue moon could be nice.

9. I already spent a year in Israel.  Why should I live there? Because you probably came as a young person and enrolled in one of the many fine programs that allow young people to experience life in Israel in a well-structured, guided, sheltered environment.  Those are great, but to ask why you should live here, especially if that program year was a great year for you, is like asking, “I went on a date with this great guy.  But why should I marry him?”  Because he’s great.  Because he is your soulmate.  Because Hashem created him just for YOU.  And because he loves you more than anyone ever will.  How many people can you say THAT about?

And the biggest, all-time dumbest reason not to make aliyah:

10. Concern about the noise of IAF flyovers. (I swear I am NOT making this up.)  I’m afraid I have no response.

I know there are people who will read this and think, “But I still don’t want to go.  I like Israel, but not as much as where I am living.”  Okay.  But let’s break it down a bit more.

For those who believe themselves bound to perform mitzvot, this is a biggie.  So big, in fact, that it’s the one exception to the laws against writing on Shabbat, allowing a Jew to instruct a non-Jew to write in order to purchase property in Israel.

Another blogger (I can’t remember which one; chime in if it was you, and give a link to your post) once wrote about why more people don’t make aliyah.  For every reason listed, she determined that fear was at the root of the reason.  This is compelling.  Even the excuse of inertia, for people who would like to come here to live but never seem to think it’s the right time, is a form of fear.  Some reason that their finances are not in order, or that the kids aren’t the right ages, or their career is just taking off.  These, when examined closely, often boil down to a type of fear.

The Cap’n and I took years to come to the decision to make aliyah.  We had many of the excuses others have, plus perhaps a few more.  But we also had a strong desire to live here.  It was only after a Kol Nidrei d’var Torah given by a friend that we reframed our thinking.  He defined timhon levav in the liturgy as refraining from doing that which one knows to be right because it is easier to stick to the status quo.  When we heard that, we realized that the time had come to look into aliyah seriously.  The following Yom Kippur, we were in Israel.

I need hardly say that Israel is special.  As I’ve said many times, Israel may not be the only place for Jews to live, but in my opinion, it is by far the best place for them to live.  Israel is by, for, and about the Jews.  Nowhere else is.  It is flawed in many ways, and one of the best ways I can think of to find solutions to those flaws is to have bright, principled, well-educated Western technocrats come and build, develop, and improve the country.

When I look at my life in the context of the rest of the world, I felt my existence in America to be very small and inconsequential.  Outside my immediate circle of friends and community, my life made very little difference at all.  Here, however, an individual can rise to make a tremendous difference, both to the country and to the Jewish world in general.  To be part of it is to be part of one of the greatest experiments in Jewish history.  The last time Jews returned to Israel in any numbers from an exile was the return from Babylon in 536 BCE.  Even then, after only 50 years of exile, people were comfortable, established, and totally unmotivated to return to the land where only a half-century earlier the Jews had wept to leave.  Now, after nearly 2000 years of some of the most dolorous years in Jewish history, and some of the most shameful years in human existence, to have this land to return to is (to my eyes) clearly the work of Hashem.  Some might smile and say “thank you” politely, but decline the gift.  To me, though, the right thing seems to me to accept the gift and cherish it.

It is true that coming as adults (as opposed to kids, or young singles), we are limited in some ways in our ability to fully integrate as Israelis.  I can converse in the language, but have few Israeli friends.  But I have a wonderful English-speaking community which feels blessed to live here, and I feel very much a part of society here despite my own limitations.  Our children, however, are one of the main reasons we came here to live, and they feel very much Israeli.  While we are instilling in them the manners and values of Western society, they are fluent in Hebrew, have Israeli friends, and have few memories of America.  They will be the first generation of true Israelis in the family.

Like the old man who planted a carob tree knowing he would not live to see it bear fruit, we have brought our children here to bloom in their own lifetimes.

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Looking forward…

I’m working on filling the kids’ baby books with notes about our life here, and came across these paragraphs from my letters to family and friends in the States:

We are nearing the one-year mark since making aliyah.  Despite being very glad to live here, both rationally and Zionistically, my chief feeling at the end of this year of drastic change is fatigue.  Most days are some combination of novelty, adventure, or frustration.  This may sound like a wonderful thing, but it really is tiring after a year or so.  Life in America for us had the familiarity of a lifetime of prior experience, and that tended to make days comfortable and even dull.  Perhaps Canada would make a nice in-between place to live!  While at the Toyota dealer in Jerusalem, Jonathan and I bumped into a former ulpan classmate of mine.  Mikhail lived in Russia until he was 33, then moved to the U.S. for several decades, and made aliyah two years ago.  He’s now in his early 60’s, I would guess.  He asked how things are going and when I told him I’m tired after a year, he nodded knowingly.  He explained that it takes five years to get used to life in a new country.  He described how much of one’s “nervous energy” goes into mundane things like changing a lightbulb (where to buy them, how to ask for them, etc.), and said that lasts years.  He also said it is useful to look at things one dislikes about one’s new country with an attitude of “I don’t understand this” rather than “I hate this” or “This is wrong.”  I found his observations informative and validating.

Nonetheless, it will be utterly delicious to be back in the States again.  Besides seeing family and friends, our top ten list of things we look forward to includes the following

1) eating Ricardo’s prime kosher meat, the like of which we have yet to see even in this Zionist Paradise;

2) reading signs with no Hebrew or Arabic on them;

3) shopping for things we can’t find here (Tom’s of Maine stuff, Keillor’s Dundee Three Fruits Marmalade, Yasou and Soy Vay salad dressings, plastic wrap that actually clings);

4) knitting stores that sell something other than acrylic or kippah yarn;

5) taking the kids to a merry-go-round;

6) Morningstar Farms fake bacon and sausage, cinnamon Life cereal, Lite Life fake bologna;

7) J.P. Licks ice cream (we get Ben and Jerry’s here, but we miss the experience of going to a real ice cream joint);

8) corn on the cob.

In the end, I couldn’t come up with ten things two years ago.  But I probably could now (add red leaf lettuce, maple cream, and my mom’s homemade ice cream).  The difference now for us is that we’ve found more things here that we’ll miss while we’re in America (fresh pita, creamy smooth hummus, ease of kosher shopping, the comforts of home), and much of the stress of our first year has abated.  Things are no longer new for us, we’re settling into a permanent community in our own house, and we’re delighted with life in Efrat.  Going back to the States for us (Monday, so plan on no new posts for nearly a month starting from then) is a bonus, a nice chance to reconnect with loved ones.  We’re all dreading the flight, but our kids are great fliers, and hey–it’s only 19 hours in airports and on planes.

Lehitra’ot!

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