MY ALIYAH JOURNEY - THE 101 THINGS I WISH I KNEW BEFORE
Updated: Jan 21
Standing in a very long line to get my phone registered so that it could work while exploring Ethiopia made me realize just how efficient and first world Israel actually is. Now, to be clear, I am not suggesting that I have gotten used to Israeli bureaucracy it’s just that relative to Africa things are MUCH better.
When I first made aliyah some people told me it would take 3 years to settle in. Others said 7 years and some said 20 years. Now that I am 3 ½ years into the journey I guess I have figured some things out and I have shifted or refocused my comfort zones. I don’t think that I will ever feel “Israeli” and I do feel that I should write a guide titled “The 101 things that Nefesh b' Nefesh didn’t tell you about making Aliyah”.
People often ask me if life in Israel is really so different? After living in South Africa, England, New Zealand, Australia and USA the answer is YES!
Here some of the candidates for my 101 list that you will find either intriguing or funny depending if you are actually living the Zionist dream or are merely an amused bystander!
The first rule of life in Israel is that “No” is not really “No” but more of a starting point for negotiation. I really wish I would have known about this sooner.
When I got here, if an official from the plethora of Aliyah-related offices that I had to go to, told me the answer to my request was “No”, I naively thought that was the END, rather than the beginning of the protracted discussion that ultimately would result in “Yes”. Israelis are not scared of the word “No” and Israeli chutzpah is simply the absence of the fear of hearing “No”.
Another important one - all rules are not absolute rules, rather they are mere suggestions to be followed or not. So, when in Israel be an Israeli. No camping on the beach means camp with hundreds of others, no fires on the beach means no bonfires but charcoal barbecues aren’t really fires, right? Parking on red is prohibited unless everyone else is doing it at certain times for no apparent reason and with impunity.
Everyone knows more than you about every topic and they are very comfortable dispensing unsolicited advice. This includes neighbors, friends, taxi drivers, shop keepers and the beggars of the Old city of Jerusalem. Screaming at people is not necessarily a bad thing – does not necessarily mean you hate them and are about to kill them.
In fact, after a screaming match giving a bracha to the person or wishing him or her chag sameach is normal. I have seen grown women almost punch each other in the supermarket over the line, taxi drivers almost coming to blows, the person waiting in line at the post office screaming his head off but all ending with brachot and terms of endearment.
When I was fighting to get Caila inclusion services and I was being spectacularly unsuccessful, people asked if I screamed at the representative. Me? Scream? People with South African upbringings don’t scream! I felt like a deer in headlights. I still can’t scream but I did figure out crying is a great alternative solution - they keep shouting at you but when they realize you have no idea what they are saying and are sobbing, they eventually feel bad!
Everyone knows that there is no such a thing as a line in Israel but it’s different when you actually live here and old ladies almost knock-over armed soldiers to push ahead in a bus line. Or people park their carts in the front of a checkout line and then go shopping...
My recent experience was going to the pharmacy and waiting for the store to open. I walked up the stairs. I went straight to the pharmacist and handed my prescription when an old lady tapped me on the shoulder and told me she was ahead of me. I answered impossible there was no-one in front of me, but she adamantly explained she walked up the stairs first and even though she went to get a basket of supplies she should be first as she was upstairs first and INTENDED to be first in line.
Parenting takes on new meaning in Israel. I never would have believed that I and every other parent would let our 11 year old daughters’ come home alone at 2am on after youth group activities. Or trying to figure out what is wrong when your kids’ are in tears because they are embarrassed about being known the ‘rich kid’!!!! Your kids think that dressing like a poor street kid is high fashion. Helicopter parenting is a no-no. Parents don’t schlep their kids. Gone are the days of planning play dates by email two weeks in advance. Israelis don’t even have a word for play-date and are very amused by the concept! Kids come in and out of your house without ever saying “hi” or “bye” or “thanks”.
Sending your kids to school in 55 degrees (12 degrees centigrade) without gloves, scarf and a hat is a form of child abuse -people have no idea of what cold actually is here. And it’s it’s OK as a parent to pick lice out of her kid’s hair in a park, at Shabbat morning Kiddush or while waiting in line at the supermarket. There is no germ phobia.
I have had a soldier sitting next to me on a bus ask to for a sip from my water bottle. The kindergarten teacher laughed at me when I suggested she check that Caila actually uses soap to wash her hands. She told me that she cannot possibly check 30 kids.
Even at upmarket weddings and events they serve salads and food platters on the tables with no serving spoons so double dipping is the rule of the game. In the US touching babies is forbidden and newborns are sheltered!!! In Israel moms love the free babysitting.After America’s ubiquitous nut-free policy your kids are fed peanut butter and Nutella sandwiches as if it were a staple. Events have salads with cashews, almonds and peanuts with pistachio ice-cream for dessert. Even miraculously Americans at these events don’t die in anaphylaxis!
The concept of RSVP in advance is simply for foreigners. I planned a Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah in my first 18 months and I was left with heart palpitations and panic attacks both times when the caterer wants head counts and 5% of your invite list has bothered to respond!!!!! Kids birthday parties can have 1 or 2 days’ notice. There are no US style save the dates or 3 weeks advance invites. I have been informed about parent teacher conference two days before and been exasperated yet no one else seems to feel the same.
Going to a concert means getting on a secret list that olim don’t know about. The start time is often not the start time and the show can start 90 minutes later than advertised but sometimes it does start on time and only Israelis on this secret list know the deal. Apparently talking through a movie, taking a business call in a show and sitting on your friend’s lap taking selfies and blocking everyone’s view is acceptable.
Crossing roads is a new experience. Everyone waits patiently at traffic lights for green to walk across the road yet pedestrian crossings are actually race tracks where cars speed through.We witness modern miracles every day in Israel. The iron dome is nothing when you think about 9 year old kids manning huge fires on Lag B’Omer without adult supervision. Or a 6-year-old kid leading their 4 year old sibling across a busy intersection. Not to mention meeting an elite force soldier and thinking the thin nerdy guy could blow away in the wind suddenly changes direction, quite the opposite of a hunky US Navy Seal or Marine! Definite proof that there is a G-D protecting Israel.
There is a apparently a secret rule forbidding the 1 million native English Speakers from translating signs or menus. The spelling / grammar on English signs adds to your daily dose of humor!
Age in Israel means nothing. Old people can be dancing in a square at 2am along with a 2-year-old. It’s all good!!!!
While the country is well prepared for war and life continues no matter what, inclement weather is another story. One hour after the first missile was aimed at Jerusalem in the last war people were watching World Cup soccer on outdoor TV screens. My kids however missed 3 days of school when a supposed snow storm was coming, and the big event resulted in 2 inches of snow that melted in a couple of hours.
After living in Israel, traveling the world seems cheap. Israeli’s are prolific travelers you understand why people think Jews and Israelis are such a huge percent of the world’s population. I understand when overseas a beer is $2 vs $8 in Israel and a family beachfront hotel room can be procured for 20 percent of the Israeli rate.
You will definitely feel part of the people and touched by moments when the sign on a passing bus wishes you Chag Sameach or blesses the soldiers in a time of war! Or the random service station attendant wishes you Purim Sameach. You know that your kids are growing up with a sense of purpose and idealism. They feel part of something big and they grow up caring more about others than their overseas peers who are thinking about the next party, outfit or brand of beer!
You will appreciate the fact the Israel is probably the only place you can have a glass of kosher wine on a beach while watching an off duty soldier walking around in a bikini with her M-16 slung over her shoulder You will definitely need to follow the mantra of “G-d give me coffee so I have strength to deal with the things I can and wine for the things that I can’t.”