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  • Writer's pictureJodi Samuels


Updated: Jan 21, 2021

The end of summer is peak time for new Olim arriving in Israel and I am reminded that I promised part 2 of my blog “101 things I Wish I Knew before I Made Aliyah” I often wonder how previous generations made it in Israel. I am not talking about the idealistic pioneers who drained the swamps, survived war, lived without air conditioning, endured shortages while the miracle of the State was becoming a reality. I think of the people just five years before us who made aliyah without Waze meaning they relied on the generic Israeli direction to any and all destinations “Yashar-yashar-yamina”. Israelis as I have learnt, are genetically incapable of saying, “I don’t know”.

Or imagine not having English Netflix or Amazon. Seriously, life without Google Translate? My kids would never have known about the birthday party (announced on WhatsApp with 1 days’ notice) or parent teachers conference (3 days’ notice). Language is a major challenge. We rely on our kids to order pizza, schedule appointments with service technicians and read our mail. Then one day a letter from Bituach Leumi the national insurance arrived………

Something about its formality told me this needed adult translation. A friend who was visiting us, himself an Oleh said he thought the letter was a warning that we could be arrested if we tried to leave the country for unpaid taxes. I sent a photo to Gavin at work who was leaving on a business trip that night. A team of lawyers at his work managed to frantically correct the bureaucratic snafu his work had created in setting up his payroll the issue so that he could fly that night without having to call his boss would to bail him out of jail!

Not that Google translate is perfect by any stretch…...I could write a blog on lost in translation, but I would be completely lost without it. And you learn that according to Mr. Google, Jodi is “Goody” and Gavin is “John” and Caila’s assistant Tehila is “Frame” and eventually you learn another language - Googlese.

For a good laugh, this is a verbatim translation from a WhatsApp message announcement for my kids’ activity at Bnei Akiva:

“Young lovers, funny, huge and very dear to us! Today will be an action teaspoon at 6-7: 30, we will be in a synagogue ...” The hardest part about being a new immigrant is that you are only new for a few months and then the next wave arrive and after 6 months you are assumed to be a veteran. After 4 years you feel as foreign as the day you arrived. Just not quite as shell shocked. Israelis no longer get the sparkle in their eyes and give applause for your move to Israel. Saying you can’t speak Hebrew in year 3 no longer buys you sympathy instead the same Israeli who often can’t speak English correctly lecturers you on the importance of learning the language. Israelis especially those in the center of the country insist everyone speaks English. We found Anglo Olim definitely speak English. Our challenge is finding people who speak English at school when the class teacher, principal, guidance counselor and para-professional don’t speak English. Likewise at municipal offices or most government offices. I used to have my 12 year old to translate between the class teacher and I on calls. I have asked the contractor doing my renovations to help me on the phone to make a doctors appointment, I take translators to meetings. But practically, what seems to work the best is a simple solution you write in English, they answer Hebrew and you both translate with Google and pray you actually both understand. Sometimes you just accept that you are renamed. Jodi is Judy and no matter how many times you correct people I am Judy. Israelis are obsessed with memorials, mourning and equally obsessed with partying. Remembering is simply etched into the Jewish consciousness from Pesach seders to Purim Megilas. In modern day Israel Yom Hazikaron one of the saddest days is followed by Yom Ha’atzmaut and some fantastic parties and celebrations. Mourning and living life to its fullest are parts of every day life. Fire code and crowd management is shall we say, not as carefully adhered to as in the States. When you go to an event at the Kotel for example with tens of thousand Israelis and everyone pushes simultaneously it is obvious that the Holy One above is protecting us. If you are claustrophobic don’t go visit a tomb or holy site, or any small place....You will be so distracted by the body odor you won’t notice being trampled. Mail in the start up nation is horrendous. A recent check mailed to me in Jerusalem took 9 weeks to arrive. A Bar Mitzvah invitation mailed from the US in October arrived in April! Do you know it rains mud? Wait for the first rain of the season when the rain mixes with the dust in the air and everything (and I mean everything) is covered in light colored mud! Only in Israel - my husband had an accident with a motorcyclist. Fortunately no serious injuries. A few days after the incident my husband gets a call from a guy named Moshe. Out of context and with a strong accent Gavin was struggling to understand who was on the phone. The guy explained he was Moshe from the accident and wanted to know if my husband would soon be traveling on the same highway. He needed a ride to the police station to report the incident and his bike was in the garage. After my husband took him to the police station he then requested a ride to the garage to check on the repairs to his bike. A different kind of chutzpah! A juxtaposition in Israel is the fact that we have security everywhere until we don’t. Schools all have security until 3 pm and then you can arrive at a school-wide event that night with hundreds of parents and kids and no security at the gate. We all go to synagogue and let the kids run around and there is no security there. You soon learn to go with the flow, trust the security service’s intelligence and live like an Israeli as though today may be your last. “Savlanut” the famous last words of Israelis. When you want something from someone you are supposed to have patience - savlanut. If you are assertive with requests you are told “l’at l’at” – slowly slowly - but if the same person wants something from you they expect it yesterday. On that note driver beware the people honk at you before the light has even changed to green. Nothing in Israel happens until “after the chagim” - meaning school starts September 1 and your kids don’t learn until the day after Simchat Torah. Then it’s time for Chodesh Irgun when the leaders in the youth groups switch over and of course they can’t miss the fun, lots of late nights and no time for homework. So real learning starts in November and then it’s time for Purim and all the festivities, followed by Pesach and other days or mourning and Independence Day and then Shavout. Kids in Israel will famously tell you there is no learning from Purim to Shavout. So it boggles the mind when they do actually get any education at all. Ear piercing in NY meant we signed a disclaimer, initialed 8 places agreeing to treatment and presented photo identification. The woman used gloves, antiseptic swabs and after 30 minutes we left the store. My daughter’s hole closed so I asked at a kiosk in the mall if they pierce ears. The guy said sure we chose the studs and he took the stapler gun and in 2 minutes we were paid and out. No washing hands, no alcohol swabs and no formalities or signatures. That was not as surprising as having tubes in my eardrum after an ear infection - a surgical procedure in a hospital consulting room without so much as a curtain for privacy and multiple doctors and patients entering and exiting!!!! Oh, and I signed the consent form after the procedure was completed. Other little things to note:

It’s hard to find a male under 40 without a metro beard (especially in Tel Aviv).

Requesting ice in Israel is about as shocking and surprising to the waiter as asking him to cut off his right hand and when they bring it you can literally count the 3 pieces.

Israelis outside of Israel conform to the rules in society and stand in lines, switch off their phones in shows and pick up their litter but by the time they are in the airport heading home they are back to Israeli mode.

There are no carts in any supermarkets anywhere in the country that work properly.

Israel is accused of being an apartheid state but one of the greatest joys is going to the mall or supermarket and seeing the Jewish and Arab shoppers walking around in perfect harmony.

Anyone who goes to a Jerusalem area hospital will see co-existence with Arab and Jewish medical staff and patients seamlessly interacting. 

Buses change their signs to wish you a good fast, happy holidays and even wishing the soldiers to be safe in times of war.

After living in Israel traveling to notoriously expensive countries does not seem so crazy. Everyone asked if Denmark was expensive and we said “yes just as expensive as Israel!”

Crazy, chaotic, chutzperdik, assertive people but happy and living a meaningful existence.


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