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I recently had the pleasure of meeting someone who had read my previous articles about living in Maale Levona, Israel in 2001 and 2002. She said she had been curious about what happened to the author of those articles, so here is the follow-up.
I don't think there is anything in either of those previous articles that gave a clue that I would make aliyah. When I wrote them, I was addressing myself to "my fellow Americans" as we say, urging them not to be afraid, to visit Israel as I had done, and hopefully come away with the same uplifting experience that I had. What then possessed me to do such a crazy thing as to leave my comfortable house in Silver Spring, MD, USA and make aliyah?
First, let me assure you, it was not a reasoned decision. I did not, as my father, z"l, always urged me to do about any decision, make a list of the reasons to make aliyah, a list of the reasons not to, and compare the size of the two lists. What happened was as follows.
I lived in Israel on a tourist visa from December 2001 until May 2002. During Pesach I stayed at Kibbutz HaGoshrim near Kiryat Shemona, where I had a great time. The very same time that I was enjoying myself was a time of great tragedy for the Jewish people. Not only were Jews being attacked nearly daily in Israel, not only were Jews in Netanya, Israel blown up while sitting down to their Passover seder, but Pesach 2002 witnessed the re-emergence in Europe of the worst anti-Semitism since the 1940s. It was then that I decided to cast my lot, for better or worse, more intimately with the Jewish people and the land that God gave to us.
I can honestly say at the time of writing this article that I have never regretted my decision, but I have not always been sure that those who thought I must be crazy, were necessarily wrong.
So, what does it take to make aliyah? And what is it like?
Either because of the language problem, or some inherent defect in Israelis, Israelis seem incapable of providing an oleh chadash (new immigrant to Israel) with more than one piece of information at a time.
They will say at the airport "The entrance to the Misrad HaKlita (Absorption Ministry) is over there", not "It is over there, but the entrance is locked and you have to wait until we call for someone to open it."
They will say "Yes, the Misrad HaPnim (Interior Ministry) will be open in the afternoon when you say you want to return", but will not say "The Misrad HaPnim will be open, but the only person who can take care of you won't be here."
This can be very frustrating to the new immigrant.
If you want to live in Israel without suffering high blood pressure, you will have to learn to live with unbelievable inefficiency. Rule number 1: Israelis will never mail something that they can have you come and pick up in person. It took me two visits and more than two hours to open a checking account. When opening a checking account, always remember to tell the person "helping" you specifically that you want a checkbook with checks. In Israel, a checking account does not come with checks unless you specifically request them. And of course, you will have to come back in four days to pick them up. If you want a card that will enable you to get cash from an automated teller, you also will need to ask for a cartisse. Again it will be four days before you can receive one and you must return to the bank to get it.
When I visited Japan, I had to learn to not ask for anything unless I really needed it, because next thing I knew, two minutes later, ten Japanese could be running around trying to get me what I said I wanted. Not so in Israel. When an American asks for something, he is probably thinking he needed it yesterday, if not even before. When you ask an Israeli for something, they figure probably you may need it sometime in the future. This occasionally leads to misunderstanding and frustration.
The Hebrew word ulpan properly translates into the English word "studio", but practically speaking, in modern Hebrew the word ulpan refers to a Hebrew language school (ulpanim being "language schools"). The ulpan system in Israel is very well-geared to have you speaking and understanding important Hebrew sentences in a relatively short time. The textbooks and teachers seem to know precisely what you need to survive and get around, and they deal with practical situations like obtaining information, going to a store or restaurant, making a doctor's appointment, etc. From speaking to others, I gather that the ulpan I attended, Ulpan Klita HaShomron in Shavei Shomron, is one of the least well-run and disorganized ulpanim around, and yet I was able to learn significant amounts of practical Hebrew, due largely to the patient efforts of my teacher, "HaMorah Bracha."
I feel strange relating this story here because whenever I tell it to other Israelis, even ones who live in Yesha, they either tell me that it used to take between months and years to get a telephone, the implication being that I shouldn't be complaining, or they look at me like I am crazy and say it only takes a few days for Bezeq to install a phone line. But believe me, I may in fact be crazy, but everything I relate here happened to me and is accurately reported. On three occasions while living in Yesha, I requested that a phone line be installed, twice while living in Maale Levona and once while living in Einav. In each case, it took three weeks for the phone line to be installed. What generally happens is as follows: When you request the installation, Bezeq tells you it will be done in one week and you need to stay in your house on that day from 8 AM to 4 PM. They may or may not call on the appointed day to tell you they are not coming. When you inquire why they did not show up, the reason, depending upon whom you are speaking to, is either that there was a misunderstanding about the actual assigned date for the work, or it was impossible for the installer to obtain an armored (bullet-proof) vehicle on that day. After about three weeks of going around in circles, the installer actually shows up on the rescheduled date and installs the line in about 15 minutes.
The distinction between aliyah (going up, i.e. arriving in Israel) and klitah (reception, or absorption), is not original with me, but I forget where I read about it. The former, while a bit complicated, is easy compared to the latter. Aliyah is just the process of making it to Israel. Klita involves getting used to and getting absorbed into Israeli society.
Here is one of my success stories, which suggests I am making some progress in my klita. I don't always do so well. I find that interacting with people in Israel is often not easy. I say this with reluctance, for fear of hurting the feelings of my many fine Israeli friends, but I think it is worth saying so that olim chadashim from the West who experience the same feeling do not think they they are alone in their feelings. I found this feeling is the rule rather than the exception among Western olim, and I think acknowledging it helps in successful klita.
On to the story! I wanted to get a special GPS system with an alarm button installed in my car so that a central office would always know where my car is and I could quickly call them if I got into trouble. I spoke with the "sales representative" for the system, whose English, believe it or not, was actually worse than my Hebrew. He sent me the paper work to get the "Barak" system installed; six long forms -- totally in Hebrew. I am not too bad with Hebrew forms in general, since you only need to know a few things like shem mishpacha (family name), taarich leidah (date of birth), ketovet (address), mispar teudat zehut (identity number), in order to complete them. But six long forms, that was a challenge. I got someone to help me, and with great effort filled them out. I took them to the yishuv office to mail and the secretary said she would mail them and put the change from the postage in my mailbox. Since she didn't do the latter, I was nervous she hadn't done the former, so I called the Barak representative a week later. He said he had received the forms. When nothing happened over the next two weeks, I was going to call him again, but a sabra friend of mine said, "What? Only two weeks?". After a month, I did call and the salesman gave me a number to call in Jerusalem. I called Jerusalem where someone gave me another number to call. That third person told me to call Jerusalem back and make an appointment, which I did.
Mercifully, the installation was to take place on one of the maybe three or four streets I know in the Talpiot section of Jerusalem. However, when I was driving to the location just in time for my appointment, the street I was on suddenly became one-way the other direction. This is when you would normally get out of the car and walk, but they needed my car for the installation. I called the office for instructions/directions, but they did not answer. I was able to ask some random security person on the street for directions and after he got finished yelling at me for where I stopped my car to ask, he told me. Fortunately, my Hebrew, especially with regard to travel, has gotten to the point where I can understand fairly complicated directions.
I arrived at the correct installation place about 20 minutes late and was told to go upstairs to find the person I had been told to speak to. As soon as I entered her office she said it was hafsakah (break), she wanted to go eat lunch. I said, in my finest Hebrew, "Gam ani rotzeh le'echol, avohl, yaish li tor" ("I also want to eat, but I have an appointment"). She finally agreed to help me if I waited, but when she did deal with me, she wanted all sorts of information I didn't have with me but had provided to the Barak representative on the six forms I had filled out and mailed to him. I know my Hebrew here wasn't so good, I had forgotten the past-tense of l'maleh (to fill out), but she understood me well enough to ask to whom I had mailed the info, and mercifully I remembered the name of the representative (very important in Israel, always try to ask for and remember the name of whomever you speak with). She called the representative, confirmed I had mailed everything, and then took me back downstairs where I had started. They fortunately had my information, so she left me there and went to lunch.
OK. So I am downstairs, they have heard of me, and have my information, but it's necessary fo me to move my car to a better location. I return in five minutes to the lady I was speaking to downstairs who by now only vaguely recognizes me and vaguely remembers what I want done. She asks when I want the work done and when I say achshav (now), she says lo yacholim (Can't be done). When I stammer out something about why did we made an appointment for today (by now my Hebrew has nearly deserted me), she finally remembers who I am, looks at her computer, and says "OK, Mark Schoenberg, ein be-ayah. Shev, bvakashah." (".... No problem. please sit.").
Through most of this, I was relatively calm, in part because I had learned the first two rules of making aliyah, have patience, savlanut, and always bring a book wherever you go!
After a not so unreasonable amount of time, a technician came, introduced himself to me, and said he would do the installation. His English was excellent, which was good since he was able to explain to me exactly how the GPS device worked. For me, this was a typical frustrating oleh experience, but it was, in the end, satisfying because I was able to remain calm and get done what needed to get done.
I had such a good time at Kibbutz Hagoshrim the Pesach before I made aliyah, that I decided to go back there again, even though this time it was organized by someone else. Unfortunately, my daughter could not join me this year, but for the second year in a row, I was fortunate to find a relative (much more distant, this time), with whom to make the seder. There was something about the seating arrangements which did not allow me to eat with my distant relative after the first seder, and I had to work hard to convince the initially-flustered maitre d', that although I knew no one else, I really did not mind sitting elsewhere; I enjoyed meeting new people! He took the path of least resistance and sat me at the table of the "lay organizer" of the group, which included him, his wife, his parents, his wife's parents, an old JDL friend of his father's, the friend's wife and children, and even assorted grandchildren. I knew that with two former JDLers, the conversation would not be boring and it wasn't. More importantly, everyone at the table went out of their way to make me feel at home.
The second day of Pesach, which the previous year would have been chag (holiday) for me, was Friday, and I decided to go on one of the tiyulim (trips) arranged for Israelis. In the US, generally all moderate-length hikes are circular, so you end up near where you left your car when you exit. Only a huge hike, like the Appalachian Trail, or a raft ride down a river, would deviate from this. Not so in Israel. When I ended my tiyul (trip/hike) at a sign marked Chanayah (Parking), I discovered the parking lot was not particularly near the one where I had started the tiyul. Through a combination of my imperfect Hebrew, not to mention my good forgetery (the opposite of memory), and the Israeli reluctance to admit "I don't know" when asked directions, it took me almost two hours to get to my car, by which time my water had run out (a mistake never to be repeated), and I could barely put one foot in front of another. At this point in the narative I must tell you that for about a month prior to Pesach, I had suffered from mild flu/cold-like symptoms, from which I thought I had fully recovered. I felt better after making it back to the hotel for lunch, but upon returning to my room after Friday night Shabbat dinner, I suffered terrible chills. Using my elbow to turn on the heat (don't worry if this doesn't make sense to you), I made it through the night, and even walked to shul for Shacharit (the first half of morning prayers), after which I needed to go back to my room to rest. Shortly after the end of services, I managed to stagger to the dining room to tell my new-found friends that I could not join them for lunch because I wasn't feeling well, and had just come to bring some fluids back to my room.
After Shabbat, one of my new friends, a grandmother and wonderful woman named Faye, came to my room and stuck a thermometer in my mouth. When it read 39.9C (nearly 104F), she drove me to Magen David Adom in nearby Kiryat Shemoneh. They did some tests and stuck me in a cab for the 1/2-hour ride to Beit HaCholim Sief b'Tzvat (Sief Hospital in Sefad), where I was admitted with a full-blown case of left lower-lobe pneumonia.
Baruch Hashem (Blessed be G-d), they gave me oral and i-v antibiotics, and within six hours I was well on my way to recovery. My new friends from the hotel, whom I had known all of two days, made the 1/2-hour trip to visit me every day I was in the hospital. It turned out to be only two very long days, as I was eager to get back to the hotel for the last day of Pesach.
Sief Hospital in Sefad was no better or worse than any hospital I had been in the States (I hate hospitals!) But the food over Passover, while not bad, was among the most bland I have ever tasted, especially compared to the unbelievably delicious delicacies prepared by Pinchas and Meira Goren of Goren Tours at the Kibbutz Hagoshrim Hotel.
New and prospective olim may wish to note that I had signed up for the standard Kupat Cholim that olim are advised to sign up for, and my entire hospital stay cost me absolutely nothing. I had only to pay for the taxi rides to and from the hospital. Not exactly like America, is it! On top of my not having to pay for my hospitalization, Pinchas and Meira Goren did not charge me for my hotel room while I was in the hospital, even though they could not rent my room to anyone else because I left all my possessions there.
David ben Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel, is apocryphally
reputed to have said
"ANYONE WHO LIVES IN ISRAEL AND DOESN'T BELIEVE IN MIRACLES, IS NOT BEING REALISTIC!"
The other evening, while walking to visit a friend on our mountain-top community, Maale Levona, I was privileged to witness one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen.
Do any of you remember the joke "Cheer up, things could be worse. So I cheered up, and sure enough, things got worse". Today I found myself saying. "Boy! am I having a bad day". Then I looked at my watch and said, "It's only 10:30 AM, I need to have a better attitude". So I cheered up, and sure enough ...."
I was driving my car along King George Street and needed to make a left turn on Ben Yehuda Street to head towards Tel Aviv. But I also wanted to eat near Ben Yehuda. Starting from the Sheraton Plaza hotel, I started looking for a parking spot. I must have seen at least 30 cars parked on the sidewalk. So I parked on the sidewalk near Gan HaAtzmaut and walked to the Ben Yehuda area to eat. Fortunately, that was one of the rare instances I remembered exactly where I parked my car. Because it wasn't there when I got back! I immediately guessed what must have happened. A street vendor confirmed my fears, and then pointed out that the tow people had returned for another car. They told me exactly what to do. I had to walk to a parking lot on Rechov HaRav Kook (about 1 km away) and pay 187 NIS to get my car back. I think I also still have to pay the 250 NIS parking fine.
After I retrieved my car and headed back to Maale Levona, I picked up a group of hitchhikers at HaGivah HaZarfatit (French Hill, a well-known place for hitchhiking). Normally, no one is going to Maale Levona directly, but often people go with me as far as Ofra, which is another big place to tremp (hitch-hike). Sometimes people ask whether I am going to Maale Levona via the first or second road. That seems like a dumb question, because the first is quite a bit quicker, but if I take the second road, I pass Tzomet Eli, which is another favorite place for tramping. It turns out the people I picked up actually live in Eli, the closest yishuv to Maale Levona, so I told them I would be happy to go slightly out of my way to drop them off there.
The question came up of why I didn't make use of the **free bus pass that I was entitled to receive as an oleh (new immigrant), instead of spending money on gas for the car, etc. As part of the discussion, which was all in Hebrew, I conceded that having a car wasn't without problems, and told them about what had happened to me this morning. My slant on the story was that I was learning the ways of life in Israel, but my passenger had a different slant. He said "In Chutz l'aretz (outside Israel), you build up Israel through giving Tzedakkah. When you come here, you contribute to Israel's building as I did." So the first time any of you ride on the new light rail they are building in Jerusalem, think of my modest financial contribution to its construction.
In appreciation of the lift, my passenger gave me, as a present, a brand new copy of Rav Meir Kahane's book, "The Jewish Idea", which I actually had though about buying, and he also said he might hire me in my capacity as a computer specialist, to look at his computer which had some problems.
**Note to prospective olim: The "free" bus pass is not free, it is approximately 100 NIS/month. And in my case, it took five months to get to me, by which time I had already purchased a car.
Romance gone awry (will be appreciated only by those who struggled to learn Hebrew)
The other day I told one of my favorite women in Maale Levona that I wanted to eat her (le'echol otach) Friday night. She very calmly replied, "You don't want to eat me, you want to eat by me (le'echol etzlaich), which, of course, is what I meant in the first place.
Considering the previous story about my experiences getting a phone in Yesha, you can imagine that I was not impressed when I was informed that my yishuv, Maale Levona, would be wired for ADSL (high-speed Internet), during the last quarter of 2003. My response was "Tell me when it happens", and I nearly took bets with my friends that it would not happen when promised. Not only did ADSL become available in October, but I requested it for my house and it was installed the next week. Kol HaKovod to Bezeq. Why did I not believe ADSL would be available soon, and why was I so happy when it arrived? I was skeptical because unlike regular telephone service where the switching station and other infrastructure can be far away and you are connected simply by a long run of wire, ADSL requires that the infrastructure be near to the user. Thus, fence or no fence, the arrival of ADSL at Maale Levona and neighboring yishuvim represents a considerable commitment on the part of the government and Bezeq to future development of the area.
If you read above, you know that when I made aliyah I paid a small amount of money to join kupat cholim, and when I was hospitalized with pneumonia, my care was totally free. I was musing with some fellow Israelis recently that maybe, now that I was in Israel more than a year, it was necessary for me to pay more money for kupat cholim. It was suggested to me that possibly the Israeli government was taking the necessary money directly out of my banking account. I don't know if it is true that the Israeli Government can take money out of your bank account without your permission, but you can be sure that I rushed to check my account. What I discovered is that the Government was not taking money out of my account, it was putting money INTO it. Just before the first anniversary of my aliyah, the Israel Government again started putting money into my account. In both January and February, the Ministry of Housing had deposited 233 shekalim to my account. I vaguely remember reading about a housing allowance which was separate from the sal klita I had received for the first eight months of my aliyah, and I'm guessing this must be it? (Incidentally, I don't believe olim chadashim receive sal klita any longer.)
I now have lived in Eretz Israel for a year since making aliyah, and it is time to end this Journal since I no longer feel like an oleh chadash. Don't get me wrong! I certainly do not feel like a sabra! It is just that I no longer feel like what my grandparents in America would have called a "greena". I know the ropes, I feel like I belong here, and while it is much more difficult for me to function here than it would be in the US, I know I can manage in most circumstances, and there are plenty of people willing to help me. Let me finally end by giving a word of advice to prospective olim. The three most important things for increasing the likelihood of a successful aliyah and klita are 1) attitude, 2) attitude, and 3) attitude. If you come with a positive attitude, determined you are not going to let all the seeming narishkeit and shtuyot (foolishness and stupidity) bother you, it really is possible to make the transition between living in the land you grew up in and living in Aretz, the land that Hashem smiles down on every day.
Last updated 1 Dec, 2015