Sometimes it feels like yesterday. It WAS yesterday, wasn't it? I arrived as a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed idealistic zionist, ready to start a new kibbutz (yes, I was, in fact, actually part of a garin -- a group that set out to conquer the land and establish a new bastion of socialist living) and fulfill my ambitions of living in the Land of Israel.
It's 30 years later and, as for many of my original group, my original plans detoured, but I am actually still pretty idealistic and still thrilled to be living in the Jewish homeland. I got married, moved to a small northern town, taught English (don't all Anglos teach English at one point or another?), ran courses for day care center workers, improved my Hebrew a bit, had five kids, got divorced and learned to thrive as a single mother.
I'm well aware that, while if I would have stayed in America I may have acquired more material things and may enjoyed had a more comfortable lifestyle, I would be lacking a something that has become a part of me -- my identity.
Some of the lessons that I've learned over the last 30 years are things that I probably would have learned anywhere but I hope that there are some things that I've learned that will be helpful to new olim -- immigrants -- who continue to arrive with the same smiles, tears and feelings of exhilaration that I felt 30 years ago.
- You're not in Kansas anymore. Or Manchester. Or Minneapolis. Or Sydney. (or, in my case, Detroit). Stop comparing and just live the moment. Almost everyone that I know who didn't "make it" and headed back to their country of origin (and over 30 years I've seen so many people who struggled and just couldn't hang on here) are the ones who couldn't stop saying "but in New Jersey, we used to....." or "in Omaha, they....."
- Learn the word "protectzia." It's one of the five most important Hebrew words/phrases, along with "kama zeh oleh" (how much does this cost?) and "ein ba'ayah" (no problem). Protectzia means "protection" or, in local parlance, who do you know? It took a few years for me to break through my natural American reticence of asking a complete stranger for a favor, but the first time we had a problem that involved the municipality, and I realized that my next-door-neighbor's cousin worked in the appropriate department at city hall and that I could activate my protectzia, I knew that I'd made it as an Israel.
- Challenge your taste buds. By the time I arrived in '83 the rationing of Israel's early years had long ended (my neighbor told me how her family of 8 used to get a few eggs every week -- and that was ALL, egg-wise) and there was plenty of food of varying tastes and textures. A cordon bleu chef might have cringed, but for most of us, it was fine. Over the years new food items began to be imported as well so my mother didn't have to send me cans of tuna fish and chocolate chips with travelers from her synagogue (we once drove down to Tiberias to pick up some chocolate chips that my aunt's friend had brought with her -- unfortunately the chocolate melted in the August heat and for all our efforts we were left with a block of mushy chocolate).
and try some of the local traditional food. Israeli cuisine goes beyond the standard
schwarma and falaffel to a variety of different salads (eggplant is a big one here as is
avocado -- you can buy them in the store or make them yourself with 1/100th of the
oil content (Israelis haven't quite made the connection between excess oil and health
problems) and ethnic dishes.
Don't be afraid of chili peppers. A little zing won't hurt you. This is a lesson that I just
learned this year -- I bought my first chili pepper when my son suggested that my
matboucha -- a traditional Moroccan tomato dish -- could use a bit of upgrade. So now
I buy a chili pepper or two ever month (even though at the supermarket I see the
Sepharadi ladies stocking up on the chili peppers like there's no tomorrow.....what can
I say? I'm still a non-"harif" kind of girl).
- Don't assume that you don't have anything to teach Israelis. They DO want to know about soyburgers, wooden floors, non-Israeli "sponga" mopping techniques and what else tinsel can be used for besides succa decorations.
- Don't ever say "they" when you're talking about any specific group. "They" the haredim, "they" the Sepharadim/Askhanazim, "they" the leftists.....this is true in any society, but even more so in Israel where the society is fragmented into a million groups. In any group you'll find a certain percentage of snotty, obnoxious, self-centered people, but in any group you'll find that the majority just want to get along and live their lives quietly and honorably.
- Stick to your guns about environmentalism. Israel is about 20 years behind America in terms of environmental responsibility, but they're catching up, in due, I believe, greatly to the nudniking of Anglo olim. Refuse plastic bags whenever possible and tote around your own bags...the shopowners appreciate the savings (to them) and it does impact on their behavior with other clients.
- Don't get too discouraged with your Hebrew. Some of us will never be proficient. Make the effort because if you don't, your circle of friends will be limited to English-speakers, but forgive yourself your mistakes and the Israelis will too.
Even with all of the challenges, I wouldn't want to leave.