There I am, on my own in a bar in Tel Aviv. Last one there. 4 a.m. Actually I’m not on my own, as it’s me and some Ukrainian guy I got introduced to. I was a clever boy with prospects — what went wrong?
Rewind a few months, to the aliyah planning days. Juggling our financial forecasts and working out what work we want and need to do and how this can be juggled with ulpan. In London, I own a bar and like to play the role of the all-’round big guy. Too right.
I had the idea that I would use my skills, and find a part time bar job. It’ll keep my mind ticking…keep me out of trouble…probably pick up some Hebrew as I go. I might even make some friends.
As serendipity would have it, the girl who let me go on walking dates with her dog back in London was top pals with a big-time bar owner in Tel Aviv. Some email matchmaking later, and there I am, an employed man in Tel Aviv.
Dad: Are there no proper jobs?
So, how did I wind up alone with the Ukrainian loon?
Having passed my probation period, I was unleashed onto the Tel Aviv bar-going public and found my role as the guy who does the late shift and closes the bar down. I never did the graveyard shifts at home. Someone else could do that. Now it’s me. Am I alright with that? It’s like being 19 again. Wow — imagine feeling 19 again…what a terrible notion.
There’s a cleaning list with jobs I need to do but it’s all in Hebrew. I can just about read Hebrew, but I can’t translate it well. Luckily the word for aperitif seems to be the same, so I’ll clean some martini bottles and hope for the best. Sure, I never saw the Israel dream involving me performing menial cleaning tasks at 4 a.m., with the kitchen porter Stefan as company. Let me introduce you. He’s 50, from Kiev and doesn’t speak English or Hebrew. I’m not even sure he speaks Ukrainian. He’s the guy everyone asks for stuff. “More wine glasses Stefan.” His only Hebrew phrase is being able to tell whoever is asking the favour that it will cost them 58 shekels, cackling away to himself with his hand outstretched.
I realised that I am in the same boat as he is. Yes, we have different personal circumstances, but when we work together, both new immigrants in new lands, we are on a level. I found this to be satisfying and humbling. He is new here and has a low-paid job. I am also new here and also have a low-paid job. I asked if he was Jewish and he pulled out a rapper-style crucifix from under his shirt and kissed it like Wayne Rooney with his Everton badge.
What I learnt quickly is that aliyah and its various components, for someone who has not moved specifically for employment… is really an exercise in personal humility.
Humility in that when you move to another country, you need to accept how things are there and fully appreciate your position. It also helps to not compare everything with home life and to accept that, as a newcomer who doesn’t speak the language, sometimes you will need to do things that you thought were “beneath you.” Ego left firmly at Pret a Manger, Luton Airport.
It’s all a trade-off anyway. I’m not really thinking about my 4 a.m. shift so much when I’m bowling down the beachfront on my bicycle, January sun on my skin, iced coffee in hand, wondering how long I’d need to go hummus-free to look as good as the topless rollerblading dude who just flew past.