“As you drive HOME take a moment to realize that although you may have been to Israel on previous trips, this is the first time leaving Ben Gurion as an Israeli citizen.”
Two weeks ago, El Al flight attendants scurried around the plane handing out last minute information cards with this poignant message to the 233 new olim who were about to land in Tel Aviv. These cards were accompanied by blue rubber bracelets stamped with #madeithome and Olah Chadash/ah in white lettering. Apparently, somewhere during the 10-hour flight between JFK and Ben Gurion, I became an Israeli citizen.
At least on paper, that is.
Sure, I now am the proud owner of a Teudat Olah (Immigration Booklet), Teudat Zehut (Identity Card), Kupat Cholim ID card (health care), RavKav (bus pass), and Bank HaPoalim ATM card. I’ve attended Shabbat services at two different shuls and listened to sermons and announcements in Hebrew. I have stood in lines at Misrad Klita (Ministry of Absorption); Bet HaAm (Ulpan); the Meches (Customs) table at a Nefesh B’Nefesh welcoming event; and at bus stops waiting for the 74, 75, 19, 68, and 9 buses to arrive.
And sure, my skin has been kissed by the ever-present summer sun, and sure, after being here for four days, I heard my name shouted as I crossed Bloomfield Park (a former rabbi from my community!), and sure, I started eating tomatoes for breakfast, drying my clothes on my mirpeset (balcony), and pulling an agala (those 2-wheel carts encased in various fabrics) to the grocery store, but does all of that make me an Israeli? I just don’t think so, but here is what I have thought about in the past 14 days:
- How is it that I can stand before a bank teller who, seriously, never looks up from his computer to acknowledge me, yet, Ettie, who processes me at Misrad Klita, insists on giving me a hug five minutes after we met?
- How is it that I can hardly tell which way cars are going as they whiz around the Jerusalem streets, yet there are assigned seats in movie theaters?
- How is it that light switches are turned down to turn things on and up to turn things off? (Must be related to reading right to left, I also think to myself.)
- How can it be that I am constantly reading on Facebook about a taxi van that doesn’t show up to take folks to the airport but there are six shuttles near my house that drive to the Kotel every 20 minutes like clockwork?
- How is it that my summer wardrobe worked just fine in Northern California’s 109 degree (42 Celsius) heat but doesn’t work here? (Answer: I no longer drive in my air conditioned car to my air conditioned office to my air conditioned grocery store to my air conditioned movie theatre… My two legs have replaced my beloved four-wheel Honda Civic.)
- How can I find out who created the Moovit app (Google it) that is a lifesaver for someone like me, whose motto is, “I’m always on my way to getting lost?”
- And when do I stop taking two showers a day— one to wash off the dirt and grime and the other to wash off the humility of having to rely on a map, the kindness of friends and strangers, and my stubborn pursuit of making a life here despite the daily fear and discomfort?
I also think about my father who, following years of traveling around Europe with other Displaced Persons, decided to make his way to Israel. He was about to become an accidental oleh, but fate intervened and he turned around and sailed to Ellis Island instead.
Although he hardly chose to be an American, nor, like I, did he exactly plan to leave his home to become one, I can’t help feeling like I am finishing my father’s unexpected journey by putting down roots in this one and only Jewish homeland. Embracing a new place, a new culture, a new language, and a new beginning. My father once told me that he knew he was an American when he began dreaming in English. I look forward to the day when I wake up and realize that I dreamt in Hebrew. Perhaps then, I will call myself an Israeli and really believe that I #madeithome.