I noticed something strange: some people in Israel don’t have Hebrew language keyboards. I tried to figure out why. It can’t be the expense: it’s free and takes two minutes to install, and a full set of keyboard stickers with the Hebrew letters runs about 10 shekels at an office supply store. It can’t be the complexity: the setup process is simple and quick on Mac or PC, and a quick Google search will give you easy instructions on how to do it. It can’t be a language problem: having a Hebrew keyboard doesn’t mean you lose your English keyboard; it just means you have the option of typing in Hebrew, should the need (or desire) ever arise.
So why would a person who lives in a Hebrew-speaking country, who is a citizen of a Hebrew speaking country, and owns a computer, not even want to have the option of typing in Hebrew?
The only answer I can think of is that those people aren’t really “here.”
I’ve written about learning Hebrew and also about making Israeli friends but in the end, your progress in language and your ability to feel “at home” all comes down to one simple decision: the choice to really “be” here.
Does that sound a little “zen?” Maybe it is.
When I first came to Israel I’d watch Israeli television shows, even though I barely understood a single word. (I can’t say it enough: understanding is irrelevant; it’s listening that counts!) The next day I’d talk about the show with my friends, even if all I could really share was which actress looked hot or which talk show host seemed to be funny. (Did you know that the most popular gossip show in Israel is hosted by someone named Guy Pines [pronounced “penis”]?)
Similarly, when I first got my Hebrew keyboard all I could do was the occasional Google search (usually with a misspelled word or two), but that led to short Facebook posts and finally to complete emails. Every little conversation about local culture, every online posting, every email built a tiny little personal bond, with my friends, with my language, and with my country. Each little bond may not be much in itself, but accumulate enough tiny little bonds over months and years and you begin to feel at home. The reverse is also true: don’t create bonds, and you will begin to feel homesick for somewhere else.
When I lived in the United States, I would see many Spanish-speaking immigrants in my city (some legal, some not) trying to get any kind of work they could: cleaning houses, doing low-pay construction, bussing tables in restaurants, always thinking about their families back home, missing them, and sending the few dollars they made via Western Union. It wasn’t an easy life, and I it struck me how much difference language and cultural integration can make.
I am reminded of those Spanish speaking workers when I encounter certain olim in Israel who not only cannot function in Hebrew, but apparently do not want to try. They don’t know the first thing about Israeli popular culture because they’ve never taken a look, they use words like “home” to refer to faraway places, and of course they cannot type in Hebrew because they don’t even have the keyboard.
Everyone makes their own choices, and everyone finds their own way to happiness. I certainly don’t mean to criticize anyone’s path. Yet I would like to make this one suggestion to those olim who don’t have Hebrew keyboards, or have never heard of Guy Pines: When you cannot communicate in a government office even after years of being a citizen, when you feel “homesick” for a far away place, when you have a hard time getting a job or making friends — don’t be surprised. After all, you aren’t really “here.”