I attended my first day of Ulpan (Intensive Hebrew Study) in Haifa on Sunday. The class contained about 20 other new Israeli immigrants mostly from the former Soviet Union. Fortunately for me, the teacher does not speak Russian so if none of us understand what she is saying, she says it in English and one of my classmates translates it to Russian. About two thirds of the class is female and under 30 years old so I never get bored in class. Class is from 8 am until 1 pm Sunday through Thursday which means that I have to get up early but afterwards I have the whole afternoon free (outside of homework).
The first Hebrew text I was given to read was a simplified version of a research paper describing the four stages of Aliyah. The stages are: idealism, criticism, depression and adaptation. It reminded me of the five stages of loss (anger, denial, bargaining, depression and acceptance) and I started having second thoughts about my decision to make Aliyah. What was I getting myself into?
The idealistic stage is when the new immigrant believes that Israel is the answer to all his problems in life. According to the research, this stage starts before you make Aliyah and lasts for a few seconds after you arrive. In my case, I believed that making Aliyah would bring meaning to my empty life, fill my stomach with endless balls of delicious falafel, and allow me to bask in the welcoming arms of my brother and sister Jews.
The second stage is the critical stage. You look at everything wrong in Israel and realize that you never had problems like that back in your home country. You realize that back in the USA, there is no such thing as traffic and road construction, nobody was ever rude to you, and everybody spoke in a language you could understand so that you didn’t feel like an idiot when all you wanted was to find the nearest bathroom.
The third stage is the depression stage. Instead of blaming all of your problems on Israel, you blame them on yourself. How could I have been so stupid to leave such a wonderful place where I was so happy and move to Israel?
The fourth stage is when you adapt to life in Israel. This is when you take what you like from your culture and integrate it with what you like about the Israeli culture. I understand that nobody ever reaches this stage. Even people born in Israel still talk about a different country as if it was their homeland. My wife thinks she is Bulgarian even though she only spent a week there once on a trip. I have a brother in law whose parents immigrated from Iraq. He claims his parents grew up in a land where people rode around on flying carpets and ate fresh baked pita covered in honey made from dates.
The first question every Israeli asks every other one is what kind of Jew are you? Are you Ashkenazi or Shephardi? Are you religious or secular? Do you vote Likud or Labor? There is every effort made to keep you in your specific category so that there is no chance of integration.
Faced with the fact that there is no real fourth stage, the third stage is depressing, and the second stage is whiny, I have decided to stay in the first stage. I am keeping my rose colored glasses on. I am accepting the negative and focusing on the positive. I love this country. I love the weather and I love the hills and the beaches on the Mediterranean Sea. I love the history and I love the food.
What is interesting is that when I respond to Israelis when they try to push me into a category by telling them that I am a Jew and that Israel is my country, I am indeed welcomed with opened arms and incredible warmth. I love Israelis. And they love me and my rose colored glasses right back.