Nine days after I landed in Israel, I returned home—my home, that is, for the next 67 days. As an upcoming olah chadisha (new immigrant), I left Northern California last week with one weekender suitcase, one carry-on bag, and one very short ‘to do’ list—find a place to live and find a job—in tow.
Nefesh B’Nefesh, the Aliyah resource organization with whom I am working, suggests a pilot trip so you can see for yourself where you want to live, where you want to work, where you want to call home. Knowing I would make such a trip, I began leaking news of my Aliyah back in May and before I knew it, I was creating an Excel spreadsheet of personal and professional contacts to keep it all straight (it took Jewish geography to a whole new level). It was a colorful cast of characters: the cousin of a friend who made Aliyah 40 years ago and who told me he so immersed himself in learning Hebrew that he didn’t even know about Watergate; an award-winning feminist journalist and author; a Jersey native who, before we met, I overheard talking Hebrew, English, and Yiddish in the hallway of Hadassah Hospital’s Ein Kerem campus (and smiled to myself at how familiar it all sounded); the former rabbi of my Conservative shul from before I even moved to California; a college friend of friends from 30+ years ago who is a leasing agent; and others.
Having done a lot of leg work before my trip, I boarded the El Al flight from Los Angeles with two firm job interviews on my calendar, one definite apartment showing, and several “call me when you get theres.” I figured I’d have a lot of time on my hand—not the worst thing to have in Jerusalem—but boy was I wrong. By the time I boarded the flight home, I had met with 12 people who helped me network, firing off phone numbers and email addresses faster than I could keep up—some even making calls on my behalf right before my eyes. “You available tomorrow at 9:30am for a meeting?” one said while putting his hand over the speaker. “Uh, yeah!” I saw eight apartments in several neighborhoods, from the German Colony to the Greek Colony to Abu Tor to Katamon to Talpiyot.
Returning to Jerusalem was like returning to my natural habitat of New York City. From my Nachalot AirBnB, I walked everywhere and where I couldn’t walk because of the distance, I took public transportation, even purchasing a “rav kav” or bus pass—something I haven’t carried in my wallet since my junior high days in The Bronx. I walked back and forth to Emek Refai’im about 10 times; I walked to the Israel Museum neighborhood, taking in the Knesset and Hebrew University along the way; I walked from Emek Refai’im to Talpiyot; and, of course, I walked to the Old City, Mamilla Mall, and Ben Yehuda St. I drank coffee in outside cafes and shopped for groceries in Super Sols. I took in the sights and smells of this ancient place and marveled at its diversity. I awoke to the sounds of honking car horns and was lulled to sleep by 2:00am conversations beneath my window. I managed to speak enough Hebrew to avoid getting on the wrong bus and to arrange a taxi back to Ben Gurion airport on the right day and time. I eavesdropped on conversations to see what I could understand and thought, by this time next year, I will have mastered this beautiful language that I have been trying to master for more than 10 years.
Although I managed to get sick while there and although I had an unexpected 36-hour journey back to Sacramento, nothing could take the bloom off of my pre-Aliyah rose. I cut my “to do” list in half by signing a lease on an apartment and felt more encouraged than I could have ever imagined by all of the networking opportunities put before me. In two months and some change, I will once again board an El Al flight and land on the tarmac in Tel Aviv. I will be greeted by sabras and Natan Sharansky, head of the Jewish Agency. I will dance and sing with my fellow new olim. Then, after all of the pomp and circumstance, I will get in a taxi and head to Jerusalem where I will pick up the keys to my new apartment. And in that moment, I will whisper to myself, “welcome home.”