5 things Israel taught me

I look back to the two years since I landed here in Israel and started to call it my new home. Since then my relationship with the country went from being madly in love to being bitterly disappointed. I expected Israel to be like a little America with endless opportunities. I was not ready to depend on other people on every small step because of no Hebrew. Israel appeared to me too loud, aggressive and lonely without well-established social circles one enjoys at middle age.

Why did I come here?

I came because of my husband, who grew up in Jerusalem. He remembers all the old trees around mount Meiron on the way from Karmiel to Tveria. He is very well-rooted and connected to his country. It made sense for us to locate in Israel.

With my extensive traveling in the past and life in foreign countries, we were sure I will be fine here, and that I’ll be able to adapt to the change. After all, Israel is a country of immigrants. Jews from many different countries come to live here at different stages of their life for many different reasons. The country has long-established and well-developed state institutions that help newcomers to integrate.

Well, it’s one thing when you come for an occasional visit and another thing completely when you move here, especially if you are here not because of your Jewish roots.

In reality, I found myself feeling like an outcast with the state system calling me a “tayeret” – a tourist in Hebrew, since I came here as a wife of Israeli, but not as a returning Jew.

Finally, I reached the point when I told myself – it is my choice to be here, and I am going do my best to make my life a success here.

Today Israel to me is, first of all, its people, my husband, our family friends, neighbors, ulpan students, teachers, colleagues, doctors, hairdressers, sports mates, dog club members and many other wonderful human beings, with whom I have built beautiful relationships.

So what have I learned from Israel and its people so far? What has Israel taught me?

1.    Be open-minded

Israel is unlike any other place on Earth.

First of all, it is a great mix of different people, who come to live here from all around the world. Each one brings the culture and habits of their country of origin. This factor is reflected in the variety of Israeli food, lifestyle, music, ideas, and beliefs.

Second, Israel is a mix of the West and the East. You can feel it most sharply on the roads that are full of European cars and Eastern-behaving drivers, who can stop in the middle of the road, open their window and casually engage in conversation with another driver while the rest of the highway is beeps by away. Sometimes I think they just forget they are no longer riding a donkey, but a fast-speed car. All this creates a unique cultural code. Israel taught me to be open-minded and take the time to figure out the rules.

2.    Be proactive

I do not know what makes Israeli people act like they need to push and cut in line. It is a Mediterranean country, I thought, things are supposed to be siesta-type! Not here.

I grew up in a family with many children, where you had to be creative to get attention and food, but still, I found it nothing compared to the lines in Israel. Some people would say that you need to learn to be aggressive, but I do not like that word, I guess to be proactive and learn to advocate yourself sound better.

3.    Guard your personal borders

When you are new, you try to be as easy-going as possible, right? You want people to get to know you better and faster and to develop close relationships. But sometimes it happens too fast. You can find yourself talking to a complete stranger about very personal stuff or answering very intimate questions. I found it strange and alarming.

On one hand you want to be friendly, but on the other hand, you feel like a little kid, who is giving away family secrets. The colleagues at my first job spent half of the day discussing if my husband and I wanted to have kids and if yes, how long we have been trying. People can easily ask how much my rent is or how much money I make.

There are no taboos on money issues here in Israel. It was very new to me.  Not to mention the super personal question I got to answer from the Interior Ministry officials, who grant you temporary citizenship and want to make sure your marriage is not fake. Like, who is sleeping on which side of the bed and what did you eat for dinner.

Every day I learn to keep my personal borders without sounding rude. I also learned to take time before answering and be selective with the people I engage in conversation with.

4. Be active on Facebook

Yeah, it is indeed a great thing if you want to expand social circles and select people, places, jobs, hobbies that suit you. I got a feeling that a lot of things in Israel happen through social networks. Well, maybe it is also just part of the era we all live in, and it happens not only in Israel.

There are really great Facebook communities created by Anglo-speakers in Israel, where one can get professional advice, credible information, useful contacts, exciting job and valuable support. Do not underestimate the power of social networks. They are an excellent way to grow both personally and professionally. Check below for great Facebook groups for newcomers in Israel.

5.    Be here and now

You can always try to figure out every little detail, and strategize. But in reality, the best things is to learn how to be present here in Israel. Follow your own intuition. Be here and now with all your body, soul and mind. Instead of falling into self-pity about how things were back at home or should be better organized for newcomers, just focus on what you have now. Israel is driven by some mysterious rule of life that you get to understand only by being here and now.

Here are some great online groups in Facebook that will help you learn many more useful things to make your life here a success:

Keep olim in Israel movement – the purpose of the groups is to empower, inspire, and support olim through a series of programs, services and advocacy to help them integrate, find jobs, and keep them in Israel.

Living Financially Smarter in Israel – the purpose of this group is to facilitate the sharing of financially related ideas and to provide a low key platform where people can ask financial questions, and receive answers based on the collective experience of the lay and professional members.

ImaKadima: Working & Career-Minded Moms in Israel – the group helps career-minded mothers in Israel succeed and find fulfillment both professionally and at home.

Anglos in Israel – a way for English Speakers in Israel to get to know each other and people abroad to find English Speakers in Israel.

Helping Non-Jewish survive life in the Holy Land – the purpose of the group is to be a place for people to ask for help or advice on life in Israel specifically problems non-Jewish face.

Secret Tel-Aviv – a space for all Tel Avivis to share their experiences and questions, meet new people, and learn about some of the Secrets of this awesome city.

Secret Jerusalem –  diverse community of Jerusalemites helping each other out.

Secret Haifa – if you live in Haifa or just visiting this is the place for you to mingle, schmooze, look for apartments, ask questions, get recommendations and help.

Jobs for Multilingual in Israel – job board for a multilingual, or a new immigrant with a work permit in Israel but without a good enough Hebrew.

Language exchange – this is a group to meet people and practice Hebrew with Israelis.

Women’s health in Israel – this group is a forum for English-speaking women living in Israel to ask for and provide advice on a range of health issues affecting women.

If you know more online groups for English speakers in Israel, please, share in comments! 

About the Author
Nadia Katzir is a young woman from Russia - Siberia, who came to live in Israel and loves it. As someone, who chose to be in Israel not as a returning jew, she cannot count on the extended family network, the institutional help of absorption or Jewish agencies. Nadia makes her way based on the social connections found mainly through her networking and social media. She writes about people, who create art, communities, opportunities and her life in Israel at Haifisha.com, a website for social events updates and community life for English speakers in Haifa. In the past, Nadia worked in different international cooperation, education and NGO promoting projects in Russia, including the only news agency for social subjects in Russia - Agency for Social Information.
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