Talya Woolf

Aliyah: Four Years an Israeli

It’s been exactly four years since we packed up our lives and moved to Israel. Four years since I became an expat; four years since I last called Michigan my home. Four years since I could stop thinking about languages from the time I left the house until the time I stepped in the door. Four years since I was a more-than-competent mother who understood everything and could schedule all doctor appointments without issue. It’s been four years, and two additional children, since I ran from the States to become an Israeli citizen.


My first piece of advice to all people making Aliyah is to run to Israel, not to run away from something. I know this from experience since there was a lot of drama in my life when we left (that’s a story for another time).

I’ve adjusted to Israel in many ways since the Big Move. I’ve learned all about this country’s wackiness and bureaucracy, its public transportation system and postal quirks, its general strengths and weaknesses. I’ve learned about its weather, when to pack away clothing or bring out beach supplies; when is the best time to go to the beach (Friday afternoon) and which beach to go to (that’s my secret). I’ve learned where to get the best hot dogs (Zalman’s in Jerusalem) and that Israelis take very seriously the “no talking on elevators” rule.

I. The People of Israel: Secret Heroes

This past year was different. That’s not to say that I didn’t travel around Israel and see Katzrin, wander around Tel Aviv, and find old friends in Efrat. I did. But this year ended up different than the past three – instead of getting accustomed to the land, I learned about the Israelis themselves (not the Olim). You see, everyone has an impression of Israelis. Typically, people describe them as brash, abrasive, and impatient. They are passionate, fierce, obnoxious, and rude. And yes, they are all of that and more.

What? Israel people are pushy? How about you experience a few genocides and see how laid back you are. We were banished from Spain. Thrown out of there. They allow everyone in Spain. But for us, Jews, no flamenco, get out. I’m pushy? Please. You stay there surrounded by your great enemy Canada. Try Syria for two months, then we’ll see who’s pushy.

But here’s what I’ve learned – just like a sabra (prickly pear) that has those wretched, tiny, painful slivers, inside they are sweet and delicious. Perhaps in some Israelis you have to dig a little deeper, but it’s true. The comparison is there for a reason.

The truth is, they are quick to apologize if they’ve really insulted or hurt you (physically or emotionally) and they do mean it, unlike some Americans or Brits. When they yell at you, it’s most likely because they perceive you as being selfish and not thinking of someone else first – even if it’s them.

The truth is, if you are lost, you can ask any Israeli and they’ll give you an answer to help you out (it may not be entirely helpful, but that’s a different issue). They’ll assist you with your bike or stroller, sometimes without even asking (and it’s not because they’re hitting on you – they LITERALLY love helping). Why is this? Simple.

Israelis like to be heroes.

YES. I’ll be the first to admit they are a bit chauvinist, but remember that they are Mediterranean and surrounded by obnoxious, threatening neighbors who make them always feel uneasy. They aren’t American, South African, British, or any nationality with whom you are accustomed. They are Israeli. They are who they are; you are who you are.

They’re raised to be heroes; it’s ingrained in them. They serve in an army that trains them that way; they learn to protect civilians. They want to be heroes – even for the little stuff. I mean, who doesn’t? But really – Israelis live for it. That’s my tip of the year. Want help? Make them feel important when you ask for help. That’s it. As simple as that – don’t be an ass. Swallow whatever pride you have and just be a foreigner, a newcomer, an Oleh, even four years in. Remember that not only are you new-ish here, but they also have to adjust to everyone constantly coming into their country. They also likely get frustrated that people they speak to, in their own country, may not understand them. Respect the culture a tiny bit and ask, “efshar ezrah?” They’ll jump to your rescue and act like it’s no biggie. But make it a big deal. Say thank you, give a little smile, tilt your head. All they want is a molecule of recognition that they saved your world – or at least your day – and their chests will puff up a little.

Do them, and yourself, a favor. Let your guard down first. Trust me. Most will follow suit.

II. My Two Homes: Odd Flavors

Being here for four years also means that I have friends and coworkers with whom I enjoy hanging out. Sharing doughnuts and ice cream at lunch, splitting a bottle of wine after the kids are in bed, a meal with cousins at Ca Phe Hanoi… I see the same people on the train and we chat about work, the weather, lack of A/C on the train, our kids. I overhear conversations about politics that I’m starting to understand, have chats with other mothers in Hebrew on a million WhatsApp groups, and feel comfortable enough yelling at people in Hebrew, but choosing to do so in English (and not feeling ‘lesser’ because of it).

Being here four years means that Israel, kinda sorta, feels like home. I know several different ways to get home from the train station, can find my way around Netanya, Givat Shmuel, and Tel Aviv, and where to find the best food in each of those cities. I have friends all over the country whom I miss and think of when I don’t speak to them regularly.

I also have friends left behind in the States whom I miss very much. I miss being able to drive up and see their new houses, tea dates, meets on a lake, my greek salads, my Starbucks fraps, my Dunkin’ Donuts, my American pickles, and my fake, but delicious, gooey nacho cheese. I miss the Detroit/Canada fireworks, Royal Oak, driving down quiet roads, the sound of pebbles crunching under my tires, crickets chirping in the quiet, and the smell of worms. I miss not having to think when I have conversations with people anywhere, at any time, the pleasant treatment of customers at a bank, open space, the ‘American-ness’ of things. I miss Spring and, especially, Autumn in Michigan. I miss Sundays.

Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t move back. In the U.S., I was professionally stagnant; in Israel, I push myself to accomplish more. In the U.S., I’d be paying an arm and a leg for a Jewish education for my kids; in Israel, it’s practically free and highly rated (in our area). In the U.S., I’m not sure I could afford health insurance; in Israel, the highest level of care cost us less than $100/mo for the whole family. In the U.S., it’s easiest to travel within the country; from Israel, you can hop over to Europe and experience international cultures.

Different friends of mine have hit the nail on the head. “Homesickness takes on an odd flavor when you experience it while still feeling like you are home.”

Let that one soak in. Re-read that quote. It is quite intensely and uncomfortably accurate.

When you have two homes, you’re always missing something or someone. It takes a special someone to be okay with that on a daily basis and admit to themselves that, sometimes, it’s day-to-day. For the rest of your life. So what does one do when you’re constantly homesick wherever you are? I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. But when I figure it out, if I do, you’ll be the first to know.

In the meantime, I’ll just say: I am home. I miss my home. And I think I’ll be okay.

About the Author
Talya Woolf is an eight-year Olah with four spirited children and a fantastic husband. She is a writer, American-licensed attorney, handgun instructor, amateur photographer, and artist. She is politically confusing, Modern Orthodox (though she doesn't dress the part), and ardent Zionist (ZFB). She enjoys spending time with family, friends, running, photography, and reading about highly contagious diseases and WWII.
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