I approached the challenge of my next bureaucratic steps (in the Aliyah process) with stressful anticipation but was pleasantly surprised to find much of my anxiety unwarranted. While not completely seamless I am happy to say I am now in possession of my National Identity Card (Teudat Zehut), my necessary bank account is open and as a result am clear to receive my “basket of benefits” (Sal Klita) from the Absorption Ministry.
Granted, the process was not without its glitches but in one half of a tiring day I got done what I needed to in order to settle in permanently to my new hometown, Jerusalem. Full disclosure, Jerusalem was not my first choice. There is a saying that Jerusalem is a Jewish city, while Tel Aviv is an Israeli one. I was hoping to settle in a more Israeli one but a work opportunity will keep me in the eternal capital of the Jewish people for the foreseeable future, I could think of worse things.
I’ve been thinking about my maternal grandparents who made Aliyah from Detroit in the late 1960s and settled in Givatayim, a Tel Aviv suburb. My grandfather, a Hasidic rabbi, was among the last of his community to leave the Motor City in a rush of white flight. The Shul he founded there Beth Shmuel (see page 11 of Michigan Jewish History) still stands but now operates as a Baptist church. When he and my grandmother decided on Givatayim it was an undeveloped community in need of a synagogue and they opened one, it is still an active congregation. My grandfather passed away within a year of arriving in Israel and the following summer my mom took my sister and I to spend two months with my grandmother, I was three. The first time I saw my grandmother’s shchuna (neighborhood) there were but a few new buildings, all made from cement and stucco in what could best be described as post Israel independence architectural style. Calling it a style is a stretch but the rooms in the apartment were big and there was plenty of sunlight.
Between the scattering of buildings, there were many construction sites with mounds of dirt and rocks that three-year-old me considered a paradise-like playground. As the Rabbanit’s grandson I was spoiled by the neighbors and have fond memories of them buying me steamed corn on the cob and fresh sabras from street vendors. I would return to Givatayim every few years and each time the shchuna developed more and more as those construction sites sprouted into completed projects. By the time I arrived for my post high school gap years, there was no more room to build.
In the subsequent years over many visits to Israel with my wife and children, Jerusalem became the central point of our stays. While we visited other parts of the country, Jerusalem was always our base. Both my wife and I have siblings, other relatives and many friends in the area. Just like Givatayim seemingly grew and changed in each of my childhood visits, so too Jerusalem over the past thirty plus years. Everytime I come back, Jerusalem grows in size, population and infrastructure as does the rest of the country.
I should be enjoying what really is a daring adventure for this stage of life. For me, this move is romantic, exciting and fills me with the optimism of a new future. I have chosen a country constantly on the move. Yet at the same time I am gripped by impatience, stress and anxiety. I am trying to suppress any negativity and live by one of my favorite creeds; “Positivity is a choice.” Easier said than done for an old hand like me especially when faced with regulations I simply don’t understand. For example I spent over two hours at the bank opening an account. They seemed to have been clearing me for access to top secret intelligence briefings. After providing them with blood, urine and DNA samples from every living blood relative they let me open the account but would not take any money from me to deposit into the account, that apparently only comes after the National Security Agency clears me of terrorist ties. When I was finally allowed to deposit money into the account, the bank at first refused my check because the check drawn on my American account did not have an address printed on it. Duh! I moved to Israel and do not have an American address.
At the Interior Ministry where my wife and I went to get our identity cards – a document that without, freezes your ability to do anything in Israel – it seemed to go quickly and smoothly. The one glitch seemed to be that the clerk needed her manager’s assistance processing my wife’s card because she had lived in Israel for three years in the 1970s, therefore was not considered a new immigrant. A couple of computer clicks later it was taken care of. Or so we thought. When we later went to the Absorption Ministry to provide copies of our new Identity Cards and bank account information (so we can receive the rest of our sal klita) it was revealed that the manager entered my wife’s Aliyah date as 1973 which would preclude her from getting any benefits. We were lucky that our advisor in the ministry was persistent and got the problem solved.
What often brings me back to lucidity is to see the ever present smile on my wife’s face that sprang up as soon as we landed at Ben Gurion airport. Seems there is no obstinate clerk or bureaucratic silliness that can dampen the sheer joy she has derived from making this move. Her euphoria is amplified when like this past weekend we spent Shabbat in the Yishuv north of Jerusalem that both her sister and my brother live on. Whether it was being with family, the bucolic mountains seen in 360 degrees, the hikes, the fresh air or all of it – her happiness is one the one calming influence in a frustrating process.
There is a lot going on around me and I am fascinated by the vibrancy of Israel and Jerusalem in particular (Covid notwithstanding). While thousands of protestors were gathered outside the prime minister’s house this past Saturday night for what has become a weekly ritual, the PM was busy on national television getting the Covid vaccine followed by the health minister who on that exact day some 30 years before was sentenced by a Soviet court to prison for the sin of wanting to emigrate. Only in Israel.
A walk to the center of town or a visit to the Mahane Yehuda market would make you believe Covid has not hit Israel but despite the vaccine rollout, an increase in cases has the government contemplating a national shutdown. Israelis returning from abroad (and Israelis are always returning from abroad) were surprised to find out they were being bussed to quarantine hotels and not being allowed quarantine at home.
The political environment here is toxic and it appears Israel is headed for its forth election in under two years. Parliamentarians here aping their American counterparts in Congress rather point fingers and blame each other than actually pass a budget or aid small business owners and the masses of unemployed and hungry.
If that is not enough, I was reminded again of just how precarious and serious Israeli life is. Esther Horgan, a 52 year old mother of six from the settlement of Tal Menashe was murdered while out jogging. Police suspect the killing was politically motivated. Policemen were shot at in the Old City of Jerusalem and a young boy was found dead, all of the incidents said to be terrorist attacks. My problems so much as I really have any, pale in comparison but only add to a new reality I must get used to.
In the end, I am here, I am not turning back and I look forward to the rest of my life living as an Israeli. I am also cognizant that there is no proverbial free lunch though the falafel here is pretty reasonable.