Overwhelmed! Nothing, nothing prepared me for the absolute outpouring of love and support my wife and I received upon our arrival in Israel. Denied the legendary public welcoming new Olim usually get at Ben Gurion Airport due to Covid restrictions, our respective friends and family made up for it.
Having typically suppressed any emotion in some inexplicable defense mechanism that I employ due to some serial avoidance syndrome, I finally allowed myself to experience a semblance of jubilance as our plane started its descent into Israeli airspace. I reached over to hold my wife’s hand, leaned over so we could kiss mask to mask and soaked in the magnitude of the moment.
After the wheels hit the tarmac and the requisite clapping ended the pilot welcomed us to Israel and requested that we remain in our seats. He advised us that due to Covid they would call out a few rows at a time to get up, take out carry ons from the overhead compartments and then deplane in an orderly social distanced manner. Of course, everyone followed those instructions exactly as given. Ok, just kidding. As soon as the plane came to a full stop, about half of the passengers were on their feet going for the overhead bins as if the pilot never made an announcement or they could somehow speed up the process. Welcome to Israel have a nice day.
In Hebrew when everything is a hectic mess they call it a balagan. I’ve travelled to Israel dozens of times over the years and nothing typifies balagan more than passport control at Ben Gurion Airport. But this time it was a ghost town when we deplaned. Ours was the only flight arriving at the moment, the only people in the terminal were security guards and the representatives from Nefesh B’Nefesh (NBN). What could have been a chaotic processing protocol, turned out to be a smooth orderly operation.
There were many tears of joy amidst this frenetic process, mine amongst them. A Jew voluntarily moving to Israel is incomparable to any other emigration that I know of. I get chills whenever I land here and see Hebrew signage. Being handed an identity card with my name on it in Hebrew and instantly becoming a citizen of Israel was simply staggering. Ironically, after all the drama over my name, the new identity card lists me as Joel, rather than the Hebracized Yoel, spelled gimel – apostrophe – vav – aleph – lammed. Go figure!
The reward for going through the bureaucratic process outside of Israel is a seamless one when first arriving; NBN thinks of everything. In addition to getting my identity card, I received a temporary health insurance card – the government of Israel picks up the tab for the first six months, a sim card that provides three free months of cell phone service and data plan, the first cash installment of eight – which is not needs based but an outright grant from the government to aid in the absorption process and a transportation voucher for a free ride to where I am staying. Being Jews, there was also food and drink while we went through the routine.
When confronted with my obligation to go into a two week quarantine upon arrival in Israel I had to figure out logistically where I would do that, what to do after that and timing all of it with the arrival of the lift with my stuff. I am blessed to make Aliyah with a built in support system, so I tapped into it to procure a short term rental of a furnished flat in which to quarantine and to give me a cushion of time to find a permanent home.
My family stocked the apartment with food and other necessities and the friend that arranged the rental for me was there when the taxi dropped me off to let me in. After unpacking and showering my wife and I were preparing dinner when we heard an accordion playing outside accompanied by the singing of the traditional Hebrew welcoming song, “heveinu shalom aleichem” (we bring you greetings of peace) and then “v’shavu banim legvulam,” (return your children home). I thought to myself that NBN indeed thinks of everything, even going so far as to sending a small greeting committee to our place of quarantine to compensate for being unable to provide one at the airport. But when we opened the door to see what was going on we were pleasantly surprised to see some fifteen members of our respective families all singing, holding balloons and for the moment at least showing genuine glee at our arrival.
All beginnings are difficult according to an old adage but Aliyah comes with a national practice of welcoming and absorption which eases the weariness. Having family greet you with songs (and cake) the night you arrive tranquilizes any stress and anxiety. Since then I have been fielding multiple inquiries from friends and family addressing any needs; food, supplies, etc… I might have while in isolation. It is heartwarming and validates the choice of making this move in the first place.
I’ve also gotten a taste of the bureaucratic hurdles legendary within Israel. I was instructed to use my first day to make an appointment at the absorption ministry for after quarantine ends but the phone just rings out, I’m still waiting for an email response. I was told I could shorten my isolation from 14 days to 12 by getting a Covid test now and another on day 12 but since I am in quarantine I have to follow a specific protocol. So I’ve been trying to get through to the local office of the health ministry. At least there I reach an automated system but it has no selection for Covid related questions. When I selected what I thought might be the most appropriate one I was on hold for so long I gave up.
I have committed to be as zen as a short fused, highly impatient hot head like me can be. So far deep breaths and jet lag are keeping me relatively calm, relatively being the operative word here. I still have other things to put in order that I expect will try my limited patience but I pledged to myself and more importantly to my wife just go with it, it is what it is. Like anything else in life, whatever preconceptions I had about this undertaking are tame in comparison to the reality of it. Saying goodbye to the loved ones I left behind was difficult, saying hello to a whole new reality is laborious. How bumpy the ride will be has more to do with my own mind than the conditions of the road. For now I have two weeks of quarantine to contemplate it.