I’ve been in Israel for Chanukah before, so no cliches here about the ubiquitous menorahs, multi varieties of sufganiot or the festive aura in the streets. Those are still true even during Covid but being more American than Israeli for now, I can say with sincerity that Chanukah not playing second fiddle to that other winter holiday still seems strange even if wonderful.
In order to shorten the required fourteen day quarantine I was placed in upon arrival I took two Covid tests; one soon after arriving and the other on day ten. Both were negative which allowed me to get out of isolation two days early which happened to be on day three of the holiday. My freedom felt as good as you’d imagine it would until they announced that the same protocol can now be used to shorten the quarantine by two more days to only ten days total; story of my life.
I put my newfound liberty to good use even though my schedule didn’t work out as I had hoped. For practical reasons a new oleh needs to take care of three things as soon as possible (in my case as soon as quarantine ended) in a specific order. First up – a visit to the Office of Migration and Citizenship, a division of the Interior Ministry and not to be confused with the Absorption Ministry. This office issues National Identity Cards (teudat zehut), their slogan should be “don’t leave home without it.” It’s the law and basically you can’t do anything important without it. For Americans, think of it as having to present your actual social security card every time you go to the bank, get a train pass, get cell phone service, pay a utility bill or simply if a policeman demands to see it. Not having it on you can get you declined for a service or get you arrested, not sure which is worse but pretty Orwellian. My temporary card given me at the airport when I arrived is insufficient to complete steps two and three; opening a bank account and registering with the Absorption Ministry to receive the balance of my immigrant benefits. If you don’t have a bank account you can’t lease a car, get paid from work or most other basic transactions.
Needless to say that despite multiple locations for the office of Migration and Citizenship, the earliest appointment I could get is for Wednesday at a branch not exactly close by. Nonetheless, I did manage to get my national health insurance card and got a taste of what the structure of socialized medicine looks like. I can’t expound on that just yet, but for now I wasn’t sufficiently frightened enough to run for the hills.
I also checked out a whole bunch of apartments and one take away is; they’re small. Small enough to have me wondering if most of the furniture I shipped here will fit. The rental process here is nothing like I was familiar with in the US. In most cases the renter needs to move in with their own fridge, range, stove, dishwasher and washer dryer. It seems Israeli architects never figured out how to design buildings with built in closets, so putting up wooden ones takes up space you can barely afford to spare. Property tax is assessed on the renter, not the property. The renter is also responsible for the monthly maintenance fee. And no joke, you need a lawyer to represent you to sign a lease.
Quarantine shielded me from the stress of acclimating to my new environment but as soon as I got out I suddenly felt impatient to get things done. Culturally adapting to the Israeli system will take time, depending on who I ask, that time frame varies from a few months to many years. I’m betting on years. I got a taste of the cultural difference when looking at one particular apartment in an older building that had larger rooms than most I saw until then. The broker told me that the owner specified that the renter must be “dati,” orthodox. Let’s set aside that housing discrimination is illegal in Israel, I asked if the owner will be doing a tzitzit check on me? Must my wife cover her hair? What if my wife wears pants? What kashrut supervision must I adhere to? Badatz? Rabbanut? Eidah Hareidit? Does that even matter if the appliances are mine anyway? The whole incident reminded me of my favorite meme; “I have no problem with God, it’s His fan club I take issue with.”
Now that I am in Israel permanently, I have wondered what life would have looked like for me had I never left as I originally intended after my two post high school gap years in the early 1980’s. At the time I became rebelliously secular. Would I have returned to observance as I did and maintained it for thirty plus years? If so, would my political leanings have gone center right with it? Would have I grown as disillusioned with Orthodoxy in middle age in Israel as I did in the US? What would life have been like not having to scratch and claw to put three kids through Yeshiva day school with its ridiculous anxiety causing high cost? What would my life priorities have been? I am certain, completely different than the ones I had for so many years.
While I have no resolution to those posits, they come in and out of my thoughts as I try to look forward. If God grants me some more years then I will have a whole other lifetime to build in Israel – where my past will be just that, antecedent. My American life was rich in family and friends and there is little about it, save some poor decisions I would ever take back or want to change. But I was given two cultures, two peoples, two languages and two countries to split my soul with. It only seems natural to muse over what would have been had I chosen the path not taken. The fact now is though, that I am blessed to be able to experience both. It may not be the easiest life route but as the saying goes, no one ever promised me a rose garden, I’m just going to have to plant one on my own. Again.
*The last post should have been listed as IX, not VIX, it was a typo. An alternative explanation would be that I actually thought VIX = 9. I won’t deny it because I’ve been known to get things wrong on occasion. One final alternative explanation is that my Roman numerals are just like the results of the recent Presidential election in the US. That is, whatever I say they are despite proof to the contrary. While I know, no court in any land would uphold my numerical claims, I am free to declare contrary math and the arbiters that confirm it to be fraudulent and my facts stolen in the most corrupt conversion of Roman to Arabic numbers in the history of the world.