Aliyah Journal XIII – Settling In
I’m sure you’ve all heard about the Aliyah horror stories – long lines, stubborn bureaucrats, obnoxious clerks, horrible customer service, remnants of Socialism, yada yada. I’ve encountered my share of all of those things plus, but as I told a friend recently, if everyone had an absorption experience like mine thus far, more people would make Aliyah.
In fairness, Covid restrictions forcibly slowed down what otherwise would have been a frenetic pace of to dos which definitely helps keep the stress to a minimum. Additionally, I arrived having secured a job prior to leaving the US which also diminished my anxiety. Finally, as I’ve noted, my wife and I have lots of family and close friends here who have just been terrific on so many levels.
In my Aliyah journey I have navigated various milestones and I’m trying to figure out if I have crossed some magical threshold, as if I have transformed from new immigrant to full fledged Israeli. I’ve been told it can take years but I feel as if I have lived here all of my life. It’s not that I’ve forgotten my American past or moved on from it, it’s my familiarity with the country, language and people I suppose, that imbibes me with a ballast of comfort. An Israeli friend told me that I didn’t make Aliyah, I just returned after a 35 year absence.
Some of the struggle here is not different from the US. If you’ve ever called your cable company or cell phone provider’s customer service line and survived without blowing too many gaskets, you can handle Israeli companies’ customer service which as a new oleh I’ve had to deal with a lot these past two months. I went to purchase lighting fixtures and had to deal with a clerk who could care less if I bought anything or not. In fact, he looked upset that I seemed interested and asked questions. I ended up purchasing two fixtures and was very specific about the type of bulbs I wanted with them – of course the ones he gave me either didn’t fit or were the wrong color.
I was a vigilant consumer when choosing an internet provider and checked out a few different companies. Though I made my mind up over a week ago, the ones I didn’t choose call me two or three times a day as if I didn’t tell the last ten representatives that I went in another direction and I’m no longer interested in their service. A gas service provider didn’t want to open an account for me and insisted I just continue the previous resident of my apartment contract and that I get their information. I have no idea who lived there before me nor do I have interest in finding out. Took me ½ an hour to argue my way into opening an account.
Leasing a car was one of the first things I took care of when I arrived here. I asked my new boss if he could recommend a leasing agent which he did and it was probably the easiest deal the guy ever signed up. I told him what kind of car I wanted (a compact) and my annual mileage requirements and he came back with a price. I checked around and the monthly cost was fair so I told the agent I want just one promise from him; that he will help me get a Jerusalem parking permit because as a new immigrant I did not want to navigate another difficult bureaucracy. He agreed. I was skeptical because this is Israel after all, so I asked him to text me that he will get me the parking permit, in other words promise me in writing. He texted me exactly that. As soon as I got the car he predictably told me that I didn’t understand him, that he cannot get me a permit, it’s not his job, he never does that, all he can do is give me a letter for the municipality. Partly my American background and partly my overinflated sense of justice on things large and small, I went over his head and got it taken care of. Incidentally, I was told they help leasees get parking permits all time.
I don’t know anyone who really gets used to driving here. Back in the US, I used to see signs on the highways that said “Stay clear of aggressive drivers.” To do that in Israel you would have to not drive. I’m trying to figure out what it is in Israel that makes otherwise perfectly nice, normal people become absolute douche bags once they get behind the wheel of a car. It’s practically universal. I was an aggressive driver back in the day; on my worst day I was not as crazy as the typical driver here. The shortest time span here is when the car next to you accelerates between the traffic light going from yellow to green. Merge lanes are for cutting cars off. Israel it seems doesn’t have speed limits, just suggestions. For the first two weeks I thought the middle finger was an Israeli greeting because I got it so many times when driving to work. Apparently driving within the speed limit is insulting to the driver behind you.
I believe that this aggressiveness is the deeply embedded Israeli culture of not ever wanting to be a freier (a sucker). So if I accelerate first when the light changes I’m not a freier, you are; therefore in a competition for who is not a freier no lives matter. If I can get ahead of you on the highway, I’m not a freier, you are. The other day I was merging onto a main road and could see a car some ten car lengths back, accelerating at top speed in my left mirror. I was sure this car is determined to get ahead of me at all costs. I’m thinking that the driver must be some kid out to prove he has a bigger accelerator than me, so I slowed down to let him overtake me. He ended up being a she, in the head covering of a religious Jew probably ten years older than me, “where’s the fire bubby?”
My work takes me over the “Green Line” and once I pass the checkpoint the road is shared with vehicles from the Palestinian Authority. This led me to find there is one group more aggressive on the road than Israelis. Cars with Palestinian Authority license plates, particularly the yellow taxi vans, are always in a bigger rush than you are. They will pass you across solid double lines with a truck coming at them from the opposite direction. They will tailgate if you are not fast enough to their liking and at night give you the brights. I imagine that this stems from having so little say and control over so many aspects of their own lives, the road must be liberating, a place to show who’s boss — for the little time they are on it. I’m happy to oblige.
On a far more serious note, I got my second dose of the Corona vaccine today. Israel places supreme value on human life and paid above market price to make sure everyone got inoculated. I learned a couple of things from this. In America the words “socialized medicine” causes the masses to run for the hills. It’s a bunch of malarkey. Socialized medicine, like anything else when done right and fairly works. In the case of vaccine distribution, the socialized medicine infrastructure enabled a seamless distribution. For every drawback I’ve heard about “socialized medicine” I can name two from the American system and you can’t beat the price. Another thing I learned; getting the vaccine right does not mean that Covid was handled well. We are in our third lockdown which I can attest is not evenly or fairly enforced. The Haredi community particularly in Bnei Brak has taken to the streets violently – intifada style – to protest the lockdown which their community defies repeatedly and to which for political reasons, the Prime Minister does nothing. There is irony in this at least for me. A community that has their rabbi regularly check their wives underpants post menstruation, in order to be cleared to resume marital relations, will simply ignore medical and science professionals with lifetimes of experience about a life threatening pandemic.