Aliyah: One Week an Israeli

I’ve been an Israeli for one week. What have I done and what have I accomplished?

Well… here are just some of the things I’ve learned in the past seven days as a new Olah.

Most days, you can only do one major thing per day (i.e. going to the bank, going to Misrad HaAliyah v’ha’Klita, going to Maccabi, etc.). You might be able to get some minor things done as well, but consider that a bonus.

Remember, office hours here are NOT customer friendly and they vary from day to day. Banks, government offices, and health offices (all important businesses) usually close at 1:30pm. Certain days they’ll reopen after ‘siesta,’ but know ahead of time what time you need to be where. Keep in mind that it’s likely not going to be a quick visit at any government or bank, which is why big things are ‘one per day.’ By the time we finished with the bank or government, we had no time to get to our health coverage office before it closed after lunch.

Make sure you bring your Tehudat Zehut (ID card) with you at all times. And know what documents you’ll need to open a bank account (hint: you will need your Tehudat Oleh also). Be aware that you will likely need to go back and forth from certain offices to others more than once to accomplish everything (again, big things are ‘one per day’ — if you’re lucky).

As in the States, it takes a lot longer to get around with a little one/stroller. On the bright side, this is a very kid-friendly country. We have gotten stopped on the street, in the mall, and in line to be told that our little boy is “me’od chamud” (very precious/adorable). Today, ElyZ was gifted a yellow balloon and a smile from a stranger just because he crawled over to them and said, “bah-oo!”

Israelis are crazy drivers but slow walkers. This is a walking country and people like to enjoy the view and aren’t in a big rush. Be hyper-vigilant when driving amongst them; be patient while they’re on two feet. Get used to saying ‘slicha’ if you need to get around them and be aware they won’t always listen.

You can get around without a car. Americans are so used to having vehicles of their own that they insist they need one here. Yes, a car is fantastic and makes things take less time, but they aren’t necessary. Today we traveled around by car, bus, light rail, and cab (hit all the major modes of transportation) and accomplished more today than any other day this week. We went to our bank and deposited money, ordered a bed for our new apartment, got phones, and went to the wrong Misrad HaAliyah v’HaKlita office.

Speaking of the “wrong” offices… Israel does not work like the States. You can’t simply go to any bank or government office and do what you need to do. Here you need to go to the office near your declared home. It took us two tries to find the correct bank branch and we have to try again on Sunday (a business day) to go to the correct branch of Misrad HaAliyah v’HaKlita.

You will never completely be clean again. For as much as she has blossomed, Israel is still a desert. She’s dusty and sandy and it’s hard to keep it off your feet. But imagine that you and your country are becoming one and it won’t bother you at all. You won’t even notice until your little one comes inside after crawling around for five minutes outside a bank (this causes bath time EVERY night).

Along with the challenges, there are some great things I’ve noticed…

Your Hebrew gets amazing really fast when having to deal with a bank. And make no mistake, speak in your stilted Hebrew and practice the accent. Let them speak in English as little as possible – how else are you going to learn? I have been practicing my accent for two years in anticipation of moving and it has paid off… my banker did not notice immediately that I was American (a very proud moment).

This land makes people incredibly kind and sweet, and sometimes it ends up being your own husband, who is already thoughtful as is. This morning, off of Ben Yehuda, a older man dropped all his kartisim (cards) and he was having trouble bending over to pick them up. A young lady had already stopped to help. When my husband and I came by, we helped with the rest of them and walked him part of the way to his destination (the bank). This type of kindness is normal – the everyday here in Israel, the expected. I hope I never get used to it.

Ariel and older man

I have a habit of always carrying my camera around – here there is reason to do so. There is always a photo waiting to be taken in this land of history, people, culture, action, and emotion. Whether it’s of the people or the land, I make sure to constantly look around (even behind me) because I never know what images will appear, whether in the grocery store or the middle of Jerusalem.

Umbrellas in Jlem

This contradiction, of frustrations and sweetness, is my country. I’m only a week old and I’m seeing this country from the eyes of a baby (in this respect, my little one and I are the same). I’m fascinated by everything, absorbing everything, learning everything. I will probably notice less as time goes by, but every day, I will fight to constantly see Israel as a tourist, I will fight to never lose my innocence and wonder. I may act like an Israeli eventually, but hopefully the saying will be true in some respect… Once an Olah, Always an Olah.

About the Author
Talya Woolf is a new Olah, an American-licensed attorney, handgun instructor, amateur photographer, and artist. She is politically conservative, Modern Orthodox, and ardent Zionist. She enjoys spending time with family, friends, running, photography, and reading about highly contagious diseases and WWII.
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