Being a Settler…

I sit waiting to do the next massage treatment. The hotel spa schedule is hopscotch. Everyday that I am around others besides my dogs and parrot, I am asked by strangers, my clients or patients, ‘Why are you here?’ and ‘Why don’t you go back?’ It’s true I originally planned only to come to Israel in a pine box or at the very least have dirt from Israel that’s in these neat little packets at funeral homes in America, to be thrown on my casket.

Love changes things. The person that had turned my life upside down, in a good way, was faced with family pushing to move to Israel. He didn’t want to go and yet the little Yid in him knew this was the place. He’d been here many times so it wasn’t brand new. Still he vacillated. He said he was going for three months and either he’d be back to me or send for me. Meanwhile I went to a couple of Nefesh b’Nefesh gatherings to learn more about the transition process.

I was not prepared to face the idea he wasn’t coming back or that I was to move. I’d already burnt out from so many transitions in my life in the five years prior. The economy was in the proverbial toilet in much of America. I didn’t know anyone who wasn’t affected. Lost homes, businesses collapsed, suicides from financial failures, devastation in countless places.

My love told me to hang on. Said he might be returning for major back surgery. The news was a mixed blessing. So I held the fort down and kept on keeping on. My health wavered as did his. After several more months, he was taken in for emergency surgery in Israel. Stage four cancer.

I’d been working hospice for too long, a very draining world in spite of the huge privilege. Colleagues of mine knew something was up. In a matter of a few days, we met in coffee houses, on the phone, in the middle of the street and after hours clandestine. Why? We knew many who had kicked cancer and gone off hospice and back home healthy. I gathered all the sources they knew, plus tons of research of my own. I was too determined, too much still in deep love to let the best person ever in my life just die in the two weeks doctors in Israel had given him to live. With blessings from friends I threw my life into four suitcases to fly here, closing up my life in the States.

It was crazy. Insane. Nothing but all my years working in hospitals and I suppose my first-responder training prepared me for the journey that changed my life forever. I thought a lot about my ancestors who immigrated to America and how challenging that must have been. The journey itself was tense. But the big adventure was learning how to settle. This took on a very dramatic dichotomy in me.

My tourist visa for pikuach nefesh was used up quickly. I had to face the reality that I was here, he was alive, thank God, and because of this I wasn’t leaving him. I was determined that I must settle here.

The aliyah process I personally went through is better left for another conversation in a coffee shop or over a nice bottle of wine. Let’s just say it wasn’t easy. I have been told that I am very loyal and driven so as you may imagine I persevered. I was settling.

The dichotomy. I WAS settling. I was facing a new life without Walmart or endless malls or access to every conceivable want available to me. I was facing a life where buying a pair of Cole Hahn shoes of handmade Italian leather at $400 a pop just wasn’t going to happen anymore. The days of six-figure incomes was over. My world of being Jewish and having my two feet in everyday American life and staunch commitment to my religious convictions was also going through a refining fire. And my professional life, the hard earned tenure and endless education; another change.

For those in the middle of Israel, the choices are much more broad. Tel Aviv and surrounding areas offer much of the same as corners of America. And Jerusalem has a very diverse population of religious groups and communities. However, I landed in Eilat and this was where I needed to stay.

Eilat is a village compared to the metropolitan area of Miami. And for the first time in my life, I found myself frequently having my Jewishness questioned because I didn’t look Sephardic. Sure there are Ashkenazim here, but we are a minority, something I’d never known before. And at first, I didn’t know the difference between some Jews and some Arabs. Sounds racist, but it was total naiveté on my part. My religious comfort zone of Ashkenaz life and customs was virtually vacuous.

The final settlement was finding out that my professional life, my credentials, my degrees, meant very little here. The fallacy that the US is so great that the world accepts everything and anything if it comes from America is just not true. I was not alone. I began to read about, hear and meet people who like me, made aliyah and were floundering and ultimately settling for whatever they could get work-wise to survive. And Israelis in general have no patience for crybabies. While the aliyah propaganda machine says Israel is the land of the Jews and Israel needs all the professional Jews from around the world, many like myself just can’t step off the plane and into a good paying job in their profession from their former country. Engineers, lawyers, doctors and other medical and technical professionals struggle to retranslate their life here. Even formerly esteemed rabbis from the Diaspora don’t just fit in. Settling is hard.

Learning to settle is a lesson one does not expect to learn when making aliyah. We often think of settlers as those staking out homes in controversial areas around Israel. However, real settling is the acceptance that to truly become Israeli one must accept that life here means overcoming the confidence and security of decades of education and experience and surrendering to the new frontier of trying to fit in to a totally new world where everything is not the same no matter the so-called similarities of Jews around the world or the friendship with America. The individual, the little Yid has to be just as creative and resourceful and flexible as we always have for millenniums. Nothing is absolute,…nothing.

I have settled, but not exactly as I would have wanted. I never expected so many unsettled steps along this journey. Okay, so no more expensive shoes. No more four dollar macchiatos. No more thousand book libraries. No more large middle-of-the-road Ashkenazi shuls. No more six figure respecting ‘good morning doctor’ days. I’ve settled. I’m a settler. I am an Israeli.

About the Author
Israela Avraham is from the US. She is a private doctor specializing in alternative medicine and supplementing her income as a medical massage therapist in four hotels here having previously come from a six figure income. She has been a masorti/conservative rabbi turned Orthodox to make Aliyah.
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