I grew up in the US, so I never joined the IDF. But I was a Girl Scout, and the scout motto is “be prepared.”
I was determined to be prepared for aliyah.
Unfortunately, the biggest parts of a new life in a new country can be difficult to prepare for abroad. I can’t assemble a friend group. I can’t adjust to the time change. I can certainly study Hebrew, but it’s hard to attain a high level without immersion. Even the job search is difficult when I can’t shake hands or attend events in person.
So, what can I do? PACK.
It’s my way of pretending I have some control over this crazy transition. I’ll prepare like a good girl scout, and on the other side there will be campfire songs (like Hatikva) and a “New Israeli” merit badge (My ID card).
After spending a year in Israel, I had a pretty solid plan for what I needed to pack for my new life there. Here’s a breakdown of how and why that plan completely disintegrated.
Thing I “Absolutely Must Have” #1
ALL THE CLOTHES
My theory: America has all kinds of brands Israel doesn’t have. Even the stuff that is available in Israel tends to be more expensive. I need to buy 50 pairs of skinny jeans, 5 of which I will keep for myself, and 45 of which I will use to make friends.
The Reality: Shopping in Israel is great. My favorite dress shop in the world is in Jerusalem. I’ve found all kinds of little boutiques where I can get unique things very inexpensively. The major brands are more expensive in the Holy Land, but they’re also less appealing to me. Besides, of all the clothing I’ve worn this trip in the US, the item I get the most compliments on is this polka-dot dress I got for 40 NIS ($10!) on King George. Also, it turns out Israeli hearts cannot be bought with skinny jeans.
Thing I “Absolutely Must Have” #2
ALL THE COMFORT FOOD
My Theory: There are food products that are not available in Israel. These food products have seen me through many a trying emotional time, and I will need them if I am going to survive in a strange new land.
The Reality: My tastes change in Israel. My new comfort food is strawberries dipped in melted peanut butter and Nutella. And the strawberries in Israel are far better than any strawberry I’ve ever eaten anywhere else. The only food I still really miss is my mom’s… and this is just something I’ll have to accept.
Thing I “Absolutely Must Have” #3: ALL THE TOILETRIES
My Theory: There are types of goops and gels and sprays and powders and tonics and oils and spritzes and schmears I can’t buy in Israel. I need to maintain the exact same habits that I had while living in the States or something terrible will happen to me.
The Reality: First of all, the climate in Israel is really different from the climate in New Hampshire. So is the water. A lot of products don’t function the same way in the desert heat as they do in a blizzard. So I end up not using a lot of what I bring, and that’s a waste. Second, the Dead Sea is in Israel. You don’t need the goop. You can just go inside of it. Finally, I spent ages in the States trying to control my wavy hair, only to find, in Israel, a nation of fellow wavy-haired women. It was a cultural and cosmetic awakening. I can find everything I need in Israel, except better and cheaper.
Thing I “Absolutely Must Have” #4
ALL THE ZIPLOC BAGS
My Theory: They’re definitely the most recommended thing on the Nefesh B’Nefesh Facebook group. They’re definitely the first thing I noticed missing when I went to the store in Israel.
The Reality: They’re definitely not necessary. Little plastic tubs or bags with twisty-ties are fine. If there’s an Americanism I want to cling to, it’s not my manner of sealing up leftovers.
So what made the cut? Besides some favorite items of clothing from my personal wardrobe and my camera, only a few things:
One (1) box of macaroni and cheese
Okay, so a little comfort food is good. And it’s only one box, which means just knowing that I have it is going to make me feel better more than actually enjoying it. Also, if you’ve found this brand somewhere in Israel… for the love of powdered processed dairy, leave a tip in the comments.
One (1) bottle of pure maple syrup
You can take a girl out of New England, but you can’t take a love of pure, unadulterated, liquid tree sugar out of the girl. And no, the mockery they sell outside of the northeast is not a suitable replacement. Pretty sure there’s something in the Talmud that supports me on that. (Pictured here is a stand-in, the actual bottle is from Parker’s, triple bubble-wrapped and packed already)
One (1) eyeshadow palette
Look, putting on makeup is a meditative, empowering activity for me. And even though I can buy the same colors in Israel, it felt like outfitting myself for a new adventure and it calmed the girl scout in me that just needs to feel prepared.
One (1) Kindle
It’s better than lugging heavy books around in general, and it’s cheaper to ship a new e-reader to the States.
One (1) sentimental Kindle case from my brother
I guess it comes down to this: I can find everything I need in Israel, one way or another. There’s no point trying to replicate my life in my new country. I’m moving because I want a change, because I want to grow and change.
What I really need when I’m making Aliyah is to be flexible and be gentle with myself. I’m not packing to be ready, I don’t need anything, and there’s no way to truly prepare for an adventure this big. I’m packing to feel ready.
12 hours until take off! I’m ready! At least, I feel ready.
You can follow along with me and the other 220 new olim as I live tweet our Aliyah! Check out @Arianemandell and the tag #LiveLoveIsrael . You can also watch us “blinking, step into the sun” live on the Nefesh B’Nefesh website.