Carolyn Steinman

How I know I am Home

Emek Refaim, Jerusalem. 26/12/22 photo by Carolyn Steinman

I am sure it is a requirement to be short sighted in order to drive an egged bus. The drivers must not be able to see more than 1.38 meters ahead. As a result, sudden breaking and swerving ensues, with passengers flying down the aisle of the bus. I have learned that for extra insurance, always get on a full bus. When packed like sardines, you are cushioned from impact. Imagine the Mexican wave. You get the picture.

Which leads to getting your driver’s licence. It is assumed that olim (new immigrants) will arrive with no, little or poor Hebrew. So we are sponsored to learn Hebrew for 5 months absolutely free. Imagine my surprise then, when I found out that one can change over one’s foreign licence without a written test of the supposed road rules. As olim you can’t understand all the Hebrew road signs – ain baya (no worries); you have never driven on the right side of the road if coming from the Southern Hemisphere or England – hakol beseder (it’s all good). Now for the paperwork. Living in a high tech country, we are able to complete much of the paperwork online. First, you have to fill out a form filled with serious questions about your health. All in Hebrew with absolutely zero option to translate. Questions such as: Do you have a pace-maker? Do you get headaches? Have you had cancer? Do you fall asleep in the middle of the day? Lo! (no). Lo! Lo! Baruch Hashem. Ken (yes), but who would admit that, so lo! Oh, and you do not need medical evidence to support your answers. Then you get the “tofes yarok” (green form) and go for your eye test. After being asked to identify the colours of three boxes and which side of the screen you see flashing lights, you are good to go with your green form, which you then discover is actually white.

When it comes to actually driving on the roads in real time, watching Israeli drivers is an example of “do what I say not what I do.” One now understands why we did not need to do a written test! But a practical one would have been useful! And here, it’s fun to play the Israeli version of “I spy.” It’s called “spot the nahag oleh” (immigrant driver). What one is looking out for is the driver who signals when turning; one who actually looks for a gap in the traffic before changing lanes or one who is not driving down the middle of a two-way street.

Meeting the quintessential Israeli at Misrad HaKlita (Ministry if Absorbtion) where all olim have to go to get going in Israel. She told us we were going to get our first lesson in Israeli-ness. I didn’t burst her bubble and tell her we had had three weeks of such lessons in real time. She explained that Israelis no longer scream and shout. Really? That, is apparently very 1950s. Instead we are to smile, ask nicely and use “bvaksha” (please). But, we should not budge until we get what we came for. Under no circumstance, even if we are told that what we are requesting, has been sent to us. We are to point at the screen – computer and not private phone the assistant is scrolling through while serving us – and insist they check. This is the “lo nekuda” attitude, roughly translated as “ No. Full stop. ” and this, together with our Teudat Zehut (T.Z.) number, will open all doors. Todah (thanks) Etti.

Oh, and we should remember to breathe deeply, she said. A few times a day if necessary, as we are after all living in Israel. She practises this technique, because even the Government organisations are a “balagan” she explains. We had not noticed!

Back to Israeli drivers. I feel this will be an ongoing theme. Comparing Sydney and Israel results in what I am calling “4-wheel-drives and wanna be’s”. In Sydney the rage is to actually drive a 4-wheel-drive designed for the rugged terrain of the outback – but always actually driven in the parking areas of the shopping malls and pick-up queues for children at Independent schools. Here in Israel, few can afford a 4-wheel-drive, but everyone drives as if their little bashed up Hyundai is one. Basically, they treat the sidewalk as an optional lane. And there is zero correlation between the way the learner drivers drive,while learning, and the way they end up driving.

Returning to Misrad Hapnim (a continuation of our change of name saga) to explain to them that they did change our surname from a shin to a samech, but then left out the nun (n). We decided, after much soul searching and careful consideration, that we do not want to be called “Steiman”. Now, we thought we were being proactive, and downright helpful, going back to Misrad Hapnim before our biometric T.Z. cards were delivered to us, given the backlog of six months to get an appointment. We were wrong.

While we managed to get into Misrad Hapnim again without an appointment – I am feeling more Israeli by the day. The woman we saw, refused to speak English and explained that I (well she called me “motek” – darling – while being quite aggressive) needed to wait till I actually received the biometric T.Z. and then return to Misrad Hapnim. She actually did look up from her phone to her computer screen and saw it had been posted to us. At that third visit (when we return, yet again) they will then correct the spelling across all government agencies. Mmmmm. Etti at Misrad Haklita disagrees, but what do I know?

Israeli chickens and their eggs. Now those of you who shop in Australia – I can no longer vouch for South Africa – will attest to the fact that when one purchases what are labelled Large eggs, one struggles to see the difference between the Large and “others”. So imagine my surprise when I was looking to buy eggs and saw XL eggs! “Wow”, I thought, “Definitely the XL”. I opened the box and could not believe what I was seeing. I would have sworn these were ostrich eggs! How do regular hens actually lay these eggs? I guess this is another miracle of the Modern State!

A dud ( pronounced “dood”) or as we have affectionately renamed it, the “dudi”. This heating unit which perches on the rooftops of Israeli homes, requires patience and forward planning before use. Especially in the winter, as this device uses solar heating. So one needs to know pretty much exactly when you want to shower, because when you switch it on you have to wait a good 30 mins, or now that winter is finally here, about an hour, for hot water. If someone who shares the household space with you wants to shower after you, they have to do so immediately lest the the dud is switched off and there is no longer hot water. Roll on summer!!

A speaking of the weather… Now, Israelis are a resilient, strong and optimistic bunch. Despite the barrage of rockets that send residents fleeing to the bomb shelters, life goes on. A case in point is when, after a Fauda style incursion into Jenin, you haven’t watched Fauda on Netflix ? It’s a must. But, I digress. Dressed as milk delivery workers, the IDf  went to arrest members of a terror cell plotting an attack. They opened fire on the IDF and there were casualties. As a response Hamas warned of rocket fire. The IDF sent out a broadcast that Israel, especially the South should expect rockets. The Iron Dome would be ready. The public is not fazed. Life goes on. People continue to commute, make plans and live. However, a warning of heavy rain and only the brave come to work, appointments are cancelled and there is a more marked than usual drop in attendance at schools. Now in fairness this seems especially true of Jerusalem. Here drainage is non existent in parts and substandard in others, the combination of light rain and an incline in the road constitutes a flood warning.

Upmarket beggars. While having an ice cream in Ben Yehuda a beggar approaches, asking for money. My husband apologises that he has no cash – a phrase we learned to say in Hebrew quite quickly. The man responds “ain baya – no worries- and pulls out a portable cc machine. Only in Israel! But, one must remember it is also the only country on the planet, where the beggar will give 10% of his earnings to charity in accordance with Jewish law.

Today, six weeks after making aliyah (to the day) I received a warm and friendly email from the Jewish Agency. Oh, you were thinking they were going to see how life in Israel was going? LOL. The email informed me that a portal had been opened for me to begin the process of aliyah! Perhaps this was for Gavriella? After all, changing my name officially, is rather confusing. I have dual registration with the health fund as both Carolyn and Gavriella. Same Teudat Zehut number, though! I guess “identity” here really is a complex issue.

Finally, notification to pick up our T.Z. arrived! We were reminded that this is the most important card we will ever possess in Israel and to remember to bring the paperwork from Misrad Hapnim with us. In it is a QR code and numerical code – double security – which allows us to receive the T.Z. We looked up the address we were given and jumped into a cab. We were dropped off outside a makolet (corner store). Convinced we were in the wrong place to pick up such an important identity card, we went in, nevertheless. We were actually in the right place! The shopkeeper led us behind the rack of potatoes and onions to a little alcove where there were numerous parcels and letters awaiting collection. Now that we are in possession of this important identity card we need to return to Misrad Hapnim to get the spelling of our name changed: in search of the missing “nun” aka “n” in Hebrew.

Then there is the experience I had on my birthday. I decided I wanted to go to the kotel. So, we hopped on a bus and then made our way through the narrow cobbled stoned alley down to security. My husband and I parted ways as I joining the “women’s line” and he, the “men’s line”, to pass through the security checkpoint.

I stood in front of the stones that have seen the destruction and rebuilding of the city, heard the laughter and the tears and the prayers of thousands and tens of thousands. And I felt enormous gratitude that I was free to choose to be here. In this complex and complicated, frustrating and funny, and profoundly meaningful land and city, with my family and people, I know that I am not only home, I belong.

About the Author
Carolyn was born in South Africa, lived in Australia and has now realised her dream of making Aliyah. She has taught in schools and university across two continents and four cities. Carolyn, now officially Gavriella, blogs her journey and it’s quirky and profound moments, from one side of the Yarden to the other.
Related Topics
Related Posts