Jerusalem taunted me: Did you make the right decision?

Ding. An email pops up in the corner of my computer screen. It’s in Hebrew, but I catch the gist of it before it shrinks back into its tiny envelope.

Chime. A new WhatsApp message from my daughter’s preschool. Apparently I need to bring a change of clothes to school tomorrow. On Friday, there will be a communal breakfast and the teacher will send a note in my 3-year-old’s backpack to let me know for what she is responsible.

Falfel in Jerusalem.
Falafel in Jerusalem.

Buzz. My alarm goes off. I stretch as I put my toes on the ice-cold Jerusalem tile. In the kitchen, I fill a glass mug with Elite instant and two imitation sweetener tablets — dispensed from their little green-and-white cylinder – and hot water from the kum-kum.

I am Israeli.

Looking out my kitchen window, wrapped in my soft pink robe, the Jerusalem skyline stares back at me. I get a chill before my lips curve into a sinister smile. I am a survivor.

Only a few months ago, those cream-colored buildings taunted me, interrogated me: “Can you do it?” “Will you persist?”

Aliyah is for everybody — but aliyah is not simply an airplane flight to Israel.

Horseback riding in the north.
Horseback riding in the north.

I moved to Israel once before, 15 years ago. But then I was young and broad-minded and spontaneous — and idealistic. I was unconventional and enthusiastic. I learned Hebrew because I used it … at work, in the makolet (corner store) and with my friends. Uninhibited. I tested boundaries and allowed myself to free-fall into Israeli culture. Cucumbers and tomatoes. Idan Raichal and Izabo and Infected Mushroom. Castro.

Zionism. Israeli flag tichels. Zealous ideology.

Ten years and four children since my yerida, I feared I had lost myself to high heels, business suits and best practices. I learned to cook macaroni and cheese from a box, buy toilet paper and paper plates in bulk. Ylvis and the Chainsmokers and Seether. Wal-Mart.

Zionism. … Democracy. Equality. Israeli flags, twisted up in the complications and contradictions of a society at war — for peace.

Yet I came back to Israel — this time for good.

All smiles at kindergarten.
All smiles at kindergarten.

Making aliyah is a dream-come-true … but it is not a chalom (a dream). There is a whole section on the Nefesh B’Nefesh website dedicated to pre-aliyah guidance and planning — and for good reason. From understanding your benefits, choosing schools for your children, finding a job … living another language — aliyah is a tiring, traumatic and transformative.

For the entire month of September, my 3- and 5-year-old girls cried every day when we dropped them off at school. My family in the States had a lot going on and I felt disconnected and uninvolved. I was used to being able to pick up the phone and call my mom whenever I wanted to, and now she was hours away.

I couldn’t find the grocery store…I couldn’t even find my apartment.

I didn’t know how much the bus cost…I didn’t know what bus to take.

I couldn’t locate the PIN number they mailed me for my ATM card…I couldn’t locate the bank.

The end of a work day left me exhausted at best — why does everyone have to speak in Hebrew?

Though I had been back to visit Israel almost every year since I left, interviewed and written about Israelis almost every week (and sometimes even in Hebrew), I felt like I was living in a foreign country. Wasn’t this home?

“Will you survive?” Jerusalem taunted me with its rich history, breathtaking perspectives, remains rebuilt and reinvented. “Did you make the right decision?”

YES! The answer is yes.

Aliyah is for me.

My 5-year-old goes to school smiling now, reminding me that she doesn’t need me anymore. “Ani yodat Ivrit” (“I know Hebrew”), she tells me as she blows me a kiss and slams the gate to her kindergarten, nearly catching me in the face. Apparently my 3-year-old is getting along just fine — “achat, shtayim, shalosh.”

Pre-Shabbat fun in our Jerusalem apartment.
Pre-Shabbat fun in our Jerusalem apartment.

My son has friends. My 8-year-old daughter is the teacher’s pet (just like she always used to be). Today, her swimming teacher told me she did not even realize my daughter is an olah chadasha (new citizen).

And me — yesterday, when my boss sat over me as I translated a quote from a press release, I did it without breaking a sweat. The last Hebrew press release I translated took me three-quarters of the time that the first one did a few months ago.

There are still challenges. Israel can be challenging. But there is no where else I’d rather be.

This morning, I took BuzzFeed’s “What Country Should You Live In?” quiz. I got … Israel.

“You’re feisty and stubborn and don’t shy away from confrontation. When you know what you want, you won’t stop until you have it. People flock to you because you’re significant and interesting. You’re loyal to your friends, and that’s what matters most. Enjoy one of the most beautiful places in the Middle East!”

Well, apparently not that much has changed. I am also still broad-minded and spontaneous — and idealistic. I’m am still Israeli. … I’m just a little older.

About the Author
Maayan Hoffman is director of international communications for a leading Israeli think tank and an American-Israeli journalist since 1995. She raises her large, blended family a bus ride from the Western Wall.
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