Last time, my husband Aryeh and I shared lessons we learned from our Aliyah process on the American side. Now that we’re officially Israeli, we’d like to share the lessons we’ve learned from the first few weeks of life on the ground. Buckle up and get ready to hear about our Aliyah adventures!
Check expectations: Each bureaucratic task can take up to three office visits. At first, I was frustrated when the bank told us it takes too long to open an account, and therefore we have to come back later in the week (even though we already had an appointment). The rest of my day was thrown off when Maccabi said we couldn’t register for health insurance without a bank account. But after a while, I learned to let go and check my expectations at the door. So when Maccabi told us during our second visit that we couldn’t get our cards because the machine was broken, I hardly blinked. And when the bank said we couldn’t make a deposit because they don’t have a cash register, my husband travelled to another branch downtown without missing a beat.
Israel is teaching us to loosen our grip on life. In fact, living in Israel is like a life-long meditative practice—minus the honking cars, packed busses and constant construction. We are learning to accept life as it is rather than how we think it should be. We are learning to close the gap between expectations and reality, which is where most of our disappointment and discontentment lies. The more we start to “accept” instead of “expect,” the easier it is to enjoy life here.
Recognize the miracles: Our first task was to visit Misrad Hapnim (Ministry of Interior) to receive our Teudat Zehut, the Israeli identification card you can’t do anything without. The only problem was that we couldn’t get appointments for over a month. That meant we couldn’t open a bank account, get a credit card or even order take-out on the popular Israeli app 10bis. The Jerusalem Municipality Aliyah Department and Nefesh B’Nefesh were working hard to find a solution. One day, Yaakov Berger from the Jerusalem Municipality called me and said, “Misrad Hapnim is letting in four olim (immigrants) if you can be here in 40 minutes.” I dashed home to get our documents and made it back just in time (thanks to a great taxi driver who wove us through the crazy traffic). Yaakov escorted us into Misrad Hapnim and we left with our Teudat Zehuts in hand! On the way home, we bumped into a family from our Aliyah flight who also struggled to get appointments. I shared Yaakov’s number, and he got them in the very next morning. “You were like an angel sent by Hashem directly to us,” the family told me—just like Yaakov was like an angel to us! Recognize the miracles of living here and G-d will keep sharing them with you.
Be kind and assertive: People say that you have to “be Israeli” to get things done here. Some interpret that as being rough and pushing their way through. We learned that the most effective strategy is to combine our American manners with Israeli assertiveness. Clerks have responded well to our friendliness and are usually nice and helpful (even if we have to come back). We’re still learning when to push and how much to push, which is probably a long-term job for olim. In the mean time, we’ll keep smiling.
Walk out slowly after appointments: People often have to return to offices because they forgot to sign something (i.e. the clerk forgot to give it to them) or they weren’t handed the login code for their account. We learned that the best way to avoid unnecessary return trips is to leave slowly after appointments—just in case the clerk calls you back to sign something or other. Always ask if you’ve done everything necessary at the appointment. You still might have to come back, but at least you did your due diligence.
Embrace the whole picture: An an oleh chadasha (new immigrant), it’s easy to get caught up in the daily difficulties of Israeli life—struggling to understand Hebrew phone menus, navigating the bureaucracy, and using Hebrew-only banking and healthcare apps (why can’t the start-up nation make English versions?!)
Yet we can’t get overwhelmed by the daily grind and fail to see the bigger picture. We can’t forget why we left our families and moved halfway around the world to fulfill a 3000-year-old dream. We came here to help build the ancient land where we are surrounded by our people speaking our language (even if we haven’t mastered it yet). We came here to experience the stillness of Shabbat after a hectic week. We came here to enjoy working on our calendar and never having to take days off for chagim (holidays) again. The beauty of Israel lies in seeing its wholeness, not focusing merely on the “good” or the “bad.” Life here is meaningful and challenging and hilarious and frustrating and incredible. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Aryeh and I just walked out of our meeting with Misrad Haklita (Ministry of Absorption) in awe of how well it went. We are so proud of ourselves for completing the first post-Aliyah steps (okay, we still have to get our Maccabi cards once the machine is fixed…)
We look forward to continuing learning and growing together during the absorption process. I’m sure we have much more to learn, so stay tuned for Part Three of “Lessons from our Aliyah journey!”