Making Aliyah To Ulpan

When I made Aliyah in January I didn’t allow myself to come here starry-eyed. I came expecting it to be difficult and annoying living here, and that way I don’t feel let down or disappointed when it is, I even sometimes embrace it; and I appreciate even more all the small and big Only-In-Israel moments that you get constantly.

When I finally felt ready to do it, people commented on how brave I was, and now that I’m living here people still say it. It doesn’t feel brave though, especially after seeing the detention camps at Atlit, and hearing about how Aliyah was decades ago.

Still being in Ulpan (with 6 weeks to go), it feels like a cross between every level of education I’ve ever had (from kindergarten to high school to gap year seminary to university); with being in some bizarre comedy-drama TV show; and being on holiday, but with a lot of forms to sign and offices to visit.

As one friend put it, it feels like we’ve made Aliyah to Ulpan, not to Israel. But now that I’m here, the idea of making Aliyah without first living in Ulpan, but having to look for a job and a flat from the start, now seems crazy to me. Ulpan was the best option, even though it bears no resemblance to real life.

Classes are only in the mornings, but somehow time gets filled very quickly: homework and tests and bureaucracy and queuing at the dentist or doctor or post office and tiyulim, and evening activities in and out of Ulpan – shiurim, Israeli movie night, a learning programme at Hebrew University, Thursday nights, travelling on Fridays for Shabbat, travelling back on Motzei Shabbat, before starting all over again on Sunday morning at 8.30am. (A long way from Sunday mornings back in London, which meant 11am, everyone in the kitchen getting in each other’s way, eating my dad or brother’s freshly-made shakshuka, and checking whether the newspaper was feeling pro- or anti-Israel that day.)

By the end of A Day At Ulpan you often find yourself faced with a choice between having a shower, Skyping your family, watching Revenge, having a laugh with your roommates, or doing homework. None of which are really negotiable, so you will do all five, get hungry, stay up even longer to have a snack, then go to bed at stupid-o-clock. But it’s fine, because the next afternoon when you sit on your bed to do homework, you will likely fall asleep and wake up at 6 o clock to the smell of frying coming from the dining room, surrounded by your worksheets, textbook and dictionary, thinking if only the teacher could see what she’s putting you through!

Ulpan life is hard work, fun, and tiring; but I keep reminding myself this is the easy part. I know my Teudat Zehut (ID) number by heart, the mark of a true Israeli citizen; I live in Israel but I don’t feel like I’ve made Aliyah. Or maybe it’s the other way round.

I left my comfort zone in London – my family, friends, working in the same job for three years with really great colleagues – but now Ulpan is my comfort zone. The other Olim can sometimes feel like family. The kitchen staff care that you eat and interrogate you on why you don’t want the meat for lunch, so what if you’re having meat for dinner; and why do you have a problem with the fried eggs with the raw yolks etc etc. And the gross, too-hot-or-too-cold flat with the cupboard stocked with cookies is home. So I don’t feel like I can be congratulated or told that I’m brave for making Aliyah, when I’m living a student life, with lunch and dinner provided every day, and am so spoilt with other people doing things for me that I feel guilty.

But in 6 weeks the Ulpan transition period will be over, and real life in Israel will begin. Now I have to find a flat and a job; and I’m going to have to cook for myself not just for fun; and when I do hopefully find a job, working a full day on Sundays will be even harder than just a morning of Hebrew class; and I will stop converting shekels into pounds, and instead into how many hours of work things cost, like 1 Re-bar drink = 1 hour, an eye-cream from Super-Pharm = 6 hours (no, thank you);  and I will only buy sandwiches and Ice Coffees from Cofizz where everything is 5 shekels; and there will be no more afternoon naps unless I get a job at the bank or other places with the weird opening hours… maybe only after all that I will feel like I’ve made Aliyah.

Three different Israelis have offered me three very different opinions about my making Aliyah. One said absolutely everything in Israel is amazing and wonderful. Another, the Ulpan’s gym-supervisor, loves to tell the new Olim here “you’ve made a mistake”. And the third said it must be a really easy life in London, and I told him it is and I’m expecting it to be very difficult here after I finish Ulpan. He said if I don’t say it will be difficult, then it won’t be. That for sure it won’t be easy either, but it just might not be as hard as I think.

About the Author
Mizrachi Jew. Israeli-in-Progress. But I only drink tea with milk.