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My French and my Hebrew

Reflections on an international ulpan vocabulary, skateboarding in high heels, and 4 months of honeymoon phase aliyah

“Je mange une pomme rouge.” That means, “I eat a red apple.” Not in Hebrew….in French.

Four months ago, I embarked on my greatest journey to date. I had a “plan” for my new adventure — a checklist, an ulpan program where I would live and learn, work contacts, surrogate family prospects, and hard earned savings.

With two weeks remaining until my current program ends, I have not officially secured a job, found an apartment or roommate, I am a few thousand dollars lighter, a few pounds or shall I say, kilos heavier, another year older, and my Hebrew isn’t perfect.

BUT I am proud to know how to say, “I eat a red apple” in French, along with a few other expletives, if I ever get cut off when driving. I learned that, in France, in addition to the men being freakishly well-dressed, you think twice before starting a conversation with the stranger at the bar, because you can’t really tell him about your life. If you tell him you are Jewish and that your sibling served in the Israeli army, you could be a target.

In Ukraine, you can buy a year’s worth of groceries for the amount of money it costs to fly from NYC to Miami for Passover. In Iran, there are still some Jews who actually live in relative peace, without fear of persecution. In Turkey, people prefer to sneak their kosher meat from the butcher, so as not to cause any unnecessary Jewish attention.

So, some would argue that upon making aliyah to Israel, I have learned more about the rest of the world than about Israel itself. I have been unemployed since June and have yet to earn one shekel. I could have spent many more hours learning Hebrew, but I chose to make best friends and memories instead. I have no regrets.

I have no new wardrobe to attribute to the disappearance of my hard earned savings, but instead have been blessed to try every craft beer at Beer Bazaar and perfected the tahini-hummus ration of my late-night Jachnun Bar addiction.

I have eaten full blocks of cheese on the late-night bus and went swimming in the Sea of Galilee at sunrise. I downloaded Tinder to see if it is true that religious guys exist there. I jammed for hours on the porch with wine, hookah, and a guitar.

I swam in ancient springs and forced my claustrophobic self into narrow caves where there is nowhere else to go but forward. I danced at the hotel at 5:30 a.m. on Simchat Torah. I skateboarded down the street in high heels and met Asian nuns. I don’t truly miss manicures and pedicures.

I know South African and Australian slang words, but can also quote Israeli songs. I have relived high school style drama only to realize I am re-learning the same lessons as I did at age 16. I learned that if you use your foot to stop bus doors from closing, they will still close, and the driver will drive away with your foot.

It takes three days to dry underwear on a drying rack in October — so, washer/dryers are luxuries. If you want to keep your A/C on for Shabbat, you need to calculate how many shekels it will cost you per hour.

Snakes and scorpions are no longer irrational fears. I am no longer a coffee addict. When showing off your sports skills to Europeans, don’t kick the soccer ball shoeless and toes-first, because you will most certainly lose your toenail (thanks, Mom, for encouraging me to do theater instead).

The fish do bite in the Mediterranean. Don’t hike hungover. Don’t go to any bureaucratic office hungover. Don’t go to ulpan class hungover. Basically, your body is getting freakin’ old, so just don’t ever be hungover. Don’t use the Waze app if you are driving anywhere near Ramallah.

The past few months as a new Israeli have made me realize that life is about living so deeply and passionately that you have no choice but to screw up — to literally fall down and have your heart broken. However, the best lesson I learned is that the only way you can have your heart truly broken is by having expectations. When you get caught up in the planning, you foolishly forget that you are not the one in control.

It is always easier to change than to be changed. I laughed more in the last four months than I did in the last four years. I also cried a lot more than I expected, but wiped my tears once I finally realized that I am a lot stronger than I have given myself credit for.

I finally started to listen more to people’s stories than reflecting on my own. It takes more to make me cry, and I am proud to laugh at myself at least once a day.

Call me a naive new immigrant if you want, but I don’t ever plan on having my heart broken by Israel. I have dreams, but not written-in-stone plans. The only expectations I have are those that I set for myself. I simply expect myself to be better tomorrow than I was today. Not just a better human being, but a better Jew, because, by living here, I feel like G-d is watching me so much closer.

Thanks to my new precious family from 12+ countries, I can confidently say that I am beginning to do this. We are doing this together and helping each other be the best versions of ourselves that we possibly can be in this new home.

We praise, criticize, help, love and listen to one another… but we also bicker, disagree, and have moments where we wonder what the fu*k did we do? That is family.

I am ready now for the honeymoon phase to end and to begin “real life” in Israel. I have no expectations, no regrets, and my fears are no longer the same ones I had when I descended from my plane in July. I have a beautiful new family by my side and the exact life that I never planned for.

Peace. שלום. Paix. Paz. صلح. мир. vrede. Pace. Pokój.

Peace will only come if we make it happen together.

About the Author
Shayna (Dayna) Driscoll is a coffee obsessed Brooklyn native and fundraising professional. Shayna made aliyah to Jerusalem in 2016 and is trying her best to live a passionate life of truth. Shayna's favorite word is serendipity and she tries to smile as much as possible.
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