Anywhere you live will have its noteworthy and the unfortunate. No matter the city, living in Israel can be downright grueling at times, but we do have our benefits. Some are obvious, like the fact that G-D’s spirit rests here, and that’s profoundly cool. Let’s also not forget the simple things though; mostly all apartments and homes have trissim. For those of you who don’t know, “triss, or trissim (pl.)” are classic Israeli window shutters. ‘Trissim’ are essentials; must haves for vampires and teenagers. These shutters have the potential to convince anyone that they are in another time zone; you are in control of exactly how much light you want in your home. I know, amazing.
We made Aliyah (a.k.a., an unnerving, life altering move across the world) in the summer of 2011, and commenced our adventure in Ramat Beit Shemesh Aleph. We knew the city from previous visits to my older sister who lived there with her family. In our minds, it was a good landing spot due to the oodles of Anglos, the central location and amazing parks on every other block. I did have my doubts about moving there as well. I’d heard quite a few shady stories about the area, varying from girls being spat on for the way that they were dressed and signs hanging in abundance demanding women and men walk on separate sides of the street. At the time I had four children, all girls, which made me even more apprehensive. My sister reassured me that those behaviors were not as typical in ‘RBS Aleph’, that ‘Bet’ (a separate section) was more likely where the radicals hibernated, and that I didn’t need to worry. My husband and I aren’t exactly typical RBS material (far from it), but my sister was correct; I don’t follow strict halachic dress code and my husband is not a shul goer, yet we never experienced any first hand prejudices in the four years that we lived there.
What about friends? Like peering through a kaleidoscope – amidst a sea of people dressed in black hats, black coats, and white shirts, we found our vibrant, multi-colored chevra. Till this day the friendships we made there are a vital source of our success in this country. I do know a few people who felt judged while living there, but truth be told, I walked tall while wearing my jeans and a smile and no one bothered me. Fact – we knew quickly that we weren’t going to settle there. We needed a place that was familiar while we adjusted to life in Israel and RBS was that. If the curious stares ever caused me discomfort, I reminded myself that it wasn’t our permanent home and that was enough for me to shake it off. We were busy acclimating to living in the country, the neighborhood was of lower priority.
In retrospect, Ramat Beit Shemesh was our dress rehearsal. My husband and I used the first two years there to make epic mistakes, pick back up and try again. Over and over again. It was difficult, and that’s putting it lightly. Our relationship, finances, and strengths were tested. The transition was harder on my husband then it was for any of us. I persuaded him to move to Israel. Okay, I dragged him. He was raised in New York; he left everyone and everything he knew, and the move forced him to reinvent himself professionally, which isn’t an easy task for anyone. For the first time in my privileged life I truly understood what it was to struggle financially. The sal klita money runs out fast, and the drop in salary is substantial. We, like many others, rented a home above our means. Compared to New York the rent was so cheap in Israel, we thought it was totally doable. We were wrong. I used to go shopping with a calculator in hand, as I put an item in the shopping cart, I’d subtract the amount from the total sum of cash I had for that shop. It is never easy to weed out what foods items you need the least, when in fact, you need more food. The ‘I hope I have enough money‘ purchasing face was shared by many of my fellow shoppers.
Almost daily, tons of mothers would gather, sitting on the benches at the park. We watched our children playing; like the Nefesh B’ Nefesh slogan- they were Living The Dream. They ran and climbed trees with their hair flowing about, without a care in the world. Exactly what we had prayed for them. The benches were our forum, where we could purge our frustrations and our joys, we talked about how there was never enough money, and still how aliyah was the best decision we ever made. I’m so grateful for those mamas, they helped make sense of the chaos.
There was a pivotal moment when things hit rock bottom for us. My husband hated his job, and quite a few friends of ours had found new homes in different parts of the country. It was enough motivation to initiate the next phase, fight or flight. We decided we had to change the way we lived in Israel. Like the Talmud says, “Meshane Makom, Meshana Mazal”(“Change your residence, Change your fate”), we also had to change where we lived in Israel. We made drastic changes. With our four kids in tow, we moved from a four bedroom with three bathrooms to a two bedroom with one bathroom. You heard me – one bathroom, that was fun. Since my youngest finally started gan, I was able to get back to work. As a photographer, I took as many photo shoots as I could but the consistency was not enough to feel secure, so I started cleaning houses to take some of the pressure off. It was a bit of a hit to my ego originally but I soon got over it. Our plan was to repair our finances, find a new city that suited us more, and find a job for Ian that was closer to the new city we chose.
Fast forward, we have been living in Pardes Hanna for almost five years. I can honestly say that we’ve moved on to ‘our grass is greener’ pastures. We LOVE where we live. Thankfully my husband relocated to a new job in Tel Aviv, which made the move possible, but more importantly a job he is happy with. We’ve since added twins to our family (surprise!), and my ‘big girls’ are healthy and happy. I wanted to live in a place that we could grow old in. I wanted to live in a place where my children, and one day my grandchildren, would want to visit; better yet, maybe settle as well.
There are countless things one could brag about when talking about Pardes Hanna. We have palm trees, nearby beaches, alternative-styled schools, but the things I love the most is the fact that Pardes Hanna residents aren’t ruled by age limits or easily conventionalized. Walk down the street midday and you’ll come across a gan full of kids going for a walk in a nearby field or forest. They pick flowers, the teachers build little bonfires and they all dance together; it’s like a burning man fair, except for two year olds. Our tweens and teens are wholesome, but have freedom and fun. Our local bars and restaurants are filled with beautiful dread-locked hippies and also the pristine clean cuts. You see people in their early 20’s and also folks in their 70’s. We sit together here; Mitpachats, sheitels, and loose locks. Chilonim and Dati’im live harmoniously. I could go on but there is no need. I’m not trying to sell PH, I’m just a proud resident.
How do I feel about my previous residence now? I don’t have ill feelings towards my ‘ex’ city, on the contrary; It helped me figure out what I wanted for my eventual ‘Makom’. Like most relationships in life, the years we had together taught me many things, but in the end, we just weren’t right for each other. Now, Bli Ayin Hara, we have found our ‘Makom’ and our ‘Mazal’ as well. I pray our fellow olim find the same.