This week is a significant milestone for us: three months since we made Aliyah. I neglect to say “became Israeli” because even though we have gotten our Israeli citizenship, truly becoming Israeli is a shift in mindset that takes place over time. Though I have certainly toughened up in the last 90 days, there are still many things about Israel that I’m still getting used to. Here are some:
- Sunday is the new Monday. Unlike the Christian-based United States, where Sunday is the day of chilling, shopping, and Netflix bingeing, Israel’s Sunday is essentially Monday: kids go back to school, adults go back to work, businesses are open as usual. The closest thing we have to an American Sunday is Friday afternoon, when everything closes a few hours early in preparation for Shabbat. Shabbat is Shabbat, of course, but as soon as it’s over you’re getting ready for Sunday again. It makes time feel like it’s moving at warp speed.
- In general, avoid getting mail. If you must, prepare to pick up your packages at the candy store or the health food market, because the post office won’t have them. You go there to register your car, to wait for an hour and a half, and to get yelled at. If you order a package directly to your house, it will not be delivered until someone calls you three times to tell you they will be there in two minutes. They will call you again when they get there because they will not know which door is yours. By the time you get said package (the contents of which you don’t even remember), you will despise them.
- Banking in Israel is similar to visiting Gringott’s, with a dark and murky
underworld that’s near impossible to navigate. Case in point: we had to open our account at Bank Leumi in Pardes Hanna, because that’s where we live. If we opened it one town over in Zichron Yaakov, for example, we would have to go there every single time we wanted to do any banking. Them’s the rules. When we wanted to deposit money, as one tends to do when opening a new account, we were told it was impossible: Leumi Pardes Hanna has no money. “You’re a bank without money,” I said, waiting for Ofra, our account manager, to laugh. She didn’t. “No. If you want to deposit or withdraw, you have to go to Leumi in Hadera.” (For the record, I hate Hadera. More on that later.) That day, I also gave them my temporary phone number, not realizing that all of my bank info would be texted to it from here on out. I called the Leumi helpline to change it to my new number, and I was informed that this was something I could only do in person (because the most technologically advanced country on the planet cannot figure out how to do this over the phone). Of course, I would need an appointment at the bank, but as I do not have four hours to spend on hold, I have yet to get the code for my debit card. You can see why I’m tired by noon every day.
- Grocery cashiers are there to judge and shame you. If you choose not to get an account with the store, they will cluck their tongues and say, “Chaval (what a shame), you could save so much money.” They will guilt you into getting said account, which they say will take ten minutes, but really it will take 45 because the new girl doesn’t know how to work the computer yet. Then they tell you to buy the large pack of snacks instead of a couple of individual bags because it’s cheaper. You listen to them because you feel small and helpless, even though you know the kids will hate the snacks and they will be left uneaten. After you’ve packed all of your groceries into bags yourself (hell no, they won’t help you), you are sweating and want to take a nap in your car.
- The general attitude in Israel is, figure it out yourself. You chose to live here; it’s not my job to bend over backwards to help you. This is a culture shock coming from America, with its Disney World customer service. When we went to buy our car, we were met by a bald man in sunglasses whose face looked like a fist. His arms were crossed in front of his chest, legs spread apart, like a bodyguard. We asked him if we could speak to the owner. He looked us up and down, then grunted, which we realized after a few seconds meant we were cleared to proceed. The owner popped out of his office to greet us, asked what we wanted, then walked away to help someone else. We watched him schmooze up a few different people, chat with the repair guys, smoke a few cigarettes, and make a phone call before we understood that we would have to chase him down if we wanted help. This was no obsequious, desperate, “Please let me know if you need anything” car salesman; he was going to make us work for it. (We did buy a car from him in the end. It took three days, and we return it every couple of weeks because every time he fixes a problem, it comes back with another one. This is apparently par for the course.)
- Israel respects their pedestrians and bike riders. This is something I appreciate, as I cannot count how many Shabbat afternoons I had to hold my children back from the crosswalk on Cooper Landing Road as cars zoomed past us, even though, legally, we had the right of way. In Israel, pedestrians and bike riders don’t even have to look both ways before crossing because it’s expected that drivers will stop. Of course, now that I am a driver who is obligated to stop for said pedestrians, I resent the hell out of them. I also resent the old men and women who ride their golf carts in the middle of the street, cigarettes hanging out of their mouths (and oxygen tank in the passenger seat), at 20 miles per hour when I’m late to pick up my kids from school. Transportation is its own animal here, between the bus drivers who don’t fully stop when you’re trying to get on and don’t tell you when to get off, the electric bikes that somehow balance three extra passengers, the motorcycles that whizz loudly through traffic like showy mosquitoes, and offroaders ridden by 10-year-olds. There’s also the road rage; you better start rolling forward when the red and yellow start blinking together, three seconds before the light turns green. Heaven Forbid you wait to move until the light is actually green and you will hear about it from every single car behind you.
- Israelis love their dogs and hate their cats. Dogs can do no wrong here. You see them everywhere: their ecstatic faces poking out of car windows, napping at the feet of diners in restaurants, wandering happily around town, in and out of stores, undisturbed and unattended. It doesn’t matter; everyone loves them, and they always find their way home. If you don’t have a dog, you’re dead inside. But cats – cats here are the equivalent of the American squirrel: annoying, purposeless parasites. Even the look of Israeli cats, the majority of whom live on the streets and subsist on garbage, is different from the docile, domesticated ones I’ve always known. They’re more than feral; they’re fierce. One feline in our neighborhood looks exactly like our cat, Twix, but there’s something about his eyes that sets me on edge, like he wants to eat my face. We call him Twix’s Evil Doppelganger. He and Twix got in a fight last week. Twix lost.
- Israelis are hot. This is not news, but it cannot be overstated. Akiva thinks I attend his parkour class because I’m so proud of him, which I am. But his crazy hot instructors are a big part of the draw. Put them in an army uniform and hand them a gun and I’m done for.
- Osher Ad. Even the name makes me shudder. It presents itself as Israel’s answer to Costco, but really, it’s Israel’s answer to Hell. Consider your worst possible sensory nightmare: too big, too loud, too bright, too much stuff, too many people, and there you have Osher Ad. You walk in and enter your Teudat Zehut (Israeli ID number – you better know it by heart), and they give you a checkout gun so you ring everything up while you shop. Then you make your way through a maze of half-distracted people with their guns, pushing a cart that somehow always slants to the right, and attempt to find everything on your list (which, although lengthy, is somehow never enough when you get home) while trying not to have a meltdown. I went once on a Thursday – my mistake – and left a full cart of groceries in the store because I couldn’t stay there to pay for them. Also, our Osher Ad is in Hadera, the capital of depressing Soviet-era architecture and black hole for traffic. Though it’s theoretically ten minutes away, It will take you 45 minutes to get to Osher Ad and 4 hours to get home.
- Israel isn’t easy, but life here is more real and more vivid. Everyone goes about their business each day just like they do in America, but there’s a depth and weight to it all, like our effort and energy is building something. With that in mind, the challenges seem (almost) secondary. A couple of weeks ago, I went on a tour of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, led by my friend Shoshana (she’s amazing, by the way). I’d been there twice before, but this time was different. As an American, I’d come, I’d seen, and I’d gone home, remaining one step removed from the reality of the experience. This time, I was there as an Israeli. I felt a deeper, more palpable connection to the Holocaust, to our millenia of history, which had directly led to where I was standing now. As I stepped out of the museum and looked out over Jerusalem, I recognized myself as part of the story. I am the next chapter. And I get to write it every day that I’m here.