The Five Stages of Aliyah (in Theory and in Practice)

My aliyah is closing in on three years.

Three years of braving Hebrew.

Three years of navigating bureaucracy.

Three years of saying, “Slicha, Ani Olah Chadasha.”

I often say I am so thankful we made aliyah in 2010 — in the days of Google Translate, Eden Teva, social media and other modern amenities that surely made my transition easier than my predecessors’.

I can’t really complain.

Except I can.

Because that’s what complanglos do.

Except I don’t see it as complaining — I never did. I call it processing. I call it cultural exchange. I call it the 3rd stage of the 5 stages of aliyah.

The first is joy: “We’re here! We’re really here! Israel is AMAZING.”

The second is confusion: “What? I didn’t think it would be this hot/hard/expensive here in Israel. It wasn’t this hot/hard/expensive the last three times I visited.”

The third stage — the phase in which complaining usually occur in excess — is comparison: “I don’t understand how they don’t have organic chicken in this country. They have organic eggs. Where is the organic chicken?”

The fourth stage is letting go, sometimes utterly and completely. I recently passed through this phase. In fact, I’m still with one leg in it. In this phase, you decide to truly be Israeli. You go whole kosher hog. You make assumptions about what it means to fit in — to be Israeli– and act upon it:

1. You yell back at the woman in the grocery store parking lot who calls you an idiot because you’re actually waiting for someone to exit a spot before you enter.

2. You get into a heated debate with your son’s math teacher about why it’s her fault he failed the test, not his.

3. You turn “Makolet Day” into “Makolet Summer.”

makolet summer

4. You show up 15 minutes late to every meeting, on purpose, even if you are genetically-predisposed to show up early.

5. You allow the neighbor’s constantly unleashed dog to lick your leg even though you know you’ll break out in hives. “Ain Ma’Lasot,” you tell yourself. “Dogs will be dogs.”

You hang out in stage four for a while — at least I have — and you pat yourself on the back, “Look at me. I’m such an Israeli. I’m totally fitting in here. I’m gonna make it after all!

You tell your co-workers about how you beat the system this way or that way. You share your success stories in broken Hebrew with your Israeli-born girlfriends and they smile sweetly at you. You feel part of the crowd. You feel as if everything is going to be alright.

The fifth stage in any trauma or transition is typically acceptance. This is the phase in which we have processed our circumstances; we have acknowledged our reality; and now life must continue.

But acceptance is often confused “with the notion of everything being okay.”

Everything is not okay here in Israel.

Israel is no different from any other country (or person) in that there are problems, there are challenges, and there is always room for improvement.

I accept that I live here and I accept the reality of the culture here. I accept the fact that gas is high and availability of organic, nut-free, natural product is low.

But I don’t necessarily accept the Israeli version of me I became in stage four when I practiced “letting go.” I don’t want to be her. I won’t.

There are parts of that self I like and admire — parts I want to keep, parts I am grateful to Israel for. It’s only by living here that those parts were able to bubble to the surface and were cultivated.

I like that I’m less rigid with my children. I like that I am now able to stand up for myself –out loud and vocally — when the situation calls for it. I like that I am more compassionate and forgiving since living in a small kibbutz community; since living on top of people who live life differently than I do.

But on the other hand, I don’t want to be someone who yells. I don’t want to be someone who shows up late. I don’t want to be someone who speaks nastily. I don’t want to ever say, “Ain Ma La’asot.”

I like being someone who speaks kindly (or, at the very least, works hard at speaking kindly.) And I want my children to speak that way, too.  I want to show respect to my fellow human beings by following through on what I say I am going to do.  If I indicate I am going to be somewhere at 8 am, for instance, I want to be there at 8 am. Because I believe it says something about my character and my commitment. And if I have a conflict with my son’s teacher, I want it to be a civilized discussion, in which we come to an agreed upon conclusion.

I don’t want my kids to toss trash on the ground or make “sini” eyes or refer to particular problems as “the fault of ha’aravim.” These are all cultural realities here — and they aren’t ones I am going to comply with just to fit in.

Stage five may be acceptance, but it need not be, “Everything is okay here.” Surely, it includes acknowledging cultural differences, recognizing regional challenges, and understanding that long-term cultural change requires much more effort than it takes to complain or blog. Long-term cultural change requires a tipping point — it requires enough people wanting the change to happen. Whether the change is coexistence, speaking more nicely, or earth-friendly legislation. We see this already in Israel — in our adoption of Western TV shows or food.

Any good Israeli would tell you that you’re a friar if you don’t try something before you buy it. So I’m offering up myself to try.

Try me. The non-Israeli parts of me.

Before rushing to call me an Anglo or “too American,” see how my non-Israeli parts suit you.

The showing up on time, the talk of mindfulness, the love and care of the planet, the criticism of artificial food coloring — try it.

Try it, and then maybe … buy it.

You might like it even better than Big Brother.

About the Author
Jen Maidenberg made Aliyah to the Lower Galilee with her family in 2011. A published writer and author, she chronicles her life in prose and poetry at
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