The hardest thing about Aliyah

People told me, they warned me, ‘Israel is hard.’ So I shouldn’t complain. I knew what I was coming to. But they didn’t tell me properly. They didn’t really explain. The hardest thing about Aliyah is the laundry.

Now I know why Lady Macbeth cursed, ‘Out, out damn spot.’ They didn’t teach it properly in Grade 12 English. She was doing the washing and couldn’t remove all that blood. Shakespeare himself had probably been forced to do a dash of washing the night before, and that’s where the damn spot first appeared, or didn’t disappear, as he scrubbed his work shirt.

Don’t laugh when I say the toughest thing for me thus far, four months into my Aliyah, has been washing the clothes. I have four boys. Okay, now I hear a sigh of understanding. I’m from South Africa (originally Australia, but for the past thirteen years, I’ve lived in Johannesburg), where I had full time help (two maids, a char, and a full time gardener/driver). The spoilt brat, I hear you shriek. Um, yes, yes, I am, and I’m paying for it now.

My son comes to me and loudly shouts, ‘Mom, the washing has exploded.’ I run to the washing machine, expecting to see cartoon like bubbles erupting. There’s nothing. ‘What exactly is exploding?’ I ask him. He points to the washing basket. It’s overflowing onto the floor. It’s a sign, it’s time to tackle the laundry.

And I do. I try. I ruin a lot of clothes. Who knew that my new Bosch washing machine wouldn’t miraculously remove tomato sauce from my three year old’s cotton blue singlet. And my dresses; how exactly do I wash my blue, cotton embroidered T-Shirt dress. I thought washing magically happened. I thought washing machines were enchanted. You just put clothes in dirty and take them out, voila, wonderfully clean. All my wishful thinking wasn’t helping me.

Drained and a tad depressed I call my good friend from Australia, who’s been living here for as many years as I’ve been pampered in South Africa. ‘Washing isn’t my strong point,’ she says. ‘I buy my kids rubbish clothes so it doesn’t matter if I ruin them.’ And silk? She laughs hysterically, ‘I don’t own silk.’ Red cheeked, I listen carefully as she tells me she uses the pink Vanish, called Kalia in Israel, and adds the green Persil to this, ‘In the same compartment dear, and don’t forget to do a prewash.’ Huh? ‘A prewash is a setting on the washing machine. She usefully whatsapps me a photo of the washing detergents.

I realise after that enlightening conversation that I don’t understand my washing machine. I read the washing machine manual back to front and back again. I got it. I did a load of laundry, green Persil, pink Kalia, I was good to go. Until I took the washing out. Better, but not much better.

I call my auntie. She laughs at me and asks her Filipino housekeeper what to use for sensitive clothes. ‘Mummy is very good at washing clothes, you should call her,’ she ends up telling me. I’m almost crying over my ruined silk dress. Would anyone notice the runs?

‘No spin for delicates,’ another friend tells me. She made Aliyah when she was sixteen. Of course she knows how to wash. ‘Not really,’ she says, ‘but no spin on delicates.’ I still don’t know which detergent to wash delicates with. Try shopping for washing products in a different language. I have pretty good coffee Hebrew, which means I can get my coffee fix just the way I like. But it’s no help when I’m trying to understand the small Hebrew writing on the rows upon rows of colourful washing products. I leave the supermarket empty handed. I collect a pile of dirty, dearer things in my room. I’m too scared to wash them. I ignore them. I need help.

My oldest son rubs it in. ‘I can’t wear my shorts! You can’t wash my shorts anymore.’ I say, ‘Why?’ ‘They’re too scratchy. You need to use fabric softener.’ How is it my eleven-year-old son knows more about washing than I do? I don’t believe in fabric softener. I read somewhere that it’s not good for clothes. Or was that just towels, I suddenly remember. ‘I’ll buy fabric softener,’ I promise him. ‘Don’t wash my clothes until then,’ he says stomping off.

I’m left wondering, how much fabric softener do I add? And which, which one do I buy? I whatsapp my dear friend, ‘Whichever smells the best.’ Okay.

I pull out my Good Housekeeping magazine on cleaning that I had providentially bought in Sydney. I read it obsessively. I google all my washing questions through the night. I’m a well of information by now, aren’t I? I pull out my white Metalicus slip that I finally washed with my delicates. It’s tinged an icy blue. I could cry. I call my mother in Australia. She’s coming next week. She promises me lessons. She also promises to buy me a new slip. I’m too embarrassed to tell her that my embroidered, blue T-shirt dress was the culprit, and now has those icky T-shirt balls. Maybe it’s because I didn’t listen to my friend and allowed the delicates to spin.

And then this morning, I put another load of laundry on. This time, somehow, the endlessness of the washing doesn’t bother me. In some ways, I’ve become more spiritual. I pray fervently every time I press the start button on my Bosch, which is a good machine, but is not the Jerusalem miracle maker, that I’d hoped it would be. I thank God when the tomato sauce, grass, chocolate stains have disappeared. I thank God that my Hebrew is improving as I’m forced to read the labels on the numerous washing aids I’ve bought. I remind myself that I’m supporting the Israeli economy as I stock up on yet another spot remover, working on my theory of ‘try everything.’ And sometimes miracles do happen on my small Jerusalem patio. Who knew that salt and lemon mixed together really does remove rust stains, as long as you leave it for at least half an hour in the hot Israeli sun?

About the Author
Sarah Sassoon is a freelance writer, Jewish thinker and wandering Jew. Emigrating from Sydney Australia to Johannesburg, South Africa and finally making Aliyah to Jerusalem with her family this summer of 2015.