Time to absorb

I arrived in Israel nine months ago with my 3-year old. I had already read some of the horror stories of new Olim on the ‘Keep Olim in Israel’ Facebook page. I was excited, knew it wouldn’t be easy but thought I was ready for the challenge. But nothing could have prepared me for the way we were “welcomed” at Ben Gurion airport.

We were immediately taken to a small back room and instructed to show all of our documents. There was no ‘welcome to Israel’, no smile, not even a glass of water. We had started our day at 4 a.m. It was now midnight U.K. time. My toddler asked to play with a pen four times before the official melted somewhat and gave in, giving him a piece of paper as well. We were kept in that office for more than an hour, while the official did all the initial bureaucracy. Still, no water. And, at the end of it all, I was told the machine for producing my Teudat Zehut (necessary for absolutely everything here) was broken, and I was informed I’d have to go and queue up in the Ministry of Absorption in the morning to get it done. In the paperwork they’d just given me, the first page encouraged you to ‘make sure your first day in Israel is a restful one’. That was not going to happen.

I could fill pages with incidents from the following weeks, which were full of the most disorganised bureaucratic nonsense I have ever encountered. At one office we were told ‘we only deal with new Olim between 2 and 4 on a Tuesday’ – I thought it was some kind of comedy act. I ferried round many documents with me to each place, but was always told there was something missing. In the end I carried a massive ring-binder to whatever office we were told to go to next. At every office, we were told to go to another office; we needed another piece of paper; we had to go back to the first office because they’d given us the wrong piece of paper. Every day started with a headache and finished with a headache.

And that was all while being supported by my fiancé, a fluent Ivrit speaker who moved here many years ago and knows the system inside out. God help those Olim who move here and try to manage alone!

Then Corona hit and there was a period of quiet. A relief. We were unable to do any more bureaucracy; we’d nearly finished all the major stuff anyway – or just about.

There was no Ulpan for me, no Gan for my son, and we were given this gift of time to fall in love with our kibbutz, to make friends here, explore the countryside, go for walks and picnics and be at one with nature.

What a blessing. Time off absorption and time to absorb.

And what wonders we discovered in this beautiful, kind and creative place. Where to begin? The beauty of the flowers, everywhere, all the time, changing over months, the colours vibrant, the purples, yellows, pinks, the butterflies, the crickets, the frogs, the snakes, the lizards, the chameleons, the birds, the lemons, the oranges, the pomelas, the pomegranates, the olives… We asked for some toys for my toddler because we left many of his behind, and suddenly we had five bags full of cars and clothes and little bikes….and the invitations for Shabbat, and the welcome at Bet Knesset, and the warm friendships my son and I started making with Israelis (Tzabarim and Anglo-Saxons)…. and the wonderful artwork here – the weaving and the painting, the pottery and the woodwork, the cooking and the baking… it’s contagious! I’ve started so many new things, inspired by others…

I was offered a teaching job almost immediately, perhaps because of my many years of experience, both as a teacher and manager in schools in England. I had already read all the paperwork and knew what documents I needed, what degrees, what apostilles, what references. I had a folder’s worth of my working life, photocopied, prepared, and I spent a great deal of money ensuring solicitors signed documents, the government validated documents, not to mention paying for masses of postage…

Then the next fiasco begins. The solicitors in England aren’t recognised in Israel, so I need an Israeli lawyer to sign my documents. Even though I’ve been teaching for nearly twenty years, and have three degrees, I have to do a teaching course to get a teaching certificate here. So far on the course we’ve discussed how to manage poor behaviour and what to expect from lesson inspections. Sorry if this sounds arrogant but it’s a little like a top surgeon coming here and having to attend training to put on a bandage!

But when I’ve been in school, or with the students, or yes, even on Zoom, I feel a warmth and a sense of humour and a level of creativity that is wonderful. And I know – even if Israeli students are feisty (and are they really more feisty than the gangster lads from the council estate in London’s Tower Hamlets? They wouldn’t sit down for the first few months of my lessons and used to gather at the back of my class listening to rap music – even they ended up listening to me), it’s going to be alright. I’m already loving teaching here.

Please, Israeli bureaucrats, leave me alone! Instead of driving me mad, wouldn’t it be ground- breaking for the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Absorption and the Jewish Agency to actually talk to each other? The joke is Israel loves Aliyah but hates Olim, and I can see why people think that. So many Olim who try to make Aliyah end up going back to the country they’ve come from!

So, I’ve a few things to say.

First, to all the staff of the various ministries who want to make sure all Olim are ‘absorbed’ efficiently into the country. We are not just statistics, neither are we liquid to be mopped up and absorbed off the table. A simple ‘welcome’ and a glass of water would be nice. Or, I could even be more contentious here – how about a proper Middle Eastern welcome, with a cup of coffee and a smile, as I’ve received every time I have encountered Israeli Arab society.

Second, to the professions which make up the working body of the country: be clear with Olim about what they will have to do to get their profession recognised, before they enter the country. And please don’t tell them the wrong thing. It’s expensive and a waste of their time and money.

Third, to all the Israelis I’ve met here on my kibbutz, and my Israeli family, those at my school, and friends of friends – don’t stop being you. Your honesty, warmth and creativity are exactly what I want from my new country.

Finally, to all new Olim here, or for those on their way: don’t take anything personally. Israel is Israel, and she does things her way. As long as you remember to feel and breathe and explore our beautiful land, make new friends, take what is good from every day rather than tear your hair out with frustration (which will also happen every day), everything will be okay.

Actually, it will be more than okay. It’s our home, all of us together, new Olim, older generations of Olim, Tzabarim, Israeli Arabs, all of us together. It’s a wonderfully rich and fascinating country.

And one thing I can say with wholehearted enthusiasm: I have never once been bored here!

About the Author
Shoshana Lavan is a published author, high school teacher of English Literature and Language, teacher of English as a foreign language and most importantly, a very proud mother of her gorgeous toddler. She has recently made Aliyah, is an aspiring peace activist and a committed vegan. A keen runner, she is loving the mountains and glorious sunshine in this wonderful country.
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