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Welcome, Newbies! (ProTips for New Olim)

Welcoming new olim to a land where everything rhymes and incest is not taught in nursery school

Or should I say, “Bruchim Habaim!” How does it feel to be here, fresh off the boat? You’re probably stumbling around, bleary eyed and sweaty—geeze it’s hot here, isn’t it?—trying to figure out why there are no street signs and why the bank charges you a fee for everything. (Oooh, sorry, I just made you think about “the bank.” Now you owe them two shekel. Standard Thinking Surcharge.)

But then you stop for an iced coffee at Aroma (hint: Buy their card and get discounts! If you drink enough coffee it’s like they are paying you! Not really! But let’s pretend!) and as you’re sipping away, you say, “You know what, this is all going to be OK!” And you’re not sure if it actually will be or it’s just the caffeine talking, but for now, you don’t care. ‘Cuz they also gave you a free chocolate!

(Speaking of coffee: Coffee + ice is called “kafe kar.” The sweet blended slurpee-ish coffee drink is called “icekafe.” Are you writing this down?)

Well, worry no longer. I am here to make it all better. With my Insider ProTips (patent pending), you will be sailing through your first year and beyond like a “vatik” (veteran). After all, I made aliyah myself, which gives me all the necessary qualifications to be an Aliyah Expert.

As you see, only a few paragraphs in and you already know important Bank Fee information + Iced Drinks 101! You’re welcome!

Now, I won’t be discussing ordinary things like where to buy appliances, which items are good to bring from America, what the Israeli equivalents of your favorite dairy products are or which kupat cholim to join. And I won’t be saying treacly things like, “The best thing to bring is a good attitude!” (Because even if you bring a good attitude, you will lose it, along with possibly your will to live, within a few minutes of entering Orange.) No, I only provide you with actual, man-on-the-street, been-there-made-that-mistake ProTips.

Without further ado…

ProTip #1: Be quiet between 2—4 p.m.

You’re probably thinking, “What? Who does that anymore? Isn’t that an antiquated rule from the old days, when everyone used to lie down in the middle of the day?” Well, it’s true, most of the country is busy shopping, driving, working, eating and yelling between two and four. But let me tell you who is very exacting about the no-afternoon-noise rule: YOUR NEIGHBORS ARE. Trust me on this.

ProTip #2: “I’ll call you back” = “I won’t call you back”

When you are talking to someone (from the bank—whoops, sorry, mentioned the bank again, this one’s on me—the insurance company, the cell phone company), and he says he will call you back, know that he will never, ever, under any circumstances, call you back. He may do lots of things. Drink a kafe kar. Take a nap. Call up a radio program and scream at someone. Park on a sidewalk. Leave his shopping cart in the checkout lane with a single item in it while he runs around the store doing his shopping. But he will not call you back. Here’s how to deal with it: Assume you will not be called back. Do the calling back yourself. Then, once in a while, someone will actually call you back, and you will get to experience the delightful sensation of being pleasantly surprised, and it will totally make your day.

ProTip #3: The Gan Door: Read the Fine Print

The ganim, aka daycares and nursery schools, are only slightly ahead of the Stone Age, communication-wise. Not that they scratch out messages on stone slabs; gan kids are little and that would be hard for them to carry home. However, they do communicate everything via the door of gan. So parents of gan-age children, I am warning you now: READ THE DOOR. Or your child will be the only one without a white shirt on Rosh Chodesh, without a basket of fruit and a pudding for Shavuot, without a picture of the family for Family Day.

True story alert: Back in the day when we were newbies, my daughter was in kindergarten. There had been a note on the gan door for about a week. However, not having had this article at the time, I did not realize this was the equivalent of RED FLAG URGENT! READ IMMEDIATELY! YOU MAY HAVE ALREADY WON! OR LOST!

The note said something about plants. This much I gathered. As I picked up my daughter on a Thursday afternoon, the ganenet said, “You read the note, right?” Yes, I lied. Of course I read the note. “Plants,” I added with an encouraging smile. “So nice you are learning about plants!” She then informs me that they are not just learning about plants, they are doing a planting activity. Tomorrow. And the note contained detailed instructions about procuring a plant for your child at a specific plant nursery. Which I had to do. Immediately! So we hightailed it over to the nursery on the wings of eagles to get that plant. Phew! Planting Activity saved! (This is just one of the many, many opportunities I have as an Immigrant Parent™ to embarrass myself and my children and Do the Wrong Thing. Another one: Opening my mouth and having words come out. I am an expert Language Mangler (a Languler, if you will). One time—also true—I was trying to express to my son’s ganenet how I would leave his blanket in gan: “Now I am going to stay here, in this drawer with his blanket. Bseder? OK!”)

ProTip #4: Botany, Not Incest

My daughter (yes, her again; as the eldest child, she bears the full brunt of my Immigrant Parent-ness. TM.) came home once and said she needed to do a report on Amnon v’Tamar. You know, that heartwarming story in 2 Samuel about Amnon who raped his half-sister Tamar? I took a deep breath, stalling for time, mind racing as I tried to figure out how to explain sex, let alone incest, to my 6-year-old, and feeling simultaneously impressed and horrified at the first-grade curriculum. “Your teacher wants you to do a report on Amnon and Tamar? Are you sure that’s what she said?” My daughter looked at me, bewildered. “Yes,” she replied, “You know, the flower.” Of course. Amnon v’Tamar, THE FLOWER.

ProTip #5: “Paam shlishit glidah”

Literally: 3rd time, ice cream. This is what we Israelis say when we keep bumping into the same person on the same day. I have no idea why we say this or where it came from. First time you see each other, a simple “Mah nishma?” “Sababa.” will do. But if it happens a second time in the same day, you leave each other with a warning, “Paam shlishit glidah.” If you run into each other again, one of you owes the other one ice cream. (This tip won’t necessarily make your life easier—well, it will if you’re the one to get the free ice cream—but it will really impress your newfound Israeli friends. Throw this out casually to an Israeli, and you will knock his Naot off.)

ProTip #6: We are Poets. And Boy, Do We Know It

We like our poems very much
We like to make things rhyme
At every party we attend
We make sure there’s poem time!

Teachers, kids and principals
The PTA head and your boss
At celebrations everyone has
A chance to be a Robert Frost

Luckily in Hebrew
Word endings are all the same
So the poems are more creative
Than this one, which is pretty lame


But although my poem is kinda meh
Like a latte without the foam
I hope my tips will be of help
So long for now … and welcome home!

About the Author
Gila is a mother of 3 living in Modi'in and chief blogger for Jewish Values Online. Sometimes earnest, sometimes snarky, always honest.
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