We have been living in Israel for all of six weeks now (still waiting for our container of furniture, clothes, etc. to arrive…perhaps next week???), and are gradually getting used to the lifestyle. We get up in the morning and look out the windows. We could be in Newbury Park, CA with the rolling mountains and view of the distant sea. The architecture seems familiar with the white stucco and red tiled roofs so typical of Mediterranean style. But that’s about where it stops.
We are so blessed to have such a lovely home, but there are marked differences. There are no electrical outlets in the bathrooms, which makes it more challenging to dry hair, use electric shavers, or plug in any other device. No problem: we’re changing our storage area into a dressing room of sorts. All of the electrical outlets are waist to shoulder high, a little weird, but then, there’s no bending down! Since all of the homes and apartments are made from a concrete block and poured, reinforced concrete base, the only way to run electrical and venting is by drilling holes into the wall to run the lines. To cover these rather large holes, round and square metal plates are screwed in randomly in the walls – all over, high and low. Ours are a mix of silver and brass, white, beige, and brownish. Not so aesthetically pleasing…so we’re having the inside of our home painted this week. That should help a lot. None of the kitchens have vents or fans over the stoves (really weird), so to prevent a rain shower from the steam, I need to open the windows. There are no zip-lock bags or swiffers or sponge mops here – no worry. I knew of that ahead of time and have tons in my container (will it ever arrive?). There is no salad dressing in the stores. I have 12 precious bottles coming, but am learning to make the most glorious dressings from scratch. On our long daily walks, John and I discuss the fortune we could make here just from the import business!!
There is a marked difference in the people here. Everyone seems so ready and willing to help out Olim Khadashim (new immigrants). We have had a steady stream of dinner invitations. When a person finds out you are a newcomer, a dinner invitation (mostly for the Sabbath) is immediately extended. It is customary here to help those who have helped you make Aliyah prior to leaving the states by asking if there is anything you can bring them from home on your container. We have brooms, mops, zip lock bags, JIF peanut butter on ours to give to a couple really nice families who have answered questions and given moving tips over the past year. When we moved in, we were loaded with meals, cakes, bottles of wine from our neighbors, realtor, landlord – enough to last us over a week – plus dinner and coffee invitations from everyone!! Several people took us for drives around town to show us our way around- the post office, the grocery stores, the mall, the medical clinic, different synagogues, city parks, the best felafel joint or cafe. As if there was all the time in the world for them. We had a few people actually go on our first grocery outings with us. Well, it IS different: everything is written in Hebrew (no English!!); the metric system is used for everything; the shekel is used instead of the dollar; there are all sorts of different foods here than there are in America. We really needed all the help we could get at first. We had tips on finding gluten free; finding the best prices at the local shuk (street of fresh produce, spice, fish vendors); and Karmi’el’s different specialty shops.
The entire week is completely different here, too – and that takes a lot of getting used to!! We still are unsettled in that respect. Because this is the Jewish homeland, the country moves around the Jewish calendar. The work week/school week begins full force on Sunday morning. Early for us. We are usually out of the house before 7 am to go to Ulpan (Hebrew immersion school) or to begin to run errands. There is usually a break or slow-down period between noon and 2 pm. People stop during the hottest part of the day. Shops, banks, post office, clinics, and schools shut down here for the most part. Some of the restaurants and cafes are open for lunch, but many people go home. Things gradually are up and running again around 2, but 4 pm until 7-8 pm seems to be pretty active. Fridays are half days here. Most everything starts slowing down by noon, definitely by three – including all public transit. The people go home to prepare for the Sabbath, which lasts from sunset Friday to after sunset on Saturday.
I love that the entire place comes to a standstill Friday afternoons. The smell of Shabbat dinners cooking waft through the streets and neighborhoods. It’s really mouth watering to take a walk on late Friday afternoons. I can’t even begin to describe it. Everything is closed, and there really is a tangible sense of peace and quiet that descends upon the land. People here walk to synagogue in large family groups before going back home for Shabbat dinner. And I love that the phrase “Shabbat Shalom!!! (Sabbath Peace!!)” greets you from the other shoppers at the supermarket Friday morning, to random people on the streets, the bus drivers, the neighbors, total strangers. There really is nothing else like this connectedness. Even the Arabic people who work as store clerks extend the greeting.
Bible names are everywhere – from towns to street names to the people. Our landlords are Rachel and Haggai!! Haggai!!!! When was the last time anyone heard that one? Our neighbors are Jonah and Esther. Not that they are ultra-Orthodox or anything, it’s just part of the culture: Nehemiah Street; Kibbutz Hannah; little kids running through the streets shouting, “Wait up, Noah!!” I love it!!
I love it that the kids here are truly free-range children. We’d be jailed for letting our kids “run loose” in California, but here, they are everywhere. Building forts in the parks from scraps of found wood; on the playgrounds; riding busses. Yet, John and I have noticed that the older members of the community really look out for them. Yesterday an adorable little boy who couldn’t have been more than 8, was coming back from soccer practice. He had a heavy backpack and was schlepping a huge sports bag. Immediately 3 moms/grandmoms stepped up to help him with his bus pass and the change. As the bus lurched forward, another woman jumped out of her seat and picked the boy up to thump him down in her empty space. We’ve never seen anything like it. There’s a tremendous amount of respect here, too, for the infirm and elderly. Yesterday, there was a blind man waiting for a bus on the corner. A young lady, who was not related to him in any way, made sure he got on the correct number bus, and a young man helped him onto the steps of the bus when it came – even at the expense of missing his own bus. Pretty incredible – and special.
I can’t get over running into random people that I’ve know at some point in my life in America – in the most random places. It goes something like this: Woman: “Where are you from originally?” Me: “Virginia, but we lived in California for many years.” Woman:”Oh, Virginia? Did you ever go to summer camp?” Me:”Yes. Camp Louise.” Woman: “So did I!!!” After we had talked three minutes and found out we attended overlapping years and knew several of the same people – I got yet another Shabbat dinner invite… my husband and son still can’t figure out how this happens almost every day-
I love that every neighborhood has its own family park. The wildflowers growing in the parks this spring have been amazingly numerous and intoxicating in scent. They grow everywhere, and are absolutely gorgeous. Today, around 11, as John and I were walking home from our grocery shopping, we saw a young couple having a romantic picnic in the park. At other times, families are walking their dogs, kids are out playing – and at night it’s a teen gathering spot. So far, I haven’t seen anything bad going on – the kids hang out, many times with guitars and hand drums, singing and chatting. Sometimes they build a small campfire, but it usually seems folksy and wholesome. And on Independence Day, they invited us to join them as we walked home.
Yes, there’s a ton of differences, and a lot to get used to, but we are gradually making the adjustment. New foods, different birds and animals, different languages (here, mostly Hebrew, Russian and Arabic). We hear the IDF jets strafe across the skies at random times throughout the day and night. And the Apache and Blackhawk helicopters making their endless rounds at night, but it keeps us feeling safe and secure. We are getting used to our “angels” in the sky. This morning we awoke to sounds of bombing – from military exercises in the mountains just North. But we had been pre-warned, so it was actually a bit exciting.
Even though we have a great bus system, waiting for transportation, and the length of time spent riding busses and transferring, and the inability to easily get anywhere out of Karmi’el has caused us to get a car. We should have it next week, which is another chunk out of the budget, but will give us a lot more freedom and options – and save us a lot of time in the long run. I guess we are spoiled Californians in that respect, but I’ll need it for my business, once it gets established. Yes, we’re making lots of mistakes, but we are learning, and one day, we will be able to help others who want to make this country their home. Some days all is great, other days, much more difficult but with a good attitude and adjustment of mindset, it all becomes part of the Great Adventure. Will our stuff EVER arrive???