Throughout history, people have measured time by the moon or sun; by marking calendars; by remembering and celebrating important dates or events in time. I have been counting the days, weeks, and months we have been in our new home – Eretz Israel – by the diminishing of products we shipped here from America. Things I knew I couldn’t find here, and that are gradually being used up: Mrs. Meyers Rose Geranium dish soap and cleaners; vitamins; Febreeze; Dr. Brandt foundation makeup; favorite salad dressings; Lara Bars; Cliff Bars(and other high-protein snack bars); glue dots/strips and craft paper; tissue paper and pretty bags for presents; Theraflu; my supplements and some prescription medicine unavailable here (the biggest challenge of all!!!).
So we are now celebrating our ‘Aliyahversary.’ Yup, it’s been a full year…a very full year since we arrived. We were blessed with a very soft landing, a beautiful new home we are renting from a great landlady in a wonderful mountaintop neighborhood with Malibu views. We had a small support group already established here made up of both native Israelis and Americans. And a new land, people, and culture to discover with all the joys and difficulties that included.
We spent our first couple months waiting for our container of all our personal belongings to arrive. But it gave us that true immigrant feeling. There was so much paperwork at first – and thankfully our Nefesh b”Nefesh representative, Tzippy Oppenheimer, was always nearby to help out, translate, and point us in the right direction!!! There is a core group of English speakers in Karmi’el, but John, Max, and I still needed to really learn conversational Hebrew – so we sat through the excruciating days and months of Ulpan – each in our own levels of class trying to stay afloat (more-or-less) in a sea of Russian/Ukrainian immigrants and teachers who only spoke Hebrew and Russian. We soon found out that Karmi’el is a haven for Russians. They have their own clubs, restaurants, stores, and businesses. And the doctors here speak Hebrew, Arabic, and Russian, which still is, at times, infuriating. So, John “graduated himself early” from Ulpan after sticking with it for almost five months. He gets by with English mostly, picking up words and phrases here and there on the street. He’s really good at reading, though – except for yesterday when I sent him to the market for flour and he came home with semolina! But these and our many daily mistakes make for some great, and sometimes really embarrassing mistakes – always hysterical!
I spent the first four months worrying and praying that Max would get plugged in and meet some great friends and find his way. Moving with an older teen who has left behind lots of great friends, great social life, sports, extracurriculars, pets, and close family members can be the beginning of alienation, resentment, and a downward spiral. I’ve heard lots of stories. Thankfully, our prayers were heard. After five months of Ulpan, we found out about a gap-year, pre-army program for select Israeli youth. So in August, Max entered Mechinah haEmek. It’s a little less than two hours Southeast near Bet She’an on a large kibbutz. Here, the 42 kids (all native Israelis) study, do service activities, physical and leadership training, with lots of field trips. It’s perfect!!! They’ve attended sessions of Knesset; spent a week seeing the problems of the Judea/Samaria area (West Bank) first hand from multiple viewpoints. They’ve hiked and navigated from sea-to-sea and back…and all the kids have grown a lot over the past few months. It’s not been easy for him – full and totally immersion in Hebrew not only socially, but academically. Classes include political science, history, economics. Tough stuff, but Max has some good buddies now and has learned a lot as well. He comes home for Shabbat once or twice a month.
As far as our four beautiful daughters we left behind in the States goes, yes: parenting long distance has been difficult at times. We miss them horribly!!! The girls were separated from us during college years, and when they would travel abroad. One for a year stint in France. This time it was the parents who left – with some in disbelief. Honestly, one of our daughters said to us the week before our departure,”Really??? You’re really going to Israel??? I thought you had decided on Texas or Florida!! Really?? Is this a mid-life crisis or something?” Thank goodness for Skype, Magic Jack, Viber and What’s App – we speak to all the girls at least once a week. More, if they need something – you know -“My car was towed. Now what?” “I’m thinking about going back to school.” “Dad. I’m at the hospital. Katie was in a bike accident, but not to worry. Everything is oK except for a broken shoulder and knocked out teeth. We got some great pics we’ll send.” “This job is not working out. I’m changing directions.” “Now that I hiked all through the US, I bought a ticket to Japan. I’m hiking up Fuji.” You know, just your normal kid stuff. NOT!!! But we do keep in touch, and are so thankful that most everything is under control and happy that our Elizabeth will be visiting us for 4-6 weeks in April/May.
We’ve had some great visits from Americans at just the right times. Soph – I so miss you and the fun days in Akko & the Galil!!! My SPB crew, even though it was so short, it was great seeing y’all! Kate, Elizabeth, Ilan & Yoshi…. also wish it could have been for longer. Thanks guys for bringing Shout, gum, salad dressing, and my meds. Sooo appreciated!
John and I have had wonderful times exploring new cities, new festivals and drinking lots of great wine. We were told that living in Karmi’el you don’t need a car, but after coming from LA where you drive to the other side of the street, it was apparent, that although public transportation here is affordable and can get you anywhere, we needed a car. We leased a car at the end of June, and just passed our Israeli drivers’ license test, but are still incredulous about the way people drive here. Driving with brights on at night, parking anywhere at any angle possible – we call it creative parking – and driving at any and all speeds is enough to make my patience-of-Job hubby just loose it! Did I mention the excessive honking? I think it’s part of the Middle Eastern/European persona. The horn is an extension of the mouth and flamboyant arm (gesturing). They’ll honk at you to go in gridlocked traffic – yes, we get gridlock here too – or even before the red light turns green. AAARRRGGH! The greatest part: the police are so busy with security, that I have never EVER seen one on the highways giving out speeding tickets. Yay, Me!! Wheeeee!
No country is without problems. And just like the States, we have more than our fair share of imperfections. This is the Jewish homeland – but the Jewish people are very fractioned into religious, ulna-religious, secular, and also different styles of worship and life, which makes things complicated and messy all the time. In addition, tiny little Israel also has lots of Arabs – Druze, Muslims, Circassians, Bahai, Christians. And they don’t always get along together either. Some are peaceful, some very militant. Over thirty different political parties make for a fun mix too. And everyone has an opinion. And everyone is right – exclusively – in their opinion. Some being more outspoken than others. We have other tremendous challenges – Israel is a tiny nation completely surrounded by countries who want to see our entire population at the bottom of the Mediterranean. We are constantly faced with silence from “friendly” countries when it comes to the attack of terror we endure on a daily basis. We put up with Boycott, Divest, and Sanction of our products. Israel deals with absorption of thousands of immigrants from all over the world per year: those who are escaping persecution as well as those who come by choice. We have made friends with several talented people, from trial lawyers and doctors to opera singers and architects, who are working menial factory jobs until they learn enough Hebrew to fully integrate into society. We, new Olim, start at the bottom of the ladder, like our immigrant ancestors generations before, and with determination, hard work, and perspicacity, make a life and climb upwards. Kadima!!!!! Ever forward!!!!
So I’ve spent the past year starting up my business of homemade jams, preserves, sauces, pickles, relishes – and gourmet condiments. In addition to Ulpan Aleph, I’ve been taking night classes (Ulpan Bet – intermediate), and daytime business classes at the local college as well. Cooking. Finding local organic farmers. Cooking. Developing recipes, Making contacts. Cooking. Product testing. Business forms. Labels. Business cards and brochures. Cooking. Food photo shoots. Networking. Cooking. Throwing away entire batches that ‘didn’t make it.’ Cooking some more. This past week I sold my first 26 jars. I have orders for several more of my Smokey Onion Jam. I have a tasting scheduled right after my Ulpan Class this evening. Hard? Yes!!!! Fun? You bet!!!! I’m on my way…..
Do I feel Israeli? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. I’ve attended two funerals, one of a terror victim. At that time, I felt closer to this land and these people than ever before. At Bar Mitzvahs and at other religious events, I find myself fighting off waves homesickness – for family and friends I left behind, the vibrant music, the people I’d grown to love “back home”, a certain liturgy or tradition, an incredible ruakh or spirit I have yet to find here. We are all on journeys. I am still trying to find my place. I’ve danced among the women at weddings and festivals. I’ve celebrated at Brit haMilah. Gone to Israeli pop-concerts, and country fairs (still trying to convince DH to let me travel to Midburn in the Midbar. Hey, I remember the Coachella Days in CA! What’s new?)
I’ve hd two jobs here – planning a Bar Mitzvah and a Bris as well as our synagogue Purim festival. And am doing volunteer work as well. John and I spend our Thursdays as volunteers for the Israeli Army!!!! I always wanted to be part of the IDF. Now we’re cleaning machine parts, painting barracks, and other fun stuff. I hear we get our uniforms this week! Yaaaay! We’re both so excited to be able to help out in this small way. And I’m volunteering at the Mandala Women’s Institute on the Kinneret. Last week, I was honored to be part of the Women’s Symposium – an inspirational day of talks by women in Israel who are making a difference – and steps for peace and advancing the progress of women. We had Khadra Al Sanah, a Bedouin woman from the Negev leading her tribeswomen in education and business; an Orthodox Jewish woman, Dr. Faydra Shapiro, who runs the Galilee Center for Studies in Jewish-Christian Relations; Lisa Miara, the founder of Hope Springs Eternal raising awareness for victims of terror throughout the MidEast; Daad Odeh; an Arab Christian family counselor; and Genevieve Begue, a young French Jewess helping to improve the lives of teenage girls in the Arab West Bank. Very inspiring.
Also, I’ve planted a garden. A balcony and window box garden full of fresh, organic veggies. Our first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, was a firm believer that that best way to have the new immigrant connect with the land was by planting a garden and working the soil. He was right. Things seem to grow bigger here in the Holy Land – just like in Joshua’s time. We’ve hiked the land in the Northern Golan and Southern Negev. Another great way to connect. John, Max, and hopefully our Tessa will visit – plan on hiking the Israel Trail from South to North sometime in the next year.
So life here is full. Sometimes too full. There are days when it is hard to function and to move, when I have full blown episodes with MS. But b’ezrat HaShem, with the help of G-d, and a positive attitude – and the tremendous support of my husband and friends, I keep going. I’m learning. I’m loving, and I’m living my dream. Would I choose anything else at this point in my life? A resounding NO!! Sure, it’s hard sometime, but there is nothing worthwhile that is not without trial, sacrifice, and pain. To live in the only democracy in the Middle East, to be part of a vibrant, innovative, start-up nation with tons of progress is exciting. A land full of natural beauty – G-d’s Land. To be part of the Chosen People, to make history in fulfillment of millennia -old prophecies of a wandering nation being restored to their Land, who can ask for more?
Hopefully, this next year will be as rewarding as the past. Thank you, Dear Readers, for journeying with us. It’s been quite an experience. Come visit – and don’t forget to bring Febreeze and salad dressing!!!