Six Years In

It’s a bit hard to believe it’s been six years since we sold our home, packed up our lift, said our tearful goodbyes, and moved across the world to Israel. Six years. In some ways, it seems like no time at all has passed. In other respects, it was a lifetime ago.

In those six years, we’ve learned so much about our new country and about ourselves. We’ve had incredible experiences and have met some pretty amazing people. We’ve traveled the land of Israel from North to South, walking the pathways of our Biblical ancestors. In a land this old, history is all around us. Layer upon layer from Neolithic cave dwellers to Biblical patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob). Greeks, Assyrians, Romans, Jews, early Christians, Byzantines, Muslims, Crusaders, Napoleon, Pioneers from Europe, they’ve all left their marks on this tiny country. We’ve toured so many different places and archeology digs, and there is so more still to see and do.

We’ve made new friends from all over the world as well as native Israelis. Until COVID hit, we hosted many visitors from the United States. We’ve seen far too many friends who have moved here return to the familiar lives of their native countries. Leaving behind family, friends, livelihood, and all that you once knew is more than difficult.

In order to fully integrate into a new culture learning the language is becomes a priority. I’m much better than I was six years ago. I can hold my own in a social setting, but am far from fluent. Next month, I am starting another Hebrew intensive course three days a week. Hopefully, I can lose my phone anxiety. Imagine making a phone call and getting plugged into a service loop in a completely different language. It can be terrifying. Reading and understanding bills is another interesting endeavor. Hebrew has absolutely no vowels given, so besides actually reading the words, recall and context are absolute necessities to deciphering the “code.” One can live and function here on just English, but it’s a peripheral life in society without Hebrew language skills.

Still, attaining some sense of competency is doable. You just have to be extremely dedicated – or young. Our son achieved a working fluency within two years. It’s been beautiful to watch him grow up and adapt to this new life. He served for over two years in the IDF in the Foreign Relations unit working on the Syrian border. For a parent to see their child take on entirely new skill sets and adapt, holding a job with responsibility, making friends, navigating the system – it’s a tremendous blessing. He’s now in university studying foreign policy and government and doing amazingly well, far above our expectations. We wish him only continued success.

I’ve learned a lot and have made many mistakes since our landing. Being too eager to get to work and start a successful business in the first months was a tactical error. Yes, I enrolled in a business class for new immigrants at the local community college, but still did not know enough about how a start-up works in a new country. Accounting, tax laws, business certifications, marketing to a different culture and the ability to communicate effectively are all things to fully know before venturing out on your own. It didn’t help that the Israeli culinary palette is completely different than the Anglo food tastes.

In the six years since we’ve landed, we’ve been able to taste many of the different foods here, learning all about dining in the Middle East; the different spices, food combinations and ways of preparation. Because breaking bread together also breaks down cultural barriers, it’s been fun to meet other immigrants (and locals) of various ethnicities and swap recipes. A great ice-breaker I’ve learned to use is at the grocery store or produce market. I don’t hesitate to ask what an item is and how it’s prepared and eaten. I’ll inquire where the person is from (telling them I’m a fairly new immigrant from the US) and ask how long they’ve been here. Many times I’ve gotten the invitation to the person’s place for a meal. I don’t ever remember that happening anywhere else.

I’m still not sure if it’s a Middle Eastern thing or not, but hospitality here is a way of life. We’ve had countless invitations to share meals with relative strangers. Even during business meetings (with our printer, our insurance salesperson, our auto mechanic), it’s typical for us to be ushered into the office and before any business is discussed coffee is made. Not typical American drip coffee, but a type of Turkish espresso with cardamom – or “botz” which is a little tiny demitasse of strong blackness leaving a muddy residue at the bottom. It is in very poor taste to decline for whatever reason. Along with this, coffee, pastries or cookies are usually served – or some type of sweet, and of course, the offer of a cigarette. It was strange a first, and of course, to decline the cigarette is perfectly acceptable (this is only done between the males. I’ve never been offered a smoke). It seems many of the males smoke. It’s ubiquitous here. Something that can be more than a bit off-putting for the Anglo.

A lot of unforeseen circumstances have happened since we first came to Israel. Who would have thought that both my husband and myself would be diagnosed with cancer within five short years of living here? We’ve learned to navigate the medical system. With socialized medicine, the prices are incredibly low, but bureaucracy and wait times for scheduling tests and appointments can be interminable. We have a whole new medical vocabulary down in Hebrew. And despite the difficulties, we’ve had access to some of the best doctors and cutting edge treatments in the world. In America, even with insurance, we would have had to sell our house and hock our kids to afford the care we’ve had here.

Before the ‘pandemic,’ we were able to travel a few times to Europe. The continent is only a 3-5 hour flight, and much more affordable. John and I have visited the Czech Republic numerous times, Hungary, Northern Italy, Switzerland, the French Alps, and Amsterdam. We spent two and a half glorious weeks in Scotland, traveling with American friends who now live near us in Karmiel. Hopefully, we can resume our travel adventures. We’d love to go to Greece, Southern Italy, and now that the UAE is open to us, Abu Dhabi sounds magnificent. Still, first on our list is a trip back to the United States.

It’s been over three years now since we’ve been back. And that’s probably the hardest part. We miss our kids something terrible! We have two grandchildren that we’ve only seen when they were first born – and a brand new granddaughter. We are missing one of our daughter’s wedding, which is something that is breaking our hearts. I’m so hoping our airport will be completely open and that we’ll be able to find a flight out later this summer. At this point, it’s impossible to tell what will be even in the next few weeks. Thank heaven for FaceTime and Zoom or we wouldn’t have been able to survive. We get to “see” the girls and their families just about every week through these virtual communications platforms.

Since being here, I’ve run out of many of my favorite American products: from dryer sheets to antiperspirant to cinnamon gum, Shout, and certain medications. Thankfully, every month, we find more of our familiar standby’s like zip-lock baggies, craft supplies, food items (like albacore tuna!!! and salsa and taco mix and shells!!!). For some things, I ask my daughters to make up a care package (cello sponges, flavored coffees, extra-strength Advil). I’ve learned to make my own salad dressings, barbecue spice rubs, pickle relish, garlic croutons, kombucha and focaccia. And just in the nick of time, last month we received the most thoughtful and wonderful gift box from a dear friend back in California: a box of Airborne, Zinc tablets, echinacea drops, thieves oil, Emergen-C packets!!! Oh my goodness!!! It cost an absolute fortune for her to mail this, but man oh man!!! Was this welcomed!!! And last year I found iHerb, which ships many food, beauty, household and vitamin products to us for free.

All things considered, I think we’re doing a pretty great job of acclimating to our new land. Although it’s been more than difficult at times, it’s been well worth it. Life is casual here. We have had many amazing adventures. We now have favorite places to visit, favorite music groups, new pastimes. We’ve made friends and attended a fare share of funerals and weddings and baby showers (that’s for another blog), which are nothing like their American counterparts. We’ve learned from our many cultural faux-pas. Through all of our ups and downs, and with our strong faith in G-d, our marriage has been tremendously strengthened. This has been one of the biggest surprises and blessings of all.

We look forward to see what the next six years will have in store for us. Hopefully, the skies will reopen and the tourists will be back. We will be able to go places again, both domestic and foreign. We will be able to entertain guests. We look forward to exploring new cities and ancient ruins. we pray that we will be able to enjoy the relative peace and safety of the past six years. In the meantime, we celebrate locally by raising a felafel in our honor –