Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Aliya - Oleh or Immigrant?

I’m not sure if irony is the word, but it was strange that my first day in Israel was marked in the Jerusalem Post by having an article called ‘an open letter in response to why i am making Aliya - the harsh truth about living in Israel' and beginning ‘Dear Calev Bender…’

I was kind of hoping more for a ‘welcome to Israel, Calev, so happy to have you’ but I settled for seeing my name in print. The article I wrote on my reasons for making Aliya touched a bit of a nerve amongst Olim who discussed the pros and cons of moving to Israel over the next few days in the pages of the Jerusalem Post and the talkback section of the online edition.

I can’t claim to have been recognised in the street yet, but its still early days…

I arrived Sunday night in Israel where the rain on the tarmac at Ben Gurion made my decision over whether to kiss the ground for me. At the airport I received my Sal Klita, (apparently it’s the only time you see 200 shekel notes) my Teudat Oleh, a blue booklet you need to get other things later (it’s a bit like those old Monkey Island games – you need the booklet to get another booklet to get the bank account, drivers license etc…) and was on my way relatively quickly and painlessly. The first week was spent getting an identity, bank account, health insurance, mobile phone (only one for now) and of course a couple of visits to Ikea (some things are the same whatever country you are in.) The second has mainly been spent on the beach. I’d also like to thank the unsuspecting people who have allowed me to piggy back on their wireless internet from my flat (although I’m pretty confident and hopeful they don’t read this blog.)

And although so far it’s been great, and I still feel like I am on holiday, there is no question that it’s not the easiest place to live. Clearly I completely disagree with her and don’t consider that spending two paragraphs on Israel’s problems and bigging up London as 'making Aliya with rose tinted glasses,’ but I think what my Jerusalem Post nemesis Noga Martin was trying to get across was that things are tough here and that in our ideological fervor, we shouldn’t ignore the difficulties when talking about Aliya. And whilst I am yet to find a western liberal democracy in which issues of crime, racism, and domestic violence don’t occur, yet to live in a country that is perfect and doesn’t have stuff that gripes you (any foreigner who has tried to open a bank account in England will understand…) I think the point needs to be kept in mind.

But having said all of this, it does the country an injustice to focus on the small things and ignore the big picture - a sovereign Jewish polity for the first time in 2,000 years in which the Jewish people re-entered history as owners of their own destiny…and we have an opportunity to be a part of this ongoing struggle in whatever small way we may choose. In addition to the problems, Israel is about girl scouts offering people doughnuts in the mall on Chanukah, people wishing you Mazal Tov and good luck when you tell them you made Aliya, an elderly woman at the bus stop offering help and ending up giving me her number and address in case ‘I needed anything’ (now I just need to work on the younger ones…)

And it does seem a bit of a cliché to say it, but I believe that we are all one family here. And yes, that does include the arrogant guy in the vest top or the obnoxious women smoking in the non smoking area and the loud kid that pushes in the cue just as much as it includes the strangers who go out of their way to help us. But I believe those type of people really bother us because we care and expect more…because we believe that Israel can be much more than another country, more than just another nation state like Albania.

That for me is why this place is special, because enough people care about what happens here – and whether that causes them to love this place or hate parts of it is less important to me than the fact they care at all. What we all share is a passion, a passion for how we want the country to be, and that inevitably leads to potential disappointment if the reality doesn’t match the dream.

I had an interesting conversation with someone who made a successful Aliya from Canada around 25 years ago. He advised me that people who move to Israel should see themselves more as immigrants than Olim and that to succeed here, you need to be tough. ‘You know that Puerto Rican guy in West Side Story with the knife?’ he said, ‘That’s who you need to be, that’s how you need to fight here.’ And whilst I have difficulty taking seriously cinematic gang members who seem to break into song and dance at every street intersection, I think the distinction between the two is the key to integration. Olim come to a country expecting to be welcomed, given good jobs and taken care of financially. Immigrants arrive knowing they need to work hard, that it’s an almost constant uphill struggle. To succeed here and to be ready for the bureaucratic and social deluge, you need to be more of the latter and less of the former. And the real question is whether one can do all this whilst still maintaining a culture of politeness and manners that we are rightly proud of in England.

I’ll keep you posted on the answer…wishing everyone a happy new (Gregorian) year of caring more about the big picture…


Wisey said...

Your nemisis sounds like a psycho. And even if she does have such a love/hate relationship with the place, doesn't she still realise she can just pick up and leave?

If the heats too hot...

Gilly said...

Shabbat Shalom - glad to hear that all is going well...


channahboo said...

FYI - you can see 200 shekel notes anytime if you take up drug dealing ;) - Shabbat Shalom x

ifyouwillit... said...

Welcome to Israel, glad to hear you made the move.

Anonymous said...

If your nemisis is upset about the "small stuff" she should move to states. She can have my apartment when I come to Israel in August.


Seth said...

Just remember, when you start feeling the need to complain about this place - it isn't because this place sucks. The real reason is that Israel has a culture of complaining, and it tends to rub off on you. So basically it will mean you have aculturated yourself.

David said...'s your roomate Dave.

Calev said...

December 27th
Aliya attitude

Sir, – Poor Noga Martin. After living in Israel for 11 years she has discovered the “harsh truth” about Israel: Life here is not like life in America (“An open letter in response to ‘Why I am making aliya,’” December 26).
She sees “all” Israelis as “tactless,” but why expect them to act like Americans? It is unrealistic of her to expect that Israel will modify its culture to suit her tastes. Thus, it is Martin – and not all of “them” – who have not managed to make the necessary adjustment.
Some 16 years ago, after making aliya from the US, I received a bit of sage insight from a veteran immigrant. “The best thing about living in Israel,” he said, “is the weather, and the reason for this is that the government can’t foul it up.” Hidden in that gem is the secret to successful aliya: Go with the flow. I suspect that Calev Bender will do just fine.
Hod Hasharon

Anonymous said...

Sir, – I recall strolling on the campus of Tel Aviv University accompanied by a medical student of the New York State/America Program. These students can be considered temporary immigrants as they spend four years here pursuing medical degrees.
The student suddenly glanced upward and remarked, “Just look at that sky!” As we had experienced some heavy rains the previous day I spontaneously responded “Wow! What an incredibly blue sky after such tremendous storms.” He countered with “No! Just look at that pollution...”
As the saying goes, life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. It’s all in one’s attitude.

Anonymous said...

Sir, – Having read both Calev Bender’s inspiring article and Noga Martin’s candid reply, and having lived here for 34 years, my conclusion? Life in Israel is not easy.
But I am living among my own people. We may all express our identity differently, but it is the same identity. We fight and disagree politically, culturally and religiously, but that’s how it is in families. We have a flawed society, but what can we do with our lives that is more important than improving and building our homeland?
I look at our youth serving in the IDF, and I feel proud. I hear a resurrected Hebrew being spoken even by toddlers, while Latin is dead, and I feel proud. I live in Jerusalem and I feel proud.
There is corruption. There is polarization. But I firmly believe we find what we are looking for. Calev Bender – it is a privilege and a blessing for a Jew to live in the Land of Israel. How rich you are!

Anonymous said...

Sir, – What a shame that on the first day of Hanukka (the Festival of Lights), the Post chose to print Noga Martin’s article.
Perhaps you could have chosen to print an article on how it is only Israeli children who have the privilege their great grandparents were denied of learning about the festivals by living them here. These children inhabit the historical towns where these miraculous events took place and get a “hands on” education: seeing sufganiyot every 10 meters at Hanukka; people kashering oven parts in the street before Pessah; schach (coverings for succot) in the street before Succot.

Anonymous said...

Sir, – If the small things in life are more difficult than the big issues then I believe Noga Martin was badly advised before making aliya. My two daughters and their husbands also are overworked and underpaid and would not have had financial worries if they had remained in London. But their extreme joy of living here in our country overrides the small issues, of which they were made aware beforehand.
However, I do admire Noga Martin. She came without a Hebrew education and no religious background. Her frustration shows and many will empathize with her as indeed I do. Noga, don’t give up and don’t go back. I for one would help you at any time.

Anonymous said...

Sir, – Noga Martin seems to be unnecessarily negative about everything except the two things that one should truly be outraged about: Palestinian suicide bombers and suicidal Israeli drivers.

Anonymous said...

Sir, – First, let’s deal with Noga Martin’s petty grievances. My coffee is always just right and I’m happy to recommend a dozen good coffee shops. For a good appliance, she should shop around; and she should not be embarrassed to ask when her bank is open.
And now the important stuff. From the moment I got off my aliya flight I made an attempt to interact with Israelis, and always received a warm response. I try to speak Hebrew at all times and never sensed an “enormous invisible wall.” For me Israelis’ and immigrants’ questions are simply “breaking the ice.”
Yes, I would like to see changes in many areas: government, litter on the streets and juvenile violence. But for me it does matter that most people here are Jews; I relate to Israelis as “family.” I would suggest she learn to laugh at the common foibles of Israelis and take advantage of the many cultural opportunities Jerusalem has to offer.