Step-by-Step: Making Aliyah to Israel

Documenting the very personal process of making Aliyah (immigration to Israel) by one very atypical Israeli-American girl. Aliyah on 17, August, 2005. Roadmap: What do you mean there's no roadmap?! Hang on, we're in for a bumpy ride! Ole!

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

A few things

I am back in my little (and I do mean little) apartment in NYC, jet-lagged like crazy, and still feeling like I am there (Israel) and not here (NY). To wit, I haven't changed my watch from Tel Aviv time because that seems like the final severance of my being there. It may be 11 a.m. here but in the real world it is 6 p.m. (hey, no wonder I'm hungry!).

I started keeping my diary in hebrew last week (yes, it reads like a 6 year has written in it!) and on the plane back I kept reading over my days. I'm going to write about some of the things that really stood out here today and probably over the next few days.

On the job front I made some interesting discoveries and the AACI proved to be remarkably helpful. For instance, I didn't know that immediately after doing ulpan if you still haven't found a job and you have an advanced degree you need to sign up (bringing along all your diplomas and so forth) with the _academic_ unemployment office and not the regular unemployment office. And you need to do this very quickly because you only have 6 months to sign up with them from the time you officially make Aliyah in order to have your degrees, certifications etc. recognized in Israel. If you don't get everything validated in time your degrees are not worth anything. This I didn't know.

The second thing I found out is that if you get an academic job the government will pay for half of your salary and the university or college only has to pay the other half for the first year. And this can be used as a selling point (hey, you only have to pay me half, hire me!) and foot in the door.

The other really useful piece of advice I got was from a friend and colleague who told me, hey academic jobs are usually _not_ advertised like they are in the U.S. and in Europe because there is an assumption that no one in their right mind would consider applying for the job from outside of Israel and the faculties are well aware of the graduate students (and of course those currently holding academic positions at other universities) within Israel so they tend to use word of mouth or go directly to the person they are thinking would be good for the job. Soooooo, what you need to do is to send your CV and cover letter to anyplace you are remotely interested in working at (in my case that is ANYWHERE) and let them know that you are planning to permanently move to Israel in X month and to please keep you in mind should something arise. My letters and CVs are going out tomorrow, as soon as I can think clearly enough to write good statements of research interest for each place. I'm crossing my fingers because I do have some friends and colleagues in a number of different universities in Israel but I don't intend to be snobby and will send them off to colleges too. So that was the really good news on the job front and I was on cloud nine after hearing that and really optimistic.

The next day, however, I went to Netanya to see another AACI counselor (also really really helpful) and something she said made me cringe and quake. She cheerfully was saying that the really important thing is to make sure that you can somehow, someway make enough money to pay your rent (ok, well that seems obvious but...) and that I hopefully have family back home that can help me out (I don't, I help my mother out!), because you can always get really really cheap cast-off food, like day-old bread and going-bad vegetables for almost nothing but if you are homeless you are really in trouble and that she has had to counsel a number of olim in that situation and perilously close to that situation recently. I never, in my wildest imagination, thought about being homeless or getting to the point of being homeless. It just never occurred to me that such a thing could happen. Well, I would have to move back (perish the thought) before I would let myself get even close to the point of being homeless. I have 3 cats and that is not an option! But it was frightening to hear that it does happen and to people who do have degrees and credentials and who are ready, willing, and able to work. This tells me that I will need to always and always keep an untouchable pad of $5,000 so that if worse comes to worse I can shlep me, my cats, and my belongings back to the States.

Ok, off to the grocery store because my roommate has no conception of acquiring essentials (like paper towels) when we run out and we are out of...everything. Guys!

Monday, November 29, 2004

My last day in Tel Aviv

I don't want to go home. I AM home. Coming here again has strengthened my resolved that this is really and truly where I belong. On the other hand, being here and talking with friends has scared the ever-lasting hell out of me as far as the job front.

Well, what did I do with my last day? First, I think I fed every single cat that walks the streets of Tel Aviv, and there are a LOT of them. See one cat, shake a bag of cat food and suddenly one cat has multiplied into 6, 8, 10, all crying, terribly skinny, and dirty. There are lots of people feeding them but the problem is just that there are so very many. I started out with a 10 pound bag of food this morning (oy, my back) and within 2 hours had distributed it all. I will definitely have to budget in feeding the local group of cats whereever I end up moving in addition to my own (plus trapping and having them spayed and immunized). I can see it now, I am going to be one of those crazy cat ladies (cat girls?) in charge of 200 cats or something. But ma la'asot? I can't just let them starve.

I did some last-minute shopping at the shuk (found 2 sweaters for 20 shekels each that are just lovely!) and walked and looked and looked and walked. And I talked b'ivrit a good bit, even surprising myself some. Of course, half the time I had no idea exactly what was being said to me but mostly I got enough to answer at least semi-intelligently and not resort to english.

My flight goes at midnight so I am waiting out an hour or so here at an Internet cafe. I am definitely going to have to go on a diet when I get home. I've eaten so much this past week I am about to burst out of my clothes. There is no better food (and such a variety!) than what you can get in Israel. I don't usually eat breakfast or lunch but I've been doing both here plus snacks in between!

Oh, did I say that I went swimming in the ocean last Thursday? Yes, I am nuts! The air was really cold but the water was soooo warm and we had a few hours of really nice warm sun and I couldn't resist. I was in Netanya and, well, there isn't much else to do in Netanya than swim :) Oh, and I met the father of the very famous photographer (spencer) who takes those pictures of large groups of naked people when I was in Netanya. He came and sat down and chatted with me at a cafe and was really funny.

Well, I better post this before my time runs out on the computer. Sigh, tomorrow in New York :(

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Tomorrow in Tel Aviv

Well, more accurately, tomorrow I leave for Tel Aviv for a pilot trip but I don't get there until Monday. And I am nervous. And excited. And I am sooo not looking forward to spending 16 + hours in an airport and on a plane.

I had planned to be so organized with this trip. Make appointments to see this agency and that, talk to this person and that, see this friend and the other one, but, here it is on the eve of departure and I am not organized at all. I haven't even packed. Part of it is that I have come down with a cold from hell (soooo looking forward to being on that plane --and I'm sure my seatmates will be equally thrilled as I cough and sniffle my way across the ocean). Part of the reason is that, while I am never terribly organized my friends are even less so --"yes, call me when you get in and we'll go out, we'll have coffee, you have to meet a friend of a friend of mine who knows someone who might be able to help you on the job front but we'll work it out when you get here." Ok fine, but I have an _itinerary_ (sort of) and I have to manage to fit in Tel Aviv, Haifa, Netanya, and people and places in between and I only have 8 days. So, in short my itenerary has turned into: arrive in Tel Aviv on Monday and then....? Well, I have nailed down (mostly) next Friday morning-Sunday afternoon in Haifa (are people who live in Haifa just of a more organized state of mind? My roommate, who is from Haifa says no, it is simply because people in Haifa have no lives and can afford to be organized but personally I disagree --especially as it is quite likely that I will end up in Haifa when I move next summer).

And that is really the major purpose of this trip: deciding where to live. I know where I want to live but I also know that Tel Aviv is a really expensive place to live and I am really not sure I can afford it on the paltry amount of savings I'm going to be bringing with me. So, Haifa is probably the next choice. I will definitely need to be someplace where there are job opportunities. What kind of job I will be qualified for though, I have no idea, and that _that_ is scary. The thing is, since I am not making the move until next August, now is too soon to really start looking into the whole "getting a job" aspect or so I'm told. I will need to make another trip over in June or so, to start that ball really in motion (along with finding an apartment to rent, etc). But, because that is really the only major worry I have about making this move (hey, with time I can learn the language, make friends, get integrated but if I can't afford to eat or pay rent then I won't be able to do any of that) I want to start now, yesterday.

Speaking of starting, I'd better start packing. Now where is that beged yam? :)

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Engerbrew --it's a new language

From now on, if people want to communicate with me, they'd better plan on learning Engerbrew which, it seems is all I'm able to speak. What is Engerbrew, you might ask. Ahh so glad you did but believe me, you really don't want to learn this language. It is an extremely frustrating (not to mention incomprehensible) combination of English, German, and Hebrew. When I first got back to learning Hebrew earlier this year all I could do is think in German. Anytime I opened my mouth to try out a sentence or a word in Hebrew the German was there first. Now, granted, I'm fluent in German and I figured ok, I'm just tapping into wherever the second language hides out in my pea brain. I figured the 3rd language would just sort of make its own, separate home in some other happy little corner of my mind and things would quickly sort themselves out.

Ohhhh so not so. Did I say I was fluent in German? Obviously not anymore. My friend Kerstin called me early this morning from Stuttgart...and all I could do was think in really bad and incorrect Hebrew. I couldn't remember the simplest, most common of words like warum, wo. In short, I could not have a conversation at all in German and, since she speaks very little English, we had a very very short conversation. I'm not entirely sure what we did talk about. I could understand her perfectly, just couldn't respond coherently at all.

Maybe, I thought, this is a "good" thing. Maybe this means I'm actually getting better at corner of the mind #3. But no. At my conversational hebrew class tonight I was babbling along thinking I'm making perfect, if grammatically incorrect, sense until I noticed everyone at the table looking at me. Ma, ma? Babbling is right. Aber was coming out instead of aval, as well as other nefarious German incursions and lots of English words tossed in when I _knew_ I didn't know the word in hebrew.

My English is starting to suffer somewhat too. I find that I can't find words --in any language--in the middle of a sentence and stand there for a second with a blank look on my face (or maybe it is one of horror or astonishment but more likely one of total stupidity) until suddenly it comes and I blurt it out in a rush of relief. Thank G-d, I know the word "movie."

Can learning a language bring on the really early on-set of Alzheimers? I know people who speak (fluently mind you) upwards of 5 languages. They don't have this problem. They tell me they never had this problem. Why do I have this problem?? My roommate tells me that it is because I am retarded. See if I help him with his English anymore. I hate him anyway: he speaks 3 languages close enough to fluently that he can outfluent the average native speaker in all 3.

I must have a one-track mind. Or there is a stickler of a customs official in there somewhere who is stopping me at the border and saying, "Sorry, only two complete languages allowed."


Sunday, November 07, 2004

"Are you CRAZY?" ...ummm, well...

I haven't yet come up with a really good response to the question "Are you crazy?!" (or the many variations of this --you'd be surprised how many ways people can either directly or indirectly let you know they think you've effectively gone off the beam). And you would think that, with all the practice I've gotten recently in answering this question, I'd have the perfect reply prepared. But alas, I am still searching, fumbling, for the response that assures the questioner that I have not gone crazy, that I am actually making a well-researched (and hopefully well-planned) decision, that I really do not have a death wish, that I haven't overnight become some kind of religious zealot, that I am not making this decision to move to Israel based on some "Exodus"-novel fantasy... and so forth.

A one-word reply would be good but I'd settle for a paragraph.

And sometimes I wonder myself. After all, I not only have gotten this question (accompanied by shock and concerted attempts to change my mind) from every single American and European friend I've told ...but also from every Israeli friend. In fact, the only person who hasn't posed this question is my Shlicha. I guess I'd be really worried if even she decided I'd climbed out of the box and couldn't be put back in.

And, because I am not crazy, I do understand the concerns and admit to sharing some of them myself. For instance, yes, I do know that Israel is located in the Middle East and that there is a propensity for people to decide to explode themselves in public places, taking along as many others as possible. But the cities and citizens of Israel are not the only ones targeted by such extremists. Hey, I live in NYC ...I'd like to point to the view from my Manhattan apartment window but, unfortunately, it is no longer there. The idea that terror attacks happen only "over there" still seems firmly ingrained in the American psyche and even my Manhattanite friends, while admitting that Manhattan will likely be a target of attacks in the future, still seem to have this sense of immunity. "Why do you want to live someplace where Islamic extremists want to blow you up?" they ask. "Well, why do you?" I want to respond. We all share this sense of immunity.

It is not that I am unconcerned or that I think it completely unlikely that I will be among the victims of a terror attack while living in Israel. I recognize that it is a possibility (hence taking out a life insurance policy just in case!). But I am also aware of the fact that it is far more likely that I could lose my life in a car accident or as a victim of regular old crime right here in the United States.

I'm also aware that there are some very strong cultural differences between the Israeli and the American way of life. Some of those differences I embrace and the rest, well, I think I can tolerate and negotiate. This is the objection most often raised by Israeli friends (along with, why on earth would you want to move from a city like NY? --uh try affording to live here!). Specifically, they seem to think that, while short of getting eaten alive, I am going to be a "frier" --someone who gets taken advantage of constantly because they are sweet and naive --soft. It is true that I am not like native-born Israelis, called sabras after the cactus that has a very hard, tough skin but is soft and sweet inside. Rather, transplanted Southern girl that I am, I am very much a "Steel Magnolia." I think we'll end up pretty evenly matched.

Then we get down to the nitty gritty base question of ok, but why do you really want to do this? There are many reasons, some of which I can't seem to put into words that feel right even to myself. But that is a question to be answered on another day. In the meantime, this maybe-crazy girl has to get back to her definitely crazy NYC life and churn out revisions on an article to pay the exhorbitant bills of said crazy life and future.