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, March 29, 2005

Work is killing me, or rather it should be if I could get myself to stop walking in circles and pulling my hair out about these articles and actually write them. Two articles at critical (i.e., people screaming for me to get them in) one of which is in critical condition. Someone call an ambulance :) Promise to write more as soon as I get it onto life support!

Friday, March 25, 2005

How I started this journey

I promised myself, way back in my very first post, that I would one day sit down and write about (and try to figure out!) just how and why I decided to make Aliyah and why I’ve still decided (or maybe re-decided is a better word) to make Aliyah. The snap answer to that question is that it is something I’ve wanted to do since I was 12. But there were a lot of other things that I decided “I will definitely do” or that I wanted to do that -- sometimes even within a few months --I lost interest in pursuing over time. The idea of making Aliyah was always sort of “there” from that age forward but it has definitely waxed and waned over these many years in between then and now. And, at times, it disappeared off my horizon completely.

My reasons for wanting to do this now and my expectations have changed. And they haven’t. The expectations I have about what life will be like there have certainly changed far more so than the reasons. Nearly all of my expectations are now completely different –and I’d like to think are completely realistic and rational but I won’t go so far as to bet the house on it. Hmmm, maybe I’d better start with what and why Katie, aged 12, thought and dreamed about making a life in Israel to give (and get) some perspective.

At twelve I desperately wanted to fit in somewhere and to have a strong sense of identification. I was at that awkward stage where nothing in life really seems to fit together correctly, myself least of all. In the space of little more than two years I’d been shifted through five different schools and in the process I’d gone from being a popular little girl who led rather than followed to an insecure, shy, and lonely one. Looking back at pictures of myself from that time the nervous smile and shell-shocked look are all too evident. Reading back over my diary (I’ve kept one since I was 8), as I did a bit last night when I started really thinking about this, is an exercise in humiliation. I wanted to laugh at myself and cry at the same time. It is hard to believe that that kid was ever me and if I didn’t have the evidence preserved I’d prefer to believe I was never such an idiot!

I’m definitely going to put a big sticker on it with a sign saying no one is to read this book until 50 years after my death. Seriously. Ugh. I hope in a few years I don’t feel that way about this blog because, grin, it’d be wayyy too late to slap one of those stickers on it. I do not intend to read that diary again until the time when my child turns 12 and she or he is driving me up a tree: then hopefully I will get it out, read it, and the comparison will convince me to stay thankfully on the ground.

In my mind, in my memory, I always linked my initial identification with being a Jew and wanting to make Aliyah along with being a Jew and being religious (as I was trying to be at the time). I remembered the desire to make Aliyah as part and parcel of my entering a religious phase of my life. So I was a little surprised to discover that, at age 12, these two desires were actually a source of serious inner conflict. Conflict, that is, between them. I also laughed when I discovered why I had this strange idea that these two goals ran counter to one another. In a word (errr, two): Chaim Potok.

Now before everyone goes “huhhhh?” you have to remember that I came from a completely, totally, 100% secular home. The word G-d was not mentioned unless it was followed by damn. At age 10 or 11 when I decided that “finding religion” was an answer to my need to belong somewhere and to something I had originally decided to become a Mormon. This was thanks to a pair of cute missionaries who knocked on the door one afternoon and spent a good three hours proselytizing at me, coupled with the fact that my best friend –the last one I’d really had and who had moved away at the end of 4th grade -- had also been Mormon. When I made the Mormon announcement my mother suddenly became the Judaism cheerleader. As fate would have it, my mother had just taken a job working as the secretary at Chabad House while going to school. And so, in short order, I was given an unorthodox crash course into the world of Orthodox Judaism. Not that (heaven forbid) my mother wanted me to become an Orthodox Jew. She simply didn’t want me to become a Mormon or a Christian of any variety and Judaism a’ la Chabad was a tres convenient way to fend off the Mormon invaders. Well Mom it worked but just not quite as you hoped…

I found the rituals and traditions fascinating and beautiful (I still do) but I was still extremely clueless about the religious, historical (outside of the Shoah which I did know a good bit about), and cultural aspects. I picked up some from my visits to Chabad for services (though this was not done with any regularity), and some from the little booklets that the Rabbi sent home to me through my mother (since they catered to college kids they didn’t have much for kid kids and he didn’t send the others), and most from the local library. I read everything related to Judaism that I could get my hands on –again not a lot, being restricted to the children’s section of the library. With the hodge-podge of information I was picking up, I knew just about as much about Judaism as an alien would the planet earth from watching television commercials. Naturally, I thought I knew quite a lot.

I can laugh now and say that I don’t have an Exodus-novel fantasy about living in Israel but I can’t say the same for me at 12. Actually, it was an Exodus-movie fantasy. You got it, the summer I turned 12 Paul Newman in all his glory graced the late-night television screen. I was riveted. I was in love and not just with Newman. Ahh the epic romance of the fight and struggle, the tie to the land, the making of something from nothing and against all odds the underdog coming out the victor! Oh boy did this resonate with a lonely and intimidated child.

So then it was back to the library and, upon finding nothing much in the children’s section about Israel, I concocted a story for the librarian about doing a summer research project for history about the founding of the State of Israel and voila the doors to the adult section opened wide. I got a special pass to not only browse but to check out books from this most coveted place –and I used it for the next two years. Books on Kibbutzim became my favourites (and are probably responsible for my becoming a socialist at this age) but I must admit that I also checked out stacks of books that had nothing to do with Israel or Judaism and avidly devoured them. And a book on the life and stories about the Ba’al Shem Tov came in quite close. Strange, I must have checked it out 10 or 15 times that year but I can’t remember the name of it. I certainly wrote enough about him and his connection to animals in my diary (animal crazed even then).

Yow, I’m starting to see some major influences and threads of my life that really started around this age. For instance, my college honours thesis was about the rise and development of the Hasidic movement (following Weber’s – a socialist – theories about the rise and fall of movements) and the Ba’al Shem, of course, featured heavily. This was also when I decided to become an actress and started acting lessons (this same summer and at this same library)…ok, Mom, you’re off the hook, it is the library’s fault 

This was also the year that I read The Chosen. Chaim Potok. Yes, we’re back to him (and he is a fantastic author and this is still one of my favourite books!). Feeding my obsession my mother got me this book for Christmas (ok, kinda ironic) which we did and do celebrate as a totally non-religious holiday. (We also celebrated Mrs. Santa Claus day on January 5th, created totally by my mother to take advantage of the after-holiday sales, to rectify any major disappoints resulting from the “it wasn’t under the tree?” phenomenon, and because after New Years there was always a feeling of holiday let-down).

If you’ve read The Chosen you know that the biggest threat to Danny and Reuven’s friendship occurs when Palestine is on the brink of becoming the State of Israel. For two years Reuven’s father works tirelessly and through several heart-attacks to campaign for the ratification. Danny’s father, a tzadik, is so against this apikorosness that he forbids Danny to have any contact with Reuven whatsoever. Once Israel becomes Israel an uneasy acceptance is reached and the two are allowed, suddenly, to be friends again. After reading this book, the conflict forced on Danny and Reuven became the conflict between me and me. I was completely enamored with the idea of making Aliyah and also with becoming Hasidic. And lo, this book, albeit fiction, that gave me the best coherent idea I’d had yet about what being a Jew meant (a' la Chabad), suggested quite strongly that these two things don’t really go together. I didn’t dare seek clarification because I was afraid of the answer. I didn’t want to give up either. I would toy with the “I really want to be really religious” idea for another few years but the pull of the land, that indefinable sense of “that is really where I belong” was stronger even then in my diary-debates.

Argh and the need to go to bed is really strong! This will have to be continued later. Chag sameach! (I just have to say that Purim is my very favourite holiday!)

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

formidable hebrew document

Thank you Naomi!! Here is the link to the Bringing in Pets document. I definitely don't think I'm understanding it correctly because I thought it said something about needing to submit the request from within Israel or as a resident of Israel or something like that and obviously if you are making aliyah you are _not_ in Israel (or a resident yet) but wanting to be, along with your critters.

Katieyael at gmail dot com

Yalla --NBN listed the dates (sorta)

I now have 3 possible dates that might be "the day" that I ascend because Nefesh b'Nefesh has just listed their flight dates for August. So, if (oh please) I get accepted by Nefesh B'Nefesh I would want to go on the second flight in August which would be either the 16th or the 23rd --they haven't decided yet. C'mon, decide! If I _don't_ get accepted by NBN (perish the thought!) I will go on the 28th all by my lonesome little self. Well, with 3 cats in tow I guess you could hardly say alone.

Speaking of the cats I had a shock. If I had a filing system I'd have to put this under "things your shaliach tells you that are WRONG." When I first was getting ready to apply I, naturally, wanted to make sure first that I could bring all 3 critters. "No problem, of course" was the response and it was followed by this nice story about a family of seven who made aliyah last year along with their 4 dogs, two cats and a fish or a rabbit (can't remember which). That may be but I ran across some info on the JAFI website that distinctly sez you can only bring along TWO chatulim.

So I kind of panicked and then grabbed the phonebook to call the embassy to find out who is right (at least at the moment). The girl I spoke with looked it up and said, "only 2" but that I could bring more (as in 3) if I apply for some kind of animal import license and then she nicely sent me along the url with the info. Well, I still don't know if I should be panicking or not because as she noted in the email the only information about it is in hebrew. Ahem. Time to be really nice to my roommate methinks.

I have 4 and a half months to figure this out. Perhaps I could get a letter from my Rabbi stating that my cats have a Jewish mother and so...

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

sooo glad to be home!

I'm back! Canada was beautiful, stunning, absolutely and positively terrific. The family, however, OY! No one killed each other but there were a few close calls. I am so glad to be home. My cats are glad I'm home (hey, I actually had all 3 in the bed with me last night and _they_ didn't kill each other!). Our wireless was out when I got home and I had to spend the entire day today fixing it and I was still glad to be home. Oh and my roommate is being wierdly nice to me --I'm going to check the apartment carefully to see if he broke something major, lol. Oh two, Pedro, this incredibly handsome tv actor (as in he makes Brad Pitt --or substitute the cutest guy you can think of --look ill and disgusting in comparison) from Portugal is camping out at our place for the next month and when my roommate (his friend) suggested we might want him to pay something for being here I was like, hmmm you mean I don't gotta pay him for the privilege of just looking at him?! He also is a really nice guy. Well, we did ask him to pay a bit but I would have been just as happy...blissful sigh.

More tomorrow!

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Off to the great white north (west)

In about an hour I will have to head to the airport for my 9 days of forced family closeness. I'm still not looking forward to it. I'm hoping I don't forget critical things like passport and where the hotel is that I'm meeting everyone at. I've checked everything several times now but given that I once went all the way to the wrong airport (LGA rather than Newark) I can never be too careful. I'm told there is a net cafe somewhere in the area in Tofino and so I may be able to get on and update but, if not, see you all next Sunday! Have a good and safe week :)

Friday, March 11, 2005

Euuwww it is snowing outside and I am so not looking forward to lugging my laundry (piles of it) down the stairs and then for two blocks to the laundromat. I've put it off for nearly two weeks and I just can't anymore. Well I could, because I have a huge stockpile of underthings, but since I am going to be in the company of my mother for a week I definitely can't. I am not looking forward to this trip. I am sooooooooo not looking forward to this trip.

The thing is nobody is looking forward to this trip. I'm sure Tofino is as beautiful as the pictures that I've seen, I'm sure there will be things I will enjoy about it (including seeing the family) but it comes at a very inconvenient time for everybody. 9 days I can't spare for sightseeing right now. Of course I'm bringing work along but you know how that goes --I don't expect to get much of it done. I also can't afford this trip. I am going to need every spare penny next year and I'm really more than slightly pissed off that I was pressured into making it to this little get-together. I feel like I have a right to bitch about having to go but now to hear that the very people who turned the pressure to high volume are bitching about having to go ...Grrrrrrrrrrrr.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

now I know...!

We got our mid-terms back today at the end of class and I knew it was a good sign when Shiri called my name and started waving it enthusiastically as she brought it over to me. A 90! With Kol Ha'Kavod written in big letters! Holy cow that is an A-(barely but one nonetheless) and the average for the class was an 85 so I felt really good. I even felt good after I realized that a full 4 more points would have been mine had I not mangled the spelling of words I _know_ how to spell. But, to be honest, on the little baby essay questions (like write 4 sentences explaining...) she only took off half a point for both and there was a lot of red there. I wasn't so honest that I pointed out to her that she probably should have taken off more there...

I'm preparing for combat with my roommate. I have a strong suspicion that we are gearing for an argument from a conversation earlier today and I plan to be very Israeli all over the boy's a**.

Hmm, what else. Well my teeth feel like someone has put them on a wench and is torturing me slowly: yes got those good old braces tightened today. I missed my appointment last month (totally forgot about it) and had a broken bracket. My orthodontist asked me when the last time was that I had "my bony butt spanked" and suggested he might have a go at it if I don't get with the program with the braces. I really don't want to call tomorrow to tell him that the new bracket he put on this afternoon already broke off (all I ate was a cookie!).

After cavorting around in a t-shirt yesterday with the wonderful spring weather, today we were blessed with an unpredicted blizzard. They said we'd get some rain. Well, we had driving snow and ice and it was _freezing_ beyond belief. When I left this morning it hadn't started doing anything but a bit of rain and so I grabbed a light jacket. Thought I was going to die. The wind was blowing so hard and it was so cold that I decided I'd save my life and take a taxi home from school tonight rather than walk the 8 blocks between subway stations and home but I couldn't get one for love nor money. So I froze for 10 minutes trying to get a cab and then froze on the walk(s).

Still, frozenated and teeth screaming at me mercilessly and all, that Kol Ha'Kavod just made my day!

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Mid-terms are over and I'm not sure how I did on my Hebrew exam but I think not too horribly. It probably would have helped if I had studied for it a bit more (ok, a lot more!). I blame my teacher though. Shiri gave me her copy of Yana's Friends to watch over the weekend but she gave it to me the evening before the exam. Worse, she had shown a little teaser of it during our conversation class and so that night when I got home...MOVIE! The temptation was just too irresistable. It is a really good movie too, I might add.

Learning new vocabulary is really a pain: you get, for instance, a whole long list of hitpael verbs and are supposed to memorize them and their meanings along with their conjugations. There's no context for them, they all look almost alike, and there are a lot of them. I always feel frustrated when faced with this and often forget the meanings attached as soon as the quiz/test is over or get them embarrassingly confused. However, yesterday there was one of those little "sun breaking through the cloud experiences" and the heavenly music that accompanied it was a Tipex song.

I was walking along the street with Tipex providing some ambient background noise when suddenly a word from the song leaped out at me. I actually stopped in my tracks (and got run into by the person walking behind me) and was like, "hey, I know that word --that was a hitpael I studied for the test! I know that word!" And suddenly, just like that, I also understood what the song was about. That one word was the key. Alright, where's the next vocabulary list!

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Evolving identity

Something I've noticed in both my writing, thoughts and conversation. When I talk about Israel or things happening in Israel, more and more I am starting to say or think "we" or "us."

I have no legitimate right to do this. Not yet, at least. I'm still sitting on my little behind here in NY. I don't even have my oleh visa yet much less my teudat zehut or (most coveted of all) Israeli passport stating beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am an Israeli. Right now I'm only an American.

But day by day, hebrew lesson by hebrew lesson, rant at roommate by rant, I am starting to feel that sense of identification and affiliation growing. I read somewhere once that no one feels their sense of identification with their religion so strongly as the convert. I'm wondering if this goes for immigrants as well (or in my case almost-immigrants).