When you make aliya “… you will be a Jew – not Jewish”

Neil Lazarus published a post titled “The top 14 facts they forget to tell you about aliya” which my friend, Rachelle, pointed out on Facebook. I’m not sure about most of the “facts” but number 14 works for me:

Despite all of the above, your children will be Jewish and will have a sense of pride. You will walk the roads where Jewish prophets and kings once walked. You will celebrate Jewish holidays and walk streets named after mega-Jews — not saints. You will become a part of Jewish history as it unfolds and, as an Israeli, you will be a Jew — not Jewish.

Those crazy, early months as a learner Israeli

Bibi Canes is another learner Israeli who arrived in Israel with her family just 3 months ago. She wrote a post about some of her experiences and, reading them, they remind me of much of what we went through a short time ago (and still do, to a degree).

It’s all about that Thyme

I wrote a comment on the post and thought I’d share the comment here too.

It definitely takes a bit of getting used to. I still think of the weekends as being 2 days. Friday feels like my old Saturday although there is usually a lot more cleaning involved before or after we schlep to do the weekend shopping. In a way it is great that the kids are at school on Friday mornings because it means we have a couple hours to do what we need to do, uninterrupted. Sometimes we even get to spend some time together!

We don’t have a car so Saturdays are forced downtime with the family. It’s usually a good break even though there is often a lot of stuff the kids want help with. Still, that part is pretty much the same as back in South Africa except we wound up driving all over when we could have relaxed at home more.

I definitely miss Woolies meat but my genius wife has managed to figure out which local meat is pretty good. My brother-in-law even found relatively cheap meat that tasted great, albeit after cooking for 3 hours. It isn’t the same but I am ok with what we exchanged Woolies meat for – a very different life. We work harder here, usually for less of the material stuff but, on balance, it’s a fair trade for what we gained living here.

You can also follow Bibi on Facebook:

 

Sarah @TuttleSinger on making the choice to be Israeli

I really enjoyed this Voice of Israel interview with Sarah Tuttle-Singer in which she talks about her move to Israel with two small children, her choice to be Israeli and some of the challenges that shaped her emerging identity as an Israeli.

We’ve been in Israel for about 9 and a half months and it hasn’t been easy to make the transition. At the same time, I can’t imagine anywhere else being my home. There is a lot going on here lately, a violent surge that concerns me and a lot of history repeating itself. Even with all of that, Israel remains a miracle in progress, at least for me.

Tips for new Olim moving to Israel

Our friends have been asking us about our move to Israel late last year so I started preparing a list of tips that have helped us and thought I’d share them.

First, a little disclaimer:

  1. These tips don’t replace advice you get from the various agencies and Israeli Ministries that have published terrific guides and “how tos”. These organizations include the Israel Centre in South Africa; the Jewish Agency and the Israeli Ministry of Absorption. Read those first, they are great resources, very helpful.
  2. These tips are our hacks that worked for us (mostly). You’ll find other people have their own too (check out Adventures in Aliyaland and Welcoming Olim too). These may work for you, they may not.
  3. We moved from South Africa so some of these are more relevant to South African Olim who are moving to Israel from there.
  4. I’ll probably update this post as new tips come to mind and I’ll indicate the changes in the text. Feel free to suggest tips of your own in the comments and I’ll add them to the list and credit you.

Shipping your stuff from SA

  • Share containers are cheaper but make sure your container will ship soon or you could wait a long time for your stuff. Sometimes it is cheaper in the medium term to take a container for yourself if you have enough stuff.
  • Weigh up the relative costs of taking all your appliances versus just buying new stuff when you arrive in Israel. Think about how long you may need to wait for your fridge, freezer and washing machine.
Flying into Tel Aviv
Landing in Tel Aviv

Aliyah admin

  • Do your citizenship stuff at the airport if you can. It makes a huge difference and means you can start functioning effectively when you walk out of the airport building.
  • It is worth making sure you have the right Hebrew spelling of your names before you arrive so you can give that to the Ministry officials in the airport. Sometimes they come up with weird spellings of names and changing names afterwards is possible but a bit of a pain.
  • Make appointments to meet with the Absorption Ministry and schools liaisons as soon after you arrive as you can. It gets the ball rolling.
  • You will need to open a joint bank account before you meet the Absorption Ministry liaison so do that as soon as you arrive (we went with Bank Leumi and we’re happy with them – we also received our cards in a week which helped with other stuff).
  • Start ulpan as soon as you can. Knowing Hebrew isn’t essential but it really helps day to day. Check when classes begin and whether the ulpan schools in your area offer convenient classes.
  • You’ll need to pick a healthcare provider when you become a citizen so research the options before you arrive. We went with Maccabi and we are happy with them.

Communications

  • We went with 012 Smile/Mobile and they have been pretty good. Good coverage and pricing.
  • Mobile contracts are theoretically 12-24 months but, in practice, you can usually cancel on a month’s notice so changing isn’t too problematic as far as I know.
  • You’ll probably need a credit card to place your orders so open your bank account ASAP. We received a credit card in about a week.

Bank accounts

  • Credit cards work a little differently. The whole balance is paid off on a day you can select each month. You’ll need to make sure you have enough in your check account to cover that payment and remember that your day to day card transactions don’t come off your cash balance as you go, only when the balance is paid each month.
  • Israelis use checks so order a checkbook and refresh your memory how to fill them out. Remember to use American date formats!
Crossing the street
Crossing the street

Travel

  • You don’t need a car as much as you did in SA, not nearly as much.
  • Cars are really useful for travel beyond public transport routes and when public transport doesn’t operate (like שבת).
  • Aside from that, get a Rav Kav card (you can often get one from the train station but ask around). Pre-pay money for your bus rides (each bus line/company may require a separate balance). You can also load train travel passes onto your Rav Kav card so it becomes a sort of universal public transport card.
  • You can pre-pay money for bus rides on the bus itself when you get on. I pay about 50 Shekels at a time. You’ll figure out how much you’ll need as you use public transport. I think the minimum deposit is 30 Shekels. A bus ride in Modi’in is about NIS 4,20 and about NIS 6,90 in Tel Aviv.

Getting stuff done

  • You don’t need to be able to speak Hebrew for most of what you need to do but it helps, even if you know 5 words. You’ll learn more.
  • Don’t be too polite. As helpful as Israelis generally are (some aren’t), they are also really busy and work hard so you have to be persistent and nag at times.
  • You may think that sending a text message or email will help move things along but, often, you just have to go to an office and deal with it in person.
  • Its ok to be forceful. You don’t have to be aggressive but be assertive. It isn’t that easy for ex-South Africans but it is an important life skill for us newbie Israelis.
  • Don’t take it personally when Israelis give you a hard time or are abrupt, it usually isn’t meant to be personal. Israelis aren’t big on patience.

Advice from other Olim

  • “If there’s one (general) suggestion I can make, it’s to leave your expectations behind – things work differently here (especially, for example, the education system). Don’t compare your new reality with your old one – just go with the flow and your life will be a lot easier. Also, don’t send out birthday invitations too early – parents just look at the day of the week and send their kids on the next relevant day (so you may end up with 15 kids on your doorstep 2 weeks early).” – Shely Mowszowski Cohen
  • “I don’t advise to apply or get your Israeli ID from the airport. Rather do it in the city you are settling in [Paul: I still recommend doing this at the airport, just remember it can be a bit chaotic getting the family through]. Due to the fact if you loose your id you can’t do it in your city but in Lod.” – Rael Jacobs

 

Facebook + emigration = meaningful sharing with people who matter

I started posting more to Facebook when we moved to Israel about 2 weeks ago. Most of my posts were (and remain) intended for my friends and family so I share those posts just with them. That is why I haven’t blogged nearly as much about our move.

I resisted using Facebook for a long time, preferring Path by far but missing a critical ingredient: enough friends and family to make it worthwhile. My Google+ profile’s value hasn’t been as a way to share with friends and family (even though it can do that so well) so I keep returning to Facebook. Regardless of my reservations about Facebook, it is still the service all the people I want to share with are using.

I’ve been sharing my experiences in Israel as a new import on Facebook and it has become an awesome place to share with and keep connected to our friends and family. Sure, Facebook is probably mining my data to present ads to me but I don’t see that. What I do see are friends’ comments and likes and more interaction with people who are important to me.

I’m even having a ball with Messenger and stickers.

Another reason I’ve been enjoying Facebook lately is that some of the brands we use here are active on Facebook too. They use Facebook Messenger for customer support calls too. I’ve gotten more done using Messenger to talk to brands in the past 3-4 weeks that I did with other platforms for years.

It all comes down to sharing with people I want to share with using a couple simple lists and having good experiences doing that. It’s meaningful sharing and I’m enjoying it.

Finally home in Israel where we belong

Facebook’s well meaning year end round-up isn’t appealing to everyone. It is supposed to present an upbeat summary of a positive 2014 but 2014 wasn’t a positive year for many people. It was a terrible year for me in many respects and were it not for my family and where we have wound up, 2014 would be ending on a particularly sour note for me.

Flying into Tel Aviv

Thankfully, 2014 is going to come to a close on a pretty good note because our family made a big change to our lives, we left South Africa to create a new life in Israel. My wife and I made the decision in early August 2014 after I returned to South Africa from a short visit to Israel in late July to visit family. It was my first visit to Israel and it transformed how I perceived and felt about this tiny country.

My plan, before we left, was to write about our experiences as Olim Hadashim (new immigrants) but, now that we are here, I’m at a bit of a loss what to write. We had a few hopes about what Israel would be like and, although we are still in a sort of honeymoon phase of our Aliyah process, life here is even better than I hoped it would be. I think it will continue to amaze me even when we are in a daily routine of work and day to day stresses.

A local playground

Life here is profoundly different in a pretty subtle way. I feel an underlying sense of belonging here that was simply missing in South Africa. That probably has to do with a combination of my feelings about living in South Africa as well as the environment we found ourselves in but, here, it is different in an important way. We’re only at the beginning of our journey to integrating fully into Israeli society. We’re still learning Hebrew; still looking for work; processing basic admin necessary to function effectively here and figuring out the bus routes. Despite that, we are already Israeli and don’t have to justify our presence here even though we have only been here for just under two weeks.

I think another reason I feel at a bit of a loss what to write about our transition is that I don’t want to fall into the trap of criticising South Africa now that we no longer have to deal with the factors that made life in SA uncomfortable. My mother said something to me when we were planning our move that has stuck with me. She said (and I’ll paraphrase a bit) “Don’t start attacking South Africa when you leave. South Africa gave you a lot in the time you lived here.” I think that is absolutely correct. South Africa ultimately became a country that we weren’t welcome in but it sustained me and my family for decades and there are many things about it I will miss going forward. Of course there are aspects of South Africa I won’t miss but what good does it do focusing on negative things?

Tel Aviv highway

We’re at the beginning of a challenging journey and making the move here, to Israel, was one of the best things we have done. Israel has welcomed us and our family has already begun to benefit from being here in ways we hoped it may. I don’t think of myself as South African anymore (well, for starters, I’m not – South African law stripped me of my citizenship when I became an Israeli citizen). I’m a learner Israeli, but an Israeli and I am really glad that we are finally home where we belong.