Reflecting on My First ‘Aliyahniversary’
JNS.org – Here we are — a year after my aliyah date — which means I am no longer a “new” immigrant, but rather, just an immigrant. Goodbye discounts and goodbye receiving some slack for Hebrew mistakes. But all in all, it has been a phenomenal year full of growth, introspection, challenges, and successes. And a lot of hummus.
It has been intense. As I mark my first “aliyahniversary,” I still remember so vividly the scene of stepping into the arrivals celebration at Ben Gurion Airport. Thinking of that still speeds up my heart rate and brings tears to my eyes. July 13-14, 2015, was by far the most intense day of my life. My family, having “dropped me off” to Israel, was at the celebration when I landed. Their faces shone with emotions I thought would be reserved for my wedding day, at the birth of my first born, or the moment they found out they had won the lottery. To them, they had won the lottery, even though it meant my moving more than 6,000 miles away. Whenever my parents are asked what they think of my making aliyah, they talk about how proud they are to have raised an independent woman who feels such a strong connection to Judaism and Israel. “Isn’t that exactly what we want as parents?” responds my mom. “I’ve certainly learned to be careful what you wish for!” she jokes.
It has been introspective. When people ask how I like living in Israel so far, I always tell them the truth: I love it here. Of course I have some hardships, but nothing more than to be expected, and nothing that would compare to the hardship of staying in the US, never to realize my dream of making aliyah. Life in a country where the language is foreign and the people are aggressive, in a conflict-ridden part of the world, is infinitely easier than coming to terms with unfulfilled yearnings of my heart. Still, I miss being so close to my family, and I hate to miss out on so many important events, like my cousins’ upcoming bar/bat mitzvahs or our usual Friday night dinner. Whenever I tell people that I came “alone” to Israel, their jaws drop in shock. “Wow!” they exclaim. “That must be so difficult! That takes a lot of courage!” I respond, feeling a lot like this boy.
It has been enriching. I’ve made friends from all over the world, from every continent, except Antarctica, but I don’t doubt that it will happen soon. Some of the people I’ve met have become some of my best friends. I’ve traveled with them, celebrated with them. I learned to communicate in Hebrew, and although my conversational skills are basic, I can hold conversations, which opens up so many relationships and possibilities. I’ve rubbed elbows with the movers and shakers of Israel and the Jewish world. I’ve experienced many “everyday” moments that happen only here in Israel.
It has been hilarious. I’ve been handed a roll of toilet paper at a restaurant when I asked for some napkins. I’ve accidentally asked in Hebrew for “wheat” in my water when I really meant “ice.” I’ve woken up to a cat under my bed when I did not have a cat and lived on the sixth floor. I’ve had a plumbing problem with a pipe in my apartment, only to discover that it is literally a pipe to nowhere. I ate homemade kubbeh (courtesy of my stylist’s Kurdish mother) at a hair salon.
It has been challenging. I’ve braved countless hours in bureaucratic offices. I’ve attended Torah classes in Portuguese and spoken to elderly Israelis with Arab accents in Hebrew. I’ve been asked many times why I don’t speak fluent Hebrew yet, but I continue to learn with a smile on my face. I have heard the sirens from a terrorist attack outside of my window. I’ve covered important events around Israel as a journalist, and even when leaders of press organizations do not take seriously a young journalist like myself, I continue to attend weekly press events.
And it has been heartwarming. Countless families have opened their homes to me, brought me soup when I was sick, and genuinely offered their help with anything necessary. From my balcony, I watched cars stop on the road for Holocaust Remembrance Day, an old man and young soldier embracing in silence.
Even though I still feel very new to Israel after a year, I am no longer considered an olah chadasha, or new immigrant. Now begins the limbo of Israeli integration—being neither an olah chadasha nor an olah vatika (veteran immigrant). Thus, as one cycle ends and another begins, I am transitioning the “Aliyah Annotated” column to “Israel Girl,” a more general column that goes beyond the aliyah journey. The column will discuss Israeli current events from an American-Israeli’s perspective, Jewish and Israeli culture and arts, entrepreneurship, personal narratives, and opinions. As always, readers are welcome to suggest topics or questions for Israel Girl to answer in a column. Simply email your ideas and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here’s to another great year,
Eliana Rudee is a fellow with the Haym Salomon Center and the author of the “Israel Girl” column (formerly “Aliyah Annotated”) for JNS.org. She is a graduate of Scripps College, where she studied international relations and Jewish studies. Her bylines have been featured in USA Today, Forbes, and The Hill. Follow her column on JNS.org.