I often think about what it would be like if I had moved to a different country, say England or France, instead of Israel. Would it be easier because I’d know that the country has a long history and therefore a different way of life? Would I accommodate myself easily to the differences, forgive the English their foibles, and take my newfound inadequacies in stride? In England you have to look the “wrong” way when crossing the street, a truck is called a lorry, and the last time I was there, about 10 years ago, discovered that the English do not use paper plates except for picnics (although that may have changed by now). Moving to France would necessitate my quickly becoming fluent in French although I’d be able to rely on my hubby for a bit, who not only majored in French, but spent a year in France as well. Different currency, different attitudes, and all the other aspects of life that make France French and England English would all have to be learned. Would I, for the most part, expect that and take it all in stride?
Somehow, when making aliyah we are surprised to find out that we have to learn how to live all over again. Perhaps it’s because the country is so westernized, or because there’s so much English used, or so many American olim here, or because we’ve visited before and didn’t notice (or overlooked) all the different ways things are done here. Or because it’s frustrating to feel so “green.” Being a “greener” only applies, we think, to people who came to the United States from “the old country”, not to 21st Century Anglos making aliyah.
Not too long after we get off the boat/airplane, we realize that acclimating is more than just learning Hebrew, shopping in shekels and kilograms, and memorizing one’s Teudat Zehut (identity card) number, which is asked for more than one’s drivers license or social security number. I still haven’t memorized mine. There are myriad little aspects of daily life and the larger one of “knowing the system, the way things work” that we take for granted which are vastly different here and require adjustment – after we get over the shock about just how different things can be.
The first few weeks post aliyah are often very hectic as one tries to settle in and take care of opening a bank account, registering with one of the four health insurers, visiting Misrad Ha’p’nim (Interior Ministry) and Misrad Ha’klita (Absorption Ministry), obtaining cell phone service, and such. “The shock” began for us when we were made aware that Israel is not open 24/6 (or even 10/6) as we are used to in the U.S. Besides just about everything being closed on Shabbat – which is what we came here for – most offices are not open all day every day and in fact are often closed afternoons and one or more days during the week. Misrad Ha’klita in Rehovot is not open at all on Tuesday and our bank is not open on Friday! And, if they are open morning and afternoon, they may very well be closed for a couple of hours midday. Here, in Rehovot, many stores are closed Tuesday afternoons. If you haven’t checked all the different schedules beforehand, finding out that the office/service that you need is not open when you are ready to go is quite an eye-opener.
Another interesting thing we discovered is that when signing up for health insurance the first stop is the post office. Yes, that’s right, the post office, where more transactions take place than just mailing letters and packages. The post office can be used instead of a bank where you can open up an account (although that’s not generally recommended), as a place to change money from one currency to the next, pay bills, and of course, pay the initial fee to sign up for your health insurance. In the U.S. there are generally stanchions which delineate the line. When you get to the banks, post office, or government office in Israel, be prepared to take a number and sit down to wait your turn. But how do you get a ticket when you don’t understand which line you need to be on?
And, while it may seem like a trivial item, Israeli phone numbers still annoy me. In the U.S. the seven digit number is split between the first three numbers – the “exchange” which covers a particular area and the last four which make it your personal number. In Israel the numbers after the area code are either broken up differently or, more likely, are one long 7- or 10-digit string, making it much harder to read and remember the number at a glance. (Many businesses have only 6 digits, and very often an asterisk followed by about four numbers will be a shortcut to dialing.)
A lot of the acclimation process, however, seems to be one of attitude. My daughter exclaims to her friends that she’s not bored here because it’s a different culture. She finds it exciting and interesting. My son commented on shopping in Rehovot. He thinks it’s much more of a pleasant adventure going into all the little shops along Rechov Herzel, than walking into Shoprite, a large U.S. supermarket (although Israel has some large supermarkets, too) for one item and coming out six hours later. He points to my husband - walking around in shorts, sandalim (sandals) and an almost 10 gallon hat which he bought for 10 shekels ( about $3.40 these days) to keep the sun off – who, ever the people person, has a chavaya, an adventure, wherever he goes.
Being prepared, knowing what to expect, is important before one sets out on any trip, no less when one makes a major change in life, as aliyah is. More important, however, is one’s attitude; my children keep pointing this out to me.
Oh, and then there’s dealing with military time – but that’s for another time!