Tag Archives: New Jersey

Happy Anniversary to Us

We have just celebrated our first anniversary! It is now a full 12 months since we made aliyah. We left the U.S. on August 31, on a Nefesh B’Nefesh group flight, and arrived here on Sept. 1, shortly before Rosh Hashanah. We have come full cycle, having had the privilege of experiencing each holy day of the Jewish calendar in the Holy Land.  An incredible milestone! When we stepped off the plane at Ben Gurion Airport, it was with excitement and anticipation of the future.  We made this move with the utmost conviction that it was not only the right thing for us to do, but the only place for us to be.

It says in the Torah that Eretz Yisrael is acquired through challenges and just about everyone who we spoke to here confirmed that this is indeed true. So we understood that it would be best to remember the Jewish maxims “kol hatchalot kashot” – all beginnings are hard, and “gam zeh ya’avor” – this too shall pass, and most importantly, to remember that this is part of Hashem’s plan for us, too.  Thank G-d, it’s been without too much trial and tribulation, so far.  We have gotten accustomed to many different aspects of life in Israel; many facts of life here we’ve made our peace with; and there are things that we realized we can live with/without for now and look to change/acquire later on.

When we first arrived, discovering that stores and offices often close for a few hours in the middle of the day, close early or are totally closed on certain days was a bit of a shocker, but now we regularly take these schedules into consideration when making plans. This means that several weeks ago, because I knew the post office would be closed in the middle of the day, I waited till later in the afternoon to go, when I was sure it would open up again. Unfortunately I picked the day when it closed for the day in the early afternoon. But at least I could now accept having to go back again the next day with equanimity.  Now, I’m also a lot more comfortable going food shopping and usually have a better idea of what I am buying. My first foray into the supermarket was difficult. Despite the benefit of having most of my Judaic subjects taught in (biblical) Hebrew as I was growing up, the language, the different packaging, and the many products which were not quite like those we were accustomed to back in the States made it a trying experience. Fortunately, I can navigate the supermarket aisles now.

We’ve been told that it takes somewhere between 3-5 years to fully acclimate to life in Israel. I’m sure it does. There are many parts of the acclimation process that we’re still working on and even those things that we’ve gotten accustomed to, still feel “different”. One can’t expect to relinquish a whole life’s worth of habits and customs over night. But at the same time, I don’t think I’ve referred to New Jersey as “back home” in quite a while. It was very hard at first and I had to tell myself repeatedly, don’t say “back home” since this is your true home, the true home for the Jewish people. New York and New Jersey were places to live, but now we’re home.  So even though I have an affinity for the States and care about what transpires there, somewhere along the way, one chapter of my life ended and another began.  NJ became my past, Israel my home and future. Our dear daughter started medrasha (seminary) in Yerushalayim last week, as an Israeli; our dear son has just started his fourth year of yeshiva in Yerushalayim; and we have a nice circle of new friends in Rehovot, and have reconnected with many old friends who made aliyah years ago. So, yes, this is now home. It’s truly been a miraculous year.

As we approached our anniversary, I had a desire to say the Shehechiyanu prayer, much as I did when we first got here, to thank G-d for keeping us alive and bringing us to this place and time. Not having inquired into the propriety of doing so, I sufficed with again realizing how much our being here means to me, with understanding the depth of my gratitude.  I am so amazed at how much our lives have changed, how far we’ve come, and how much richer we are for it.  To all our friends and family who are still living “away from home” – if we could do it, you could do it too. Please come and join us. Hashem is anxiously waiting for you here. To make it easier, He personally arranged aliyah assistance for you through Nefesh B’Nefesh. It is time to come home.

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This is MY TERRITORY

When one talks about being American, Canadian, Israeli, British, Ethiopian, Russian, etc., it’s very often a cultural identification, rather than a geographic one. The longer one has lived in their country of origin, the more ingrained the cultural references, habits, ways of thinking and relating to people and the world become.  So, when one finds oneself smack dab in the middle of Israel, by their own volition, is one obliged to become Israeli? Is one automatically required to shed their frames of reference and take on Israeli outlooks and mannerisms for everything from what’s considered polite and acceptable behavior to the Israeli way of washing floors? Or does being Israeli (as that’s how the government recognizes olim) simply mean having an allegiance to the country, adapting and slowly adopting as much as possible and necessary while retaining your core essence? In a very humorous website, How to be Israeli , blogger Maya, who made aliyah from the U.S.  in early 2008, gives her take on the idiosyncrasies of Israeli life and culture as viewed by an American on everything from the Israeli version of a mop to the correct pronunciation of the name of a major Israeli supermarket chain to the difference between what is considered rude and polite in Israel vs. the States.

How hard or easy one’s acculturation process is probably depends upon one’s like/dislike for their country of origin as well as their personal attitude towards change. I would also venture that the more one is “moving to Israel,” rather than away from their home country, also plays a great part in their willingness and ease of adaptation.  A very interesting article entitled “A local girl in the IDF”  includes a letter from former Fresno, California resident Darrow Pierce, whose (progressive) opinions of Israel changed as a result of making aliyah and joining the IDF. She concludes:

I once heard that moving to Israel is like a marriage — you give, take, fight, love, disagree, compromise, and work on your relationship with the country and the people. For some it doesn’t work out, and others are happy for the rest of their lives. I don’t know what’ll happen after I discharge from the army, but for now, my marriage is going great.

If I was to compare making aliyah to marriage, I would say that a great determining factor as to whether or not you succeed is your level of commitment. Going  into a marriage – do you expect it to work and to work it – do you believe that you are marrying your bashert (destined) or do you tell yourself that if things don’t work out there’s  always the option of divorce? Or in terms of aliyah, did you come to Israel because this is the place you want to be, where Hashem (G-d) has prepared a place for you, or do you expect that if things don’t work out, you can always return to your home country? The better you are prepared emotionally, the more realistic your expectations, and the more willing you are to weather  and work through the tough times, the greater chance of success  you give your marriage/aliyah.  If the option of divorce/return is on the table before you’ve entered the relationship/made aliyah, IMHO, this mode of thinking makes one less likely to stick with it and overcome the challenges; you’ve most likely undermined the success of the venture before you’ve even started out.

Maya, in her post “Aliyah after the honeymoon,” uses the marriage analogy as well:

The aliyah-as-marriage analogy works in many other ways, too: you must get to know each other first, you must be committed, you must discuss money and how to raise the kids and where to live. (I bet that the percentage of people who “divorce” aliyah over financial concerns is at least as high as the percentage of marriages that dissolve over money.) I once heard someone say that the best indication of how happy you will be in a marriage is how happy you are out of it. In other words, if you are miserable, don’t expect marriage (or aliyah) to transform you. We are responsible for our own happiness. As I waited for aliyah, I reminded myself to practice enjoying life then so that I would be able to enjoy life in Israel.

Reflecting on my previous relocation from New York to New Jersey, I realized that after having lived in New York for many years, I didn’t feel like a New Jersey-ite all of a sudden.  My body may have crossed state lines, but I considered myself a New Yorker for quite a while afterward. I was more interested to learn what Mayor Bloomberg was doing to/for New York City than about anything that was going on in New Jersey. Truthfully, I had no frame of reference or understanding about local and state politics at that point and I wasn’t sure I cared. Over time, however, that slowly changed. I don’t know when it happened, but at some point I stopped thinking of myself as a New Yorker.  I could no longer vote in New York State and my interest and connection dwindled; New Jersey became my home.

I was therefore quite pleasantly surprised not long ago, to realize the degree of ownership I feel here already. When listening to Binyamin Netanyahu (I’ve not gotten to the familiar “Bibi” stage yet) address Congress recently, I took umbrage when he magnanimously offered major land concessions in return for “piece” – the little piece we would keep.  What right does he have to offer so much of Yehuda and Shomron (Judea and Samaria), I said to myself – it’s my land and I don’t approve!

Most wonderful, however, was hearing my daughter, Tova, express similar sentiments to her friend who was visiting from the States. Trying to arrange a meeting place in Yerushalayim  over the phone, her friend was anxious about traveling in the area – it wasn’t her territory. Tova, trying to give directions, responded – “well, it’s my territory.” And, the other day, a friend, still stateside, asked Tova if she was bored. “Bored!” she exclaimed. “It’s a different culture!” I’m so glad she’s embracing and enjoying the differences.

As much as making aliyah involves learning a different language and different way of life, it is also just the opposite – it’s living in a country where everybody speaks the same language and runs on the same calendar as you do. It’s the most comfortable place to be Jewish.  For the first time we truly feel that we’re in the place where we belong.  With time the rest will come, but we’ve already got the most important part.

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An ode to Rehovot’s four seasons

14 Adar 1, Purim katan

In the States, the four seasons are very clearly delineated, each with their unique and rather well-defined characteristics. I would say that the long-awaited spring was probably my favorite of the four seasons, with summer scoring a close second. The bright sun, warm weather, and longer days were rejuvenating after the cold and dreary winter (as I’m sure they will be after this past cold, snow-filled one ) and the blossoming trees really sang to my soul.  Our last home in New Jersey was extra special because of the wonderful flowers that sprang up over the course of the spring and summer in our backyard, courtesy of a previous resident. Our first season was most delightful since the garden was always full of surprises, with new flowers blooming sequentially throughout the spring and summer; we enjoyed irises, tiger lilies, roses, tulips, and a host of other flowers whose names I never learned. There was even  a mimosa tree in our backyard, which, although not native to the area, I spotted elsewhere in town as well. The second  spring  we  enjoyed planting a vegetable garden but were not privileged to enjoy the fruits of our labor; no matter how we tried to deter him, a resident gopher got to our plants first – he found the leaves very appetizing. In addition, the flowers in our garden seemed to fade all too quickly – probably needed good weeding, pruning, and fertilizer – but I think anything short of lasting through the summer would have seemed too fast to me, and the flower blossoms of spring fell too quickly from the trees for my liking. Is it any wonder the multi-hued leaves of  fall are so enjoyed in the Northeast United States and why newspapers track the changing colors through the New England states?   The trees are bursting with color once again!

Rose bush in Rehovot

I'm still amazed by the gorgeous roses growing nearby, during the winter! My daughter, Tova, who enjoys nature photography, took this picture.

The four seasons here, in Rehovot, are not as clearly marked by abrupt temperature changes;  fall slowly became winter, if you could call it that. I’ve greatly enjoyed our first Israeli fall and winter, not just because we’re living in Israel (although that would be reason enough), but because when I walk outside in November, December, and January the trees are still green — some are even flowering;  hibiscus bushes, which are ubiquitous here, as well as other shrubs and plants are always in bloom, the palm trees (three different species as far as I can tell) are majestic, and  even the terraces in apartment buildings (there are many) are filled with plants and small trees. Nothing like the winters I’ve been accustomed to!

When we moved into our apartment in Rehovot it was mid-October. A priority for me was stocking the plant terrace outside our large living room window, since the plants would help to make our apartment into a home. The window starts about a foot-and-a-half from the floor and extends to the top of the nine-foot-high ceiling, takes up about three-quarters of the wall (we have pocket windows), and opens up to a deep cement trough encircled by a high railing.  I was delighted to find a large and well-stocked plant nursery in our mixed commercial-residential neighborhood, and I was amazed that I could buy vegetable plants in mid-October which were out of season by mid-September in New Jersey. So, into the trough we put pots filled with tomato, eggplant, pepper and cucumber plants and various herbs. I don’t think the temperature went below about 40° F here at night during the coldest period and it was probably about 10° warmer during the day. Except for the cucumber plants that were shredded during a very bad windstorm, we are still enjoying their fruits.

Another restorative activity for me: walking along Rechov Sereni to one of the nearby Anglo shuls (synagogues).  The entire boulevard dividing northbound and southbound lanes is lined with tall palm trees, and along with the blue sky… Well, what more could I want?

I can feel spring coming to Rehovot already; the weather is gradually getting warmer and the days longer. We will soon be able to keep our windows wide open once again and I look forward to enjoying the new varieties of plants that will start coming into bloom. We were told that it gets hot and humid here in the summer, but I think the year-round greenery is more than worth it.

The four seasons in Rehovot and living in Israel are like a smile in my heart and a song in my soul.

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