Reality: Living in Israel by Jodi Samuels
After 23 years of talking about living in Israel, we decided to try it out. Perhaps we would end up fulfilling an age old Jewish dream of returning to Zion, or perhaps it will be a fantastic experience taking our family abroad for a year, immersing them in foreign culture, learning the language of our ancestors, and indulging in great food.
The reality of living in Israel is a reality like no other. People ask me, "Is it really so different? After all, you lived in 5 other countries before coming to Israel." Yes, it's so different.
Your daily reality in Israel is so much more intense than any other experience. Shabbat and holidays have an intensity and specialness. Living in a politically tense neighborhood means you are always aware that your reality can change with the next rocket fired, the next terrorist attack. Everyone is connected to the same reality – bus driver to doctor, everyone knows someone serving in the armed forces, or injured from a war or bombing. Each tragedy is collectively mourned. At the moment, we are collectively frightened and mourning. Other places you wake up with Monday morning blues; here, we wake up with Sunday morning blues and a strange feeling that someone may knife you in the back!
A friend living in Israel posted an article on Facebook about how to talk to your children about dealing with anxiety in the current situation. One of the suggestions was sharing with your children the strategies you employed when faced with the same challenge at the same age. Sadly, for over 2000 years our people have been persecuted! Yet Israelis have a remarkable ability to continue with life. Imagine the hysteria in Toronto, Manhattan or Sydney?
For me, living in Jerusalem often has a surreal quality. Last Saturday night, I was at a musical concert with contemporary stars outside the walls of the Old City. I could not help but reflect that the concert venue was located just 500 meters from where terrorists had attacked multiple innocent civilians just that day. It was not lost on me that prior to 1967, the concert venue, Sultan's Pool, was the dividing line between Jordan and Israel. I even imagined the ancient Israelites walking the hills to our ancient temple. Nowhere is the past, present, and future so intertwined.
We thought living in NY would help prepare us for Israel. We had lived in Australia and New Zealand before NY – the ultimate in polite cultures; pristine places. They have an efficient beauracracy, good weather, and a decent standard of living. So NY seemed like a good training ground for Israel, mad people, rude people, apartment living, shortage of space and expensive. Nothing in reality can prepare you for life in Israel.
The inclusion system here is very tough. Israel has a great special needs system that includes a comprehensive basket of services. If you are coming from abroad it has the benefit of being a Jewish system also. However, they passed the law that allows children to be included in schools but they did not pass a budget that allows your child to get a comparable basket of services. With inclusion, you are on your own. It's much harder and more complicated that we could have imagined.
The difference between living in Israel and visiting is like the difference between dating and marriage. I joke about my list of the 4001 things that they don't tell you when you make Aliya. It's a long list…. I will share the top ones.
1. Israelis are unbelievably resilient, life goes on regardless of challenges. Imagine what would happen in Toronto, Sydney or Manhattan if there was a threat of a missile hitting your city? That certainly did not stop life here.
2. A 2 inch snow storm closed school for 3 days. Sadly. they are better prepared for war than snow.
3. In the US, everything is handed on a platter. Here, you have to figure everything out for yourself. Not only do your children learn resilience but I see how the culture for a “start up nation” is born.
4. In every country I have lived, no means no and rules are rules. In Israel, rules are merely suggestions and no is the starting point of negotiating your way to yes!
5. Someone can scream and shout at you and in the same conversation give you a bracha (blessing).
6. Google translates formal documents, but casual emails (eg: from my kids youth group) give hilarious moments like the one below:
-Today will be an action teaspoon at 6-7:30, we will be in a synagogue…
-Everyone speaks English except for almost everyone in bureaucracy, the people at health insurance, your kids' teachers, the nail salon attendant. Definitely don't press 1 when it says "For English press 1" because when you finally get through they don't speak English anyway. My daughter even came to her own parent teacher meeting to translate.
7. Before we moved here, we experienced the gulf war, intifadas, missiles reigning down, gas mask distribution for fear of Syrian attacks-so the recent action is not unusual.
8. Strangers know your business. It's really not uncommon to walk out of a coffee shop having made a new friend because they started talking to you or more specifically asking personal questions. I was walking in the street explaining to a friend that this was a trendy street when a random woman intervened to tell us that I had it all wrong and another street was in fact trendy.
9. Coming from a polite South African upbringing we have had a few shocked moments. After a completely unsuccessful return from a government office more than 1 person asked if I screamed at them. They were incredulous that we wasted our time to go without bothering to scream.
And yes, despite the long list of challenges, where else can you package great food, good weather, well-meaning people, spectacular beaches, and regular political action in such a small place?
We are still exploring our options. The challenges of doing inclusion for Caily are huge and we have not figured that piece out. We are absolutely committed to the idea of full inclusion and we refuse to compromise on this goal. So, for the Samuels, the jury is still out. For now, the journey continues.