Surviving Aliyah – A-musings from an Olah-not-so-Chadesha

They say that time flies when you are having fun. This is so evident when one makes Aliyah and seeing that today is my second “Aliyahversary” I thought it right to mark the occasion by sharing some of my observations or a-musings….with a little advice sprinkled on top!

When one decides to make Aliyah, apart from the reams of research you should do and questions you should ask, you need to bring along your most important asset – a sense of humour. This will serve you well when navigating the challenges and sometimes riotously funny scenarios that Israel presents. Israel is highly entertaining and as a new immigrant you can make one of two choices – complain a lot about the cultural differences or jump in with both feet and enjoy the ride! So without any ado…and in no particular order, here are some of Roro’s a-musings and advice:

1) There are no subtitles – even though people say that you can get around with English, it is really advisable to learn Hebrew. Apart from being the lingua franca of the country, it is a necessary survival skill in order to integrate properly, find those really good jobs and understand what people are saying about you. Do an ulpan! Hebrew is a language that is constantly evolving and living in Israel is an introduction to some wonderful hybrid languages – Hebrish, Hebrench, Hebranish, Hebrussioan to name but a few. Okay, so nobody understands Hebrussian. And when in doubt, no curse word is as effective as a passionate invective…in Arabic!

2) And on the subject of cursing, those of us from slightly more conservative countries are a bit taken by surprise that there seems to be no censorship on radio or TV. The F bomb is not really considered a curse word in hebrew and one can tune in for their morning news and traffic report and musical choice, complete with a liberal dose of f-bombs. Kanye West, 50 Cent – rest assured your music is safe and uncensored here. Only on The Voice Israel can a judge voice (pardon the pun) his admiration by saying “Go mother$%&#*@^! S’True!

3) Jewish geography – how many times have you been at a party/shouk/work/pretending to mind your own business when someone hears a) your accent b) your surname c) something you shouldn’t have been saying but dafka the person who heard it is related to the person you are gossiping about? Yup, happens often in Israel. And then you connect the dots and realise you are a) related b) know the person they are talking about. This makes gossiping about people quite difficult. Somewhere along the line, we are all connected. Oy vey!

4) Toss away your dignity – when you are new to a country and don’t know the systems or the language, sometimes you have to forego your dignity in order to make your point. This is a phenomenon I have tried and tested! And the Oscar for Best Performance of a demented-chicken-desperately-flapping-its-wings goes to….Rolene Marks for her award winning role of customer-who-wants-chicken-breasts-but-has-no-idea-how-to-order-them-at-supermarket-counter. Insert curtsy here.

5) Talking about food, you can tell what season it is by the food on sale at the time. If it is spring, then Oznei Haman (Haman’s Ears) just in time for Purim. As we approach summer, it is Matzah and then a little later, cheesecake as we mark Pesach and Shavuout. Oh who am I kidding, it is always time for cheesecake! If it is Fall/Autumn, then it is Crembo, delicious chocolate covered squish and if it is winter, sufganiyot (donuts) for Chanukah. Yes, our seasons revolve around our history living up to the tenet they tried to kill us, we survived, lets eat!

6) A land of many contradictions – Israel is a country that has absorbed immigrants from over 80 countries. On any given day, you may engage with several different cultures, each as bewildering as the next. Now where else in the world can you walk in a shouk (market) and have the guy who is reading Al Quds newspaper and the latest Hamas drivel sell you a t-shirt that says “Don’t worry America, Israel is behind you!”. You gotta love the irony!
7) Driving me crazy – the most trying experience any new immigrant will have is driving in Israel. This is guaranteed to turn any seemingly rational person into a raging lunatic. Myself included. Just know that driving here is like fight club – and we don’t talk about fight club! Just do what the rest of us do – simply fling yourself and your vehicle into the craziness and hope for the best. Good luck!
8) Every Israeli a Prime Minister – ever heard the joke about Israeli Prime Ministers? No? Okay so here goes, the President of the US and the Israeli PM are chatting. Israeli PM says,”you are the President of 300 million Americans, I am the Prime Minister of 7 million Prime Ministers!” Never a more true word said in jest. Debating, arguing and sorting out the issues of the country is our national sport and with an election next month with more party swapping than a game of musical chairs, it is bound to be a blast. Arm yourself with your ID and a healthy dose of idealism and make your mark on your new society.

9) We truly are a special people – all jokes aside, nothing demonstrates how special this country is than in a time of crisis. Last month, Israel embarked on Operation Pillar of Defense to stop Hamas’incessant rocket attacks on Israeli civilians. Strangers opened hearts and homes to fellow countrymen. In a time of crisis, Israelis really do stand together, strong and united. Afterwards, we resume the bickering that is a sign that we really do regards each other as family.

10) Just do something – as Olim we often wonder what we can do to give back to our new country. If you are not at an age where you can serve in the IDF then I highly recommend joining a volunteer orgamisation. Not only will this help you integrate and make friends but you will be doing something positive for a country that gives its immigrants so much. My organisation of choice is WIZO – what is yours?
Everyone has a different story to tell about their Aliyah experience. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to feel. Jump in with open (but informed!) mind and make the most of this wonderful, sometimes hard, always fulfilling experience.

To sum up my Aliyah…Israel tries to challenge me, I survive…..gonna eat!

3 thoughts on “Surviving Aliyah – A-musings from an Olah-not-so-Chadesha

  1. Dear Rolene,

    you have summed up the Aliyah experience so well – I had a good chuckle at the wing-flapping chicken purchase!!
    I have also continued my WIZO meetings in Ranaana, met so many interesting women & feel right at home .
    Keep smiling, xx Ida Broll

  2. Only read this one now and thats it, u got it down to fine tuning. My best is that even though I have been here for 40 years I still have a strong SA accent, people think I am a new Oleh and are surprised when I tell them I have been in the country since before they were born…. Love this place even with all the bitching and curse words all over the place….. Typical jews/Israelis. Living in Israel is very exciting, never a dull day and something dramatic happens everyday and then you forget it and go on to the next drama…. Like are we going to be able to form a government that we can live with? Yes will we be happy? Maybe 50% will and the other50% will bitch for the next 4 years and then we start all over again…

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