A purrrrrrrrrrrfect homecoming…..

When I mentioned that I was “importing” my pet cat, Weave, to Israel there was a collective countrywide groan. Surely Israel does not need anymore cats!

Modiin has no shortage of felines and I could literally have my pick of the bunch! Fat/thin/mottled/gingy/male/female/spotted/striped – you name it, it is a kitty smorgasbord! Anyone who has ever been owned by a cat wouldnever dream of excluding them! Erm, did I also mention that she is 15 years old? An age where most cats dream of the big scratch pad in the sky…

Weave’s move to Israel required as much planning as the Normandy landings. She needed an extra battery of shots and tests in order to be approved by Israel’s State Vet. This delayed her aliyah. Naturally news of this debacle led to frantic execution of Plan B which entailed me phoning around, desperately trying to find accommodation fit for a feline princess while she waiting to be probed and scanned, jabbed and examined.
Enter the dynamic teams of Gail’s Kennels and Keringa Petwings who ensured that this feline princess was looked after like a queen and travelled  to Israel safe and sound.

It is often said that Israelis are amongst the warmest and most hospitable people in the world. This epitomised my experience collecting my furry friend from the airport. Navigating red tape is about as much fun as a root canal treatment. Armed with the necessary paperwork in Hebrew and English, I trekked off to Ben Gurion airport on a solo mission to collect this most important arrival. Half expecting her to strut through the arrivals gate, travel cage under paw, I was quite perturbed to find out that not only would she not be disembarking with the rest of El Al Johannesburg to Tel Avi’s passengers but that I would have to find my way to cargo city to collect her.

 A short shuttle trip with a driver who had no concept of speed limit later, I arrived at cargo city. To cut a long story short (okay and a mini meltdown due to my lack of understanding of Russian-accented Hebrew and a drop in sugar levels which brought out my inner dragon) negotiations with the “lady” who ran collections was a non entity. Teary eyed (and potty mouthed) I pleaded with the two gentleman from Cargo to please help me.

My eternal gratitude to Ezekiel Ezekiel, Dani and the mysterious Kobi who moved heaven and earth to cut the red tape and bring my precious cargo to me. I don’t know what was more entertaining, Weavie’s excited mewing or the macho Israeli men trying hard not to smile at our joyful reunion!

And so by plane, train and automobile (literally!) Weave made her way to her new home in Israel. Gratitude to Ben Gurion security, Israel Railways security, the nice Russian guy who carried her to the platform for me, the nice security guard who shared stories about pets while waiting for the train, the nice teenager who carried her to the taxi and the befuddled taxi driver who asked me, “Nu, what is so special about THIS cat?”

 

I am happy to report that she has settled in nicely. Kitty ulpan optional.

A word or two……

So you know your Hebrew is coming along nicely when you wake up in the middle of the night and start conjugating verbs. Lomed.Lomedet.Lomdim. Lomdot. Ay Carumba! No wait, wrong language!

The hebrew language is several thousands of years old and like the people who speak it on a daily basis, it cannot be boxed in by rules or structure! As I mentioned in my previous blog post, when you commit to making Aliyah you have to commit to everything that comes with it. That includes coming to grips with the national tongue. Many Anglo Olim fall into the trap of “well most people speak English anyway so I can get by with that”. Not so fast. If you want to truly integrate into Israeli society, you need to have a good command of the language. Afterall, you wouldn’t live in France without learning French now would you? Nachon.

Having a good command of Hebrew means that not only will you be able to converse and join the workforce but you will also be able to do all those important things that are imperative to surviving in Israel. This includes understanding the banking services, buying train or bus tickets and of course the most important……..ordering your coffee! Yes, cafe society is part and parcel of Israeli living. You must be able to communicate if you want “l’kachat” (take away) “L’shevet” (to sit) and what delicious edibles the waitron is telling you about in the usual rapid manner.
Learning a new language is intimidating for sure. Especially when english style letters are not used and you think that what you are writing so diligently should be displayed in the abstract section of an art gallery!

Someone once said that Hebrew is ingrained in the Jewish soul. No amount of soul-searching will help you conjugate verbs or understand those elusive gender rules!

Luckily, Israel has the processes in place to help its Olim become proficient in the national tongue.
Enter Ulpan. Ulpan is an intense five month programme or as I like to think of it “Hebrew bootcamp”. Not only does Ulpan present a brilliant opportunity to learn Hebrew but also to form important social bonds with other immigrants. Where else would a Portuguese speaker and a Russian speaker be forced to speak to each other in their new shared language?

Most countries have a preferred national sport. In Israel it is the ability to debate. Israel is a passionate country and her citizens feel very strongly about airing their opinions – all this is done is rapid Hebrew with the odd hand gesture. Well, hand gestures are mostly reserved for dodgy drivers! The point I am trying to make is that if you really want to fit in you must make every effort to speak Hebrew.

There is something very comforting about hearing people speak Hebrew. While it can be gutteral, Hebrew is also very melodic and expressive. In an extremely modern and technology driven country, hearing an ancient language brough to life is awe-inspiring!

Now if I can only figure out those infinitive verbs…….

Chicken dances……

It has been over a month since we “committed” (so to speak) Aliyah.

Committed is a great word because a) you have to be very committed to this process to make it work, b) you have to be committed for not being in your right mind!!  Jokes aside, I am thoroughly loving every minute of my experience because when I made my mind up to make the move to Israel, I committed myself 100% to making it work.

People who have had a successful Aliyah will tell you that it is all about attitude. Okay, that and a sense of humour! But it is true. Make the effort and do so with a positive attitude and you will reap rewards.

Aliyah is also about starting again and not taking yourself too seriously. You have to understand that you are almost rediscovering the world, albeit in a different language. I find this strangely liberating. You also have to be prepeared to make a total fool of yourself on occasion. An example of this would be setting off to the butchery to order chicken breasts.

Now the Snert and I make a habit of taking our dictionary everywhere we go or at least try to learn a few words a day. We do look ridiculous standing in stores, dictionary in tow. Don’t fall into the “you can get away with english, everyone speaks it” trap. Make learning Hebrew a priority if you want to integrate, get a great job and of course find out what people are saying about you!

So off to the butchery we go and for the life of me I could not remember the term chazeh off (chicken breasts). This almost resulted in me doing a frantic chicken dance while pointing to the obvious.Imagine the look on the butcher’s face! Anyhoo, managed to get my point across and have a good laugh at the experience.

You will also learn that there are really good people out there. The Ex-Saffers here in Modiin have been truly exceptional. We have wanted for nothing and are making really good friends. People will want to share their experiences with you. Listen to them. Advice is greatly appreciated. My only advice to people wanting to help Olim Chadashim is remember that this is all new for us. It is one thing to dispense with words of wisdom, it is another to enforce your experience on to others.

Everybody’s Aliyah experience is different. Mine is completely different to Snert’s. What is frustrating to some is a breeze for others and everybody’s reasons for leaving wherever they came from are different. There is no right or wrong way to feel. Enjoy your process and remember it is YOUR Aliyah. Own your experience!!!

 One of the pitfalls that nobody can prepare you for is distance from people you love. When someone you love experinces a tragedy, it is agonising to not be able to be there physically for them. This hurts and you have to give thanks to the gods of Facebook, Skype and cellular technology.

 Tuesday morning we start ulpan. I never thought that I would be headed off to “school” at 34 years of age!! Kinda looking forward to it…….

For me, it is another brick in the wall. Another segment of a puzzle I am putting together to create a wonderful life in my new home.

So, anyone wanna do the chicken dance with me….?

What on earth have I just done…?

Things to consider when deciding to make Aliyah…

 * The decision is yours. It has to feel right for YOU! If you are a family, the democratic rule applies.

* When you have decided that you will forego the life of comfort to move to a land that is completely different, don’t procrastinate. Open your files and expedite as soon as you can.

* There will be times when you have to divorce ideology for life planning. This doesn’t mean that you are no longer a passionate Zionist but that you are laying good foundations for your future in Israel.

* Do your homework!make sure that you research as much a s possible. Whether it is the banking system, medical aid or shlepping the pets, know how the Israeli systems work.

* You will never completely understand the Israeli systems. Try wrapping your head around banking. Oy vey!

* Everybody’s Aliyah experience is different. Don’t feel bad or beat yourself up if your experience is different to your partner’s/Friend/Child.

* Attitude is everything!!Keep a positive attitude and expect only from yourself. A sense of humour is fantastic! What you put in you will get out.

* I know that learning Hebrew can be totally intimidating. I completely screw up genders and tenses when I attempt it but it is an absolute necessity in order to get really good jobs and to socialise. How else are you going to know what people are saying about you?

These are just a few pointers that I have picked up in my experience. While it is completely normal to stress about Ulpan and not working, time out also provides and opportunity to recoup your emotional and physical strength and enjoy the experience and country. Afterall, you have just committed Aliyah!

A red carpet was rolled out…..

What a week it has been! After departing from Johannesburg, “Mystery Snert” and I along with 60 other Olim made our way to Israel. In true Israeli fashion, our plane was delayed and we eventually landed and were processed as new Olim by midnight Monday. Can you believe that in just a few hours after landing, we were Israeli citizens and had registered for our medical coverage! One Teuday Oleh (immigrant ID book) with a dodgy picture later, we bussed off to Jerusalem and the Ramada Hotel and collapsed exhausted into our beds.

Tuesday and Wednesday were spent organising our lives from our banking to our cells. Naturally I took advantage of a free month’s subscription to the Jerusalem Post. Being without the Blackberry and internet I was starting to have withdrawals for information. It has done wonders for my Blackberry thumb though….

Wednesday afternoon we had a very very moving ceremony at the Kotel (see pic) where we were given our  teudat Zehut’s which are our Israeli ID cards. We are officially Israeli citizens. I am wondering if they will revoke mine when they see my driving ………….

I have to say that “Mystery Snert” and I were treated like absolute dignitaries. We have been shmoozed and feted and really have wanted for nothing. I found it highly amusing when I was quoted in Israel Hayom (one of the Hebrew daily newspapers) even though I did not speak to any journalists. I guess that is Israel!

We arrived in Modiin after taking the scenic route (and by scenic route I mean our bus driver had never been here nor did he have directions or a gps so we saw the mall and surrounds about 100 times) we arrived at our new apartment. It is gorgeous and we were so appreciative to see members of Telfed standing on our doorstep with supper and groceries for a few days.

I cannot express how hospitable, warm and fantastic the South Africans have been to us. They have rallied around us and we want for nothing. We have also managed to do a shop, deposit money and argue with the internet provider with our pidgeon hebrew. I have the vocab, Snert the grammar and together we can actually string a whole sentence together! Shabbat was made so special by the Shaff’s and the Tannenwald’s who hosted us last night and today for lunch.

I have to say an enormous thank you to Shimon and the Israel Centre in SA and the Jewish Agency, Misrad HaPnim and Misrad Ha Klita in Israel for rolling out the red carpet.

We miss our friends and family but carry you all with us everywhere we go.