Geula Grossman was an "agony aunt" for five years, writing a weekly advice column in the religious newspaper Makor Rishon, in Hebrew. Hoping to hear some really juicy problems that might have surfaced in her articles, Grossman quickly disillusioned me. "It's a family newspaper and although it has a 30 percent secular readership, it boasts that any child can pick it up and read it - so the problems I dealt with were not too scandalous."
As an example of the kind of queries she dealt with, which have all now been collected into a book, Beinenu (Between Us), she once received a letter from a man who was distraught because his wife and mother of his four children had decided to go to therapy to find herself. To his chagrin she found that she didn't want to be married.
"I suggested that they go to divorce counseling together, to discover what they had in common and hopefully they would stay married," explained Grossman.
Grossman and her husband Tuvia delayed making aliya until they both completed at least part of their education in their mother tongue. They decided the deadline for coming would be when their oldest child was ready for kindergarten, so he could learn Hebrew before going into first grade.
Starry-eyed and feeling that they were fulfilling a lifelong dream of settling in their beloved Israel, they were greeted at the airport with an unpleasant shock - Tuvia was instantly drafted into the army. The mistake was the result of some bad advice from their aliya emissary in New York and fortunately, after much red tape and a little bit of protektzia, they were able to reverse it.
They went straight to work - she as a guidance counselor in a school, he as a teacher in a yeshiva. Geula managed to work in Hebrew - with great difficulty at first. They lived in the apartment they had bought on a previous pilot trip, and having a sister living nearby helped them to acclimatize.
"It was very disconcerting in the beginning discovering that every store and bank and shop had different opening hours and different days," she recalls. "But eventually we got used to it."
"From the beginning we worked and lived among Israelis and we forced ourselves to read only Hebrew newspapers, so that probably helped me to be able to actually write in Hebrew too," says Grossman. "We felt we didn't need ulpan as we knew Hebrew from school in the US, albeit biblical Hebrew which caused a few embarrassing moments."
Life since aliya
Grossman worked and still works in a teacher-training college and also as a family therapist with clinics in Ra'anana, Jerusalem and Karnei Shomron, where they eventually settled, while Tuvia taught in a hesder yeshiva and also qualified as a tour guide.
Since the evacuation of Gush Katif in 2005, Geula has been particularly active in helping the people who were expelled from their homes. Her son had lived in Netzarim and she was very anxious to help, especially with her training in counseling.
"Somebody started a 'documentation project' and I became heavily involved in this," she says. "The idea was to go and sit with a family and have them describe their experiences, both the good times when they lived in their homes in Gush Katif and the events of the expulsion as well as what happened to them afterward, everything to be recorded while the events are still fresh in their minds. The result is a three- or four-hour video which is then given to the families."
The initiative for this project came from Dr. Yishai Shalif, an expert in narrative therapy and is funded by donations with some help from the Ministry of Education. Including Grossman, 120 mental health workers volunteered their time and she also does individual counseling.
"I think sometimes we were not completely aware of Israeli culture; we understood the words but not the undercurrents, the social mores. It took about three years before we really understood what was going on and we were able to look at comedy programs like Hagashash Hahiver and have some idea of why the audience was laughing."
They came with two children and another three were born here. Tuvia's mother is the Scrabble champion Rosalind Grossman, and whenever she comes to spend Shabbat with her son and daughter-in-law, Geula plays scrabble with her.
"She gives me a handicap; I'm allowed to look things up, she's not," says Grossman with a smile.
Best thing about israel
"The people," she says without hesitation. "How much people are ready to give of themselves, to help neighbors, causes; how they care for each other."
Advice to new immigrants
"Don't expect the country to adjust to you - you have to adjust to the country. Everyone can contribute something. And do something involving Hebrew right from the beginning. It's hard - but worth it in the end."