Israel: A land of contradictions that olim learn to figure out

Israel is full of contradictions; a flying trailblazer leading the way in many things, and in others bumbling along a few steps behind leading nations. But it's part of the charm.

 ON HOLIDAY in Cyprus: The writer (3rd from R) with husband Joe, children and grandchildren.  (photo credit: Courtesy Krycer family)
ON HOLIDAY in Cyprus: The writer (3rd from R) with husband Joe, children and grandchildren.
(photo credit: Courtesy Krycer family)

In planning our summer family holiday to Cyprus, we sat across the desk from the bank clerk and asked him to transfer a payment to the overseas account of the holiday villa rental company. As expected, he said we needed to do it online using the bank’s digital application. We explained that for reasons even the bank couldn’t understand, the app didn’t work for us, and we showed him the form we had filled out at the same bank branch the previous week when making a similar payment through the banker.

Glancing at the piece of paper, he changed tack and said we could use the same form and as we were now sending a different amount to the same recipient, to simply Tipp-Ex (!) the old amount and insert the new one. Tipp-Ex, the almost antediluvian white correction fluid, had been outlawed in my Australian law office way back when. How could it still be in use in the Start-Up Nation

Sure enough, a little bottle of it was sitting on his desk, and he withdrew the brush and dabbed it across the figures to be changed. We stared incredulously, especially when he turned on a small desk fan and waved the Tippexed sheet in front of it to faster dry the freshly applied fluid! Okay, we thought, if that’s what it takes… as he slipped the form into the fax machine (another ancient relic still in official use in Israel) to direct the Tel Aviv office to make the transfer. 

Israel: The land of contradictions

Israel is full of contradictions; a flying trailblazer leading the way in many things, and in others bumbling along a few steps behind leading nations. Yet putting aside any frustration, therein may even lie some of its charm.

Jewish Quater in the Old City of Jerusalem, 521 (credit: Marc Israel Sellem/ The Jerusalem Post)Jewish Quater in the Old City of Jerusalem, 521 (credit: Marc Israel Sellem/ The Jerusalem Post)

Now in our eighth year since aliyah, many such contradictions make us shake our heads in disbelief and simultaneously somehow continue to delight us in our city of old and new, Jerusalem. Like when our high-design bedside reading lamps didn’t work and we took them to an electrical Aladdin’s cave in town, down a flight of stairs to a subterranean space lined with old shelves crammed with boxes of electrical parts, contraptions and thingamajigs. Behind the counter, the young man in gray overalls without a word started fiddling with the wires and switches. For half an hour he examined, spliced, warmed over a flame, welded, duct-taped, tested, and tinkered some more until both lamps shone brightly again. And the cost: a mere 30 shekels, he said, refusing to take the 50 shekels we offered to pay. Climbing the worn stairs up to the street, we were nonplussed but grateful for honest old-fashioned skill and service. 

We observe how things have been, from long before we came home to this land, and at the same time as olim we are privileged to witness startling changes to the face and pulse of our bustling golden city. Yellow cranes (Israel’s national bird, jokes my husband, Joe) raise our streetscape ever higher – hopefully to the benefit of city and resident; new and upgraded leisure gardens and strings of playful pocket parks bring greenery and recreation within arms’ reach to more of us; astonishing roadway excavations extend the light rail and modernize highway networks; our innovators and influencers advance us nationally and globally, while our defense force protectors maintain their mission to keep us safe; burgeoning numbers of young and old study Torah; and the laughter and chatter of children continues to be the music that embodies the hope and commitment that will safeguard and strengthen our tomorrows. 

A striking post-aliyah observation is the traffic jams at primary school and kindergarten start and end times, and in spite of annoyance with the bottlenecks, the streams of lively children with backpacks or pulling little wheeled cases spilling noisily onto the streets simply inspire and uplift. In stark contrast to European cities we have visited with their noticeably aging populations, Israel’s dominant youthful demographic penetrates and colors the air in this young country in an ancient land.

At the outdoor kiddush at synagogue following our grandson Eitan’s bar mitzvah earlier this year, when corona awareness in catering was still more evident, single servings of kugel and small plastic bowls of hot cholent appeared by the trayful, each accompanied by a plastic fork or spoon. Then they ran out of disposable cutlery. As a laden tray emerged, I asked the server who was rapidly distributing the bowls of runny beans and vegetables how people would eat them. His matter-of-fact reply: “They’ll figure it out.”

And that’s exactly how our nation Israel has got to where it has. And will get to where it’s going.

Who would have imagined that it would be possible to travel on an expired Israeli passport, as long as the traveler had a valid passport issued by another country? That was the creative Israeli solution when, due to the disruptions of Corona, passport renewal appointments at the Interior Ministry were only available many months ahead. 

Every year since our aliyah has brought new uniquely Israeli experiences, observations, interactions. 

For example, when a young relative was due to start her army service last March, the military intake day was postponed on account of a funeral. The burial procession for prominent 94-year-old Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky was said to have drawn some 750,000 mourners, filling streets and stopping traffic. And another time when browsing the generic congratulations cards in the racks of the stationery shop, among the selection for occasions I expected to see was an Israeli category — wishing good luck and easy days to IDF recruits on completion of their training; just the message needed when another relative finished training in his elite unit.

In Israel I learned the expression “reverse order death,” a term psychologists use when a child pre-deceases the parent. Last Yom Hazikaron we mourned as a nation the 24,068 soldiers and other precious souls who lost their lives as a result of war and terror attacks, young men and women of 18-21 years the backbone of our formidable citizens’ army. 

ON A recent drive, I looked twice at a street sign: “Detour to Torah MiTziyon St.,” the words in English, preceded by Hebrew and Arabic. Our very streets recalling Torah and Zion, the fulcrum and blueprint more than 3,000 years ago and still, of our Jewish lives. In which other country would a regular weekly newspaper column by a financial advisor feature a lesson from the weekly Torah reading and relate it to sound financial management? 

And how to understand a phenomenon alien to Aussies like me who made aliyah from Down Under, who in many cases will have followed their children who had made aliyah before them. We have met olim, so far, from America and France who left their adult children in their native lands to fulfill their own Zionist dream. How strong must that pull be, and what extraordinary sacrifices may need to be made to replant roots in Israeli soil. 

About one-third of all Israelis are Jewish immigrants. It’s almost a badge of honor for those who choose to build their lives here; even as we regard with due deference the Sabras, mostly the second or third generation of their family to be born here, many of whom did the hard yards so that we may live easier today. 

When hosting guests on Shabbat, the table talk invariably circles expressions of fulfillment and gratitude for living in our land, where we have the chance to become the change we wish to see, where hiccups and frustrations can bother and mar the moment but generally cannot dent the dream nor weaken the will to call Israel home. ❖

Aliyah Day is celebrated around the country on 6 Cheshvan. Mazal tov to all olim!

The writer was a lawyer in Melbourne, Australia, before she and her husband made aliyah in 2015 to join their children in Israel. She loves words and dislikes emojis.