The Double Vision of an Olah Hadasha
As an olah hadasha I see the world through two ends of a telescope: an American perspective from decades of life in the US and an Israeli view as a new Israeli citizen.
Unlike my four grandparents who fled from Poland/Russia and Lithuania 105 years ago to escape pogroms, I am an immigrant by choice. After visiting Israel continuously for 18 years, and buying a home in Jerusalem last year, I now am "living my dream" as a new olah.
My Israeli friend Sandrah warned me about the perils of my double vision, when I needed to return to the US for a short visit. "You have started to look at the world through Israeli eyes," she counseled, "and this will make it difficult for you. Israelis see the world differently. You will be frustrated by how much Americans don't understand about our country, how safe and happy we are here. And their understanding of Middle East realities will cause you to boil over."
Sandrah was right. My time spent in the US was frustrating, my conversations with Americans too often nonsensical. They were blind to basic facts of Israeli life which I now view as everyday realities. One example: "How can so many Israelis live in 'settlements'?" I was asked repeatedly. "How can people live in tent cities on a permanent basis?" I was queried over and over by educated, Jewish Americans, who obviously have never visited Israel. "Efrat," I would respond "is not a tent city, it's a vibrant community of 9,000 people," only to be immediately interrupted with the question "then why is it called a 'settlement'?" Depending on whom I'm speaking with I'd either launch into a detailed explanation of "settlements," "kibbutzim" and "moshavim" or mumble about meanings getting lost in translation.
Do I still have double vision? Certainly I do when it comes to US politics. Although I am saving myself months of precious time by not closely following the early stages of the 2016 US election, I instinctively understand the machinations. My Israeli friends are amazed what I can intuit about what they see as "political mysteries." Yet with my new Israeli eyes, I am most unclear about Israeli politics. The 34 political parties in the recent election and how elections and coalition bargaining proceed are confusing to me. "You'll understand more in 10 years," I was told recently. Ten years?
My Israeli vision also is blurry when it comes to understanding the lack of basic Customer Service in Israel. In the Post Office and my bank, for example, I find it beyond reasonable that lines are endless and representatives too often are satisfied to give totally non-responsive answers. Recently I was told by a senior manager at my bank, "I don't know the ATM daily withdrawal limit, no one knows for sure."
I was the Corporate Director of Customer Affairs for an international US bank operating in 90 countries based in New York City for 17 years, and thus I am particularly challenged by such service! I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to Customer Service -- although my responsibility was to turn the bad and the ugly into the good. So I automatically think ART -- accuracy, responsiveness, and timeliness -- an acronym I coined to accomplish my work, whenever I'm in a service situation. Since savlanut, patience, is not always my strongest suit, I try to minimize my interactions with the Israeli Post Office and even my bank. I figure I'll gain savlanut long before they gain ART.
Do all olim possess double vision? Reflecting on my Ulpan class which resembles the United Nations, I see this possibility. Linguistically it is true, as the Russian speakers frequently explain Ivrit grammar to each other in their native language, as do the Spanish speakers.
Will I keep my double vision? Inevitably, my American perspective is inescapable, after decades of life lived with this view. To what extent this will grow foggy over time I have yet to discover.
Do I want to keep my double vision? is a far more intriguing question. My instinctive answer is no. I work hard at learning spoken Ivrit. I try to associate with Israelis rather than live in the Anglo world. And I awaken every morning with an attitude of gratitude, feeling blessed to open my eyes and see golden Jerusalem.
I used to ask olim "What language do you dream in?" a touchstone for me to determine which end of the telescope an oleh looks through. A wise 13 year old girl suggested a better question, "What language do you count in?" Maybe that's why I'm working especially hard to count fluently in Ivrit. After all, while my double vision gives me a broader world view -- it's looking through an Israeli lens and living my life as a proud Israeli in our Homeland that is the key goal I envision for myself.