I often question whether my aliya or klita (absorption into Israeli society) have been successful. Do I speak enough Hebrew? Do I have enough Israeli friends? Am I up to date on Israeli music, movies and books? When I misunderstand phone operators and press the wrong extension or don''t understand the punchline to a classmate''s joke, I feel anxious and unsure of my progress.
A much needed reminder that my klita is in order came yesterday after a bi-yearly haircut. Admiring the result, a friend asked me where I had gone. Oh, I have a guy in Tel Aviv, I told her. It occurred to me then that finding your “guy” is part of the natural process of making new surroundings into your home.
One of the scariest things about moving abroad is the realization that all of your favorite and familiar things will now need to be replaced – the local supermarket, shopping center, library, hair salon, etc. I have many friends who made aliya but still wait for yearly trips to their native countries to get a haircut or to stock up on shoes. Trying not to rely on my stays in New York for necessities (although I still do when it comes to deodorant), I immediately went in search of a good hairdresser when I moved to Israel. I still remember my first cut. I had looked up the words “angles,” “layers” and “volume” in preparation. Despite careful articulation of what I wanted, it was a disappointing haircut – as were the four subsequent attempts over the next 3 years. So when I found my guy (Erez at Mitchel Mercier, if you''re looking), I knew that the days of running out of hair salons near-tears and pinning back frizzy curls were over. And I also felt a little bit closer to calling this country home.
I realize now that I have many guys (or women) in Israel. I have my cheese guy at the shuk who already knows to bring out the cheddar with cranberries every time I stop by. The saleswoman who greets me at the store entrance with, “Rachel, I have the best top for your figure!” The curly-haired cashier at my university convenience store whose line I deliberately wait in because our chipper morning chats are a good way to start the day. I''ve got a favorite bus driver and a favorite bank teller and I can tell you where almost all of the frozen yogurt shops are in Tel Aviv. My wallet is packed with membership cards and I remember the coffee places on Rothschild and Ibn Gavirol not by cafe name but by the name of who I dated there.
When I fly back to the States now, I feel like a tourist, unsure of local directions or proper etiquette on public transportation. None of my guys are where I left them, the stores have been shuffled, pharmacies revamped. When people stop me in the streets of Manhattan to ask for a good place for Chinese takeout, I tell them apologetically that I''m from abroad, only visiting, just as lost as they are.
So yes, I probably don''t speak enough Hebrew and I could stand to make some more Israeli friends. But it took me four years to collect all of these people and places, and every one of them now feels integral to my lifestyle. I feel at home here because this is the most familiar place in the world to me now. Maybe that''s the best measure of a successful klita.