An open letter in response to 'Why I am making aliya'

While making aliya is easy, you have to fight to make Israel your home.

olim 88 (photo credit: )
olim 88
(photo credit: )
Dear Calev Bender, I generally try to avoid challenging starry-eyed new olim with reality, but your December 20 op-ed in these pages ("Why I am making aliya") prompts me to get a few things off my chest. Last month marked 11 years since I made aliya from the US. What on earth could have possessed me - the elder daughter of non-observant secular humanist parents - who never attended Hebrew school or had a bat mitzva, to pick up and move to Israel at age 19? The answer: "It seemed like a good idea at the time" has lost a little of its flippancy, and I'm starting to give some serious thought to the questions that tactless Israelis (i.e. all of them) pose to new immigrants from the West. You might expect that native-born Israelis would be used to new faces, but for some reason meetings with a new immigrant never fail to draw the following barrage of questions: "Where are you from?" "How long have you been here?" "Do you have any family here?" "Do you plan to stay?" "Why did you make aliya?" But for those of us who make aliya because we want to, and not as refugees, the decision is deeply personal. Perhaps those fervently ideological individuals who take a taxi directly from Ben-Gurion Airport to some godforsaken outpost in the West Bank are happy to proclaim their Zionist motives, but if you think that - for the rest of us - the minute your plane lands, you'll be "home," think again. You'll have to fight to make this your home. The average Israeli has little interest in helping or even associating with new olim. Far from being welcomed with open arms, new immigrants find themselves scaling the enormous invisible wall that separates us from them. Some make it, some don't. Asking why we chose to make a life for ourselves here, or if we plan to stay, is as invasive as asking couples why they stay married. Anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that it's easier to stay married than for an immigrant to remain in Israel after the initial euphoria has worn off. The two closest friends I made as a new immigrant have both left - one back to the US with her Druse boyfriend (now husband). You seemed eager to show that despite your rose-colored pre-aliya glasses - and I remember that excitement - you are well aware that our society is grappling with tough issues (security, tensions between the religious and the secular, violence) and that you are ready to roll up your sleeves and pitch in... because, after all, we're all Jews. WELL, CALEV, we may all be Jews, but what does that matter when an 11-year-old Jew is charged with beating and sexually assaulting a younger boy - also Jewish - over the course of more than a year? We may all be Jews, but the haredim call the religious shots here. And non-observant Jews have fewer rights in Israel than they do abroad. But these big issues aren't what makes life here so difficult. It's the small things - walking into a store and being ignored by the clerk, who is chatting on a cell phone. Banks that are open different hours on different days, and never when it's convenient. Shoddy merchandise that costs twice what it would abroad and falls apart three times as quickly. People who take your orders for coffee and then - after you remind them twice - still manage to get it wrong. Shouting. Boy are Israelis shouters. Litter. People who don't pick up after their dogs. People who don't clean up after their children. Then there are the dank, drizzly winters. Not as bad as London, perhaps, but most buildings here are poorly insulated or heated, and you'll rack up bloated electric bills by plugging in space heaters. They only warm you up, by the way, if you huddle next to them. Whereas a coil heater can double as a toaster, so you can save yourself the purchase of one insanely overpriced appliance. You'll earn far less than you would anywhere else. Most people live in debt. Oh, and about money - it takes a while to adjust to the value of the shekel. Here's a tip: Resist the urge to convert prices to pounds. Be prepared to lose any reticence you might have had about discussing financial matters. People will ask you how much rent you pay, or, if you buy an apartment, or anything else, how much it cost. One way that being a new immigrant is indistinguishable from being here as a tourist is the tendency of Israelis, when they hear the name of your hometown, to provide a detailed account of their last visit or an exhaustive analysis of your nation's character, based on a week-long stay four years ago. They will probably round off with a nostalgic sigh and say, "Ah... there's no place like London." Israeli emigrants, however, visiting their homeland, are always careful to point out that there's no place like Israel. Sure, they got out. They can afford to sentimentalize. Yehieh beseder. The writer is an update editor at