Having made aliyah two and a half years ago from England, I had rather expected the process to be fairly smooth. To be honest, I expected the entire journey to be easy. I expected that the word olah (new immigrant) itself would work as some sort of magic key to kindness and compassion: two traits for which the Israeli people are, of course, known. Specifically in the supermarket. Or in the Interior Ministry.
Truthfully, I had spent a great deal of time imagining everyone else’s reaction toward my emigration. And, I had naively assumed that my GCSE Hebrew would allow me to seamlessly navigate Israeli bureaucracy. Although in my defense, I’m not convinced linguistic ability is necessarily the only desired trait when it comes to battling Israeli red tape. What I suppose I had not imagined myself to be was an immigrant – dumped into a new culture, language and society.
In my new found reincarnation as a passionate Zionist, I had forgotten one core truth. I was a foreigner living in a new home.
I want to be clear: I don’t regret my aliyah for a moment. Not for a second. And I haven’t from the moment I landed at Ben-Gurion Airport (despite the lack of red carpet, clapping or general joyousness). It remains to be the greatest decision I ever made – and I am both proud and still excited when I use my Israeli passport and see my name sitting side by side with my Israeli citizenship.
However, I assume if you are here, reading this article in The Jerusalem Post, I neither need to convince you of the triumph of Zionism nor of the allure of living in Israel. Specifically not on Yom HaAliyah, which is marked on October 13.
However, I would like to add a level of nuance to the story, especially for those thinking or hoping of making the move. Because, while I truly believe it’s a privilege to live in Israel, I also think many olim arrive with unrealistic expectations. Those of us leaving behind lives of relative comfort in the English-speaking world believe we make sacrifices to move here – and should therefore be rewarded. The entire state should regularly be giving us a pat on the back. I disagree.
I think there needs to be far more openness and honesty around the realities of a daily olah: the frustrations, the hardships and the deep-seeded desire to flee our natural olim community, while also finding it immensely challenging to integrate within Israeli society. And, by the way, I’m about to start my sixth ulpan and have an Israeli fiancé.
Yes, you read that correctly. I am living the aliyah dream. After arriving a single olah, after just four months in Israel, I found myself an Israeli boyfriend, whom I will marry in December. Now, of course, this is hugely advantageous, particularly because after just six months in Israel I decided to start my own networking business for English-speaking business owners. We are flourishing – we now have 80 members covering three local groups in Israel – Tel Aviv, Herzliya and Jerusalem – as well as one international group. However, I’m not entirely sure that starting a business in your first year in any new country is the most astute decision. Though I suppose that would be fairly obvious to most olim.
So the fiancé (I’ll will leave his name anonymous as he is rather more discreet than I tend to be) has been immensely involved in every aspect of my aliyah. Another twist in this tale is that he is not just dating an olah, but the child of olim – from Russia no less – who arrived in the 1990s with, essentially, only the clothes on their back. In all honesty, having been born in Israel in a fairly Israeli social milieu, I don’t think he’d necessarily define himself as the child of olim, certainly not in any significant way. Until I came along of course, and served as a daily reminder of his oleh heritage. Though, naturally the story is somewhat more complex.
Because here he is, the physical manifestation of his parents’ careful hopes and dreams. His parents left their home in their late 30s with no Hebrew, no finances, no security net. Sacrificing nothing, but risking everything. And here’s me – an olah who hopped on a plane having visited Israel my entire life, coming with a decent grasp on the language and a significant security blanket.
Together, we’ve spent our lives immersed in the aliyah experience. And he’s seen it all, from his parents’ triumph at buying their first apartment after just a few years in the country (a moment that 20 years later, as a new member of this family, fills me with pride), as well as my numerous breakdowns in the bank. After the last time – and my genuine fear that I would be thrown out by security – I no longer go alone.
Feeling part of such a wider community, we even have our own podcast, in which we aim to talk openly about the aliyah experience. Such life in Israel has become an outlet for the oleh’s story, where Zionism meets daily life. So Happy Yom HaAliyah to us all, whatever your aliyah experience may be.
The writer made aliyah in January 2019 from England and now lives in Tel Aviv, where she runs English Speaking Networking. You can keep up to date with her on Instagram on @networkwithhelena.