Settling down

In the final installment of our three part series, the Schwartzes make the Old City their new home.

tower of david jlem 88 (photo credit: )
tower of david jlem 88
(photo credit: )
Find your way through the narrow streets of Jerusalem's Jewish Quarter and you will come to the simple yet inviting home of one of Israel's newest families. Since In Jerusalem last spoke with the Schwartz family who had arrived with the Nefesh B'Nefesh flight of August 17, the young family have been adjusting to their new lives and adapting to many of the challenges that accompany moving to Israel. Natan and Danielle Schwartz, previously of Cleveland, Ohio, are among the more than 3,000 North Americans who will be obtaining Israeli citizenship over the course of 2005, but their choice of the capital's Old City to start off this new chapter in their lives makes them unique. For Natan who will be studying in the Jewish Quarter's Netiv Aryeh Yeshiva the Old City presents an environment that he appreciates. "There is a sense of spirituality and purpose in this neighborhood that makes it an ideal place to begin this new phase of our lives." Upon arrival in Jerusalem, the family stayed with friends in the German Colony neighborhood while they waited for the shipment of their furniture to arrive from the United States. According to Danielle, those weeks passed quickly while dealing with registering for health care coverage and signing up for bank accounts, leaving them little time to sit back and reflect. "The early days are almost a blur in my mind. The initial excitement of arriving in Israel quickly turned into a rush to make sure we were doing everything in the right order and we weren't missing anything," she says. The Schwartzes acknowledge that the aliya process seems to have changed dramatically in recent years and they say that Nefesh B'Nefesh has been quite instrumental in alleviating many of the stresses that people commonly associate with moving to Israel. Says Natan, "Within a few short days, we had all the documentation to begin to get our lives in order. All this without waiting in too many long lines and without the need to go from office to office. We know that in the past the process was far more difficult and we appreciate that we didn't need to go through all that." Yet, they are quick to point out that their early days have not been without major headaches and Natan described the day that his furniture arrived as "one of the most stress-filled days of my life." Like most new immigrants from America and Canada, the Schwartzes secured the services of an international shipping firm to transport their furniture from Cleveland to their new home in Jerusalem. Natan says that the process on the American side was uneventful and relatively efficient. He could not say the same for the Israeli side of the equation. As is the case with many of the homes in the Jewish Quarter, the Schwartz residence is tucked deep within a complex maze of buildings and is a considerable walking distance from the closest point accessible by automobile. When the moving truck, operated by a firm that the Schwartzes have chosen not to name, arrived at the Zion Gate parking area, Natan was dumbfounded to see that the movers had simply removed all his possessions from their truck and were preparing to leave, saying they were unwilling to bring the items to his home. Struggling to find the words to describe his frustration, Natan simply says that he couldn't believe what he was seeing. Quickly hiring the services of a local laborer to carry some of the heavier items and recruiting some of his fellow yeshiva students, the family began the process of maneuvering through the narrow alleyways of the Old City with sofas, bookcases and much more. Now able to tell the story with a smile, Danielle says that for that one day they were able to appreciate the real difficulties that can come with aliya. "We can't complain too much over one day of total frustration but it brought home some major differences between the American concept of customer service and the Israeli approach," she says. The Schwartz home reveals some aspects of the American lifestyle the family has not been willing to leave on the other side of the globe. Amidst the comfortable living room furnishings, the Schwartz home features one appliance you are not likely to find in most Israeli homes an industrial-size freezer filled nearly to capacity with high-quality meat products. Danielle's father, who owns a butcher's shop back in Cleveland, provides his children with a healthy supply of meat that he sends over with friends and family ensuring that some elements of the American lifestyle were not be left behind. Says Danielle with a wry smile: "There are some things about America that we can't say goodbye to so easily." Meanwhile, Natan proudly points out a totally separate section of his new home that could only be found in the Old City of Jerusalem. Down a short staircase and in the back of a room that is currently being used as a guest bedroom, a trapdoor reveals a hatch that leads down a steep ladder into tunnels belonging to a very different chapter in Jerusalem's history. Natan says that living in a house with such a colorful reminder of the Jewish past places his own aliya in perspective. "I look down into that hole and am reminded that I have come to live in a place that literally represents thousands of years of my people's history." In the short amount of time that the Schwartzes have had to make their house into a home, Natan and Danielle have clearly been busy. The boxes and packaging materials have long been thrown away and the new parents and immigrants seem well prepared to get started on this new chapter in their lives. They have adjusted to a routine with Natan heading off to the yeshiva and Danielle taking care of their four-month-old baby, Chani, but they both say that they are already looking towards the future. Both husband and wife have been accepting opportunities to tutor local children and realize that despite the excitement that comes with a new phase in life it is liable to bring considerable challenges. Walking out of his house and heading towards another study session at the yeshiva, Natan says, "Each and every day as we get more used to our surroundings, we are able to stop and realize what an amazing opportunity we have to be living here. Even though we know it can't always be smooth sailing, we came here because we believe that Israel is the place to be and we are committed to making it work, whatever it might take."