Gathering Aliyah blooms

In honor of Aliya Day on October 27, one woman shares personal musings on her immigration experiences

On the bus to our morning Ulpan class I was taken by the message on the T-shirt of the young woman sitting opposite: “No Rain No Flowers.”
It started me thinking about the second year of our aliya, which clicked over into the third a few months ago. Figuratively, we found so many flowers – bunches of them – even if at times we slipped a little when it rained on our path.
What were some of the blooms we gathered? The rhythm of living and of Jewish life in Jerusalem pulses in the streets, on the buses, in schools and synagogues, and is helpfully reflected in the supermarket offerings. If you just arrived from outer space and did not know the month or season, you would only need to walk past the special merchandise at the entrance of a supermarket, at Osher Ad for instance.
If tables are groaning with hot water bottles, blankets and lace-up boots, winter must be coming. If school stationery, calculators and backpacks greet you, it’s surely the start of school in September. Display packs of six yahrzeit candles must be in readiness for Yom Hashoa, and the stacks of portable BBQ’s, folding chairs and trestles are to set us up for Yom Ha’atzmaut.
Trickier clues are mountains of cleaning materials and aids, even vacuum cleaners; why it must be time for the massive pre-Passover spring clean! If kilograms of honey don’t give it away, the fish heads in the freezer (yes, just the heads) herald Rosh Hashana.
In Rami Levi you can even tell the time of day without a watch: just listen to the kippah-topped guy hurrying down the aisles, calling out, “Mincha, Mincha!” as male shoppers follow him to the sweet little shul at the side of the store.
You know the Yom Tov specials are a good value when among the masks and dress-up hats of Purim a group of Israeli Arab women covered head to toe in shapeless black are buying up giant cellophane- packaged misloach manot. Perhaps it will be food that unites us…
The buds of new friendships have also flowered along our way. While they may lack the shared history, depth and resilience of old, established associations, how exciting it is to be able to grow our circle, to intersect lives with people across generations and from different parts of the world, and with sabras, too, as long as they speak English! We wait to see – and are working on it – whether new friends do become good old friends incrementally. Yet we have already savored the pleasure of how with some people it just clicks; the friendship starts not from a fledgling and tentative getting-to-know-you but from a place along the continuum of a seemingly already familiar relationship, cemented with the shared pull strings of choosing to live in Israel.
When we introduce new (more senior) friends, we might say, “Meet Susan, she was a doctor in the States,” or “This is Henry, he worked as an accountant in England,” as if these people have had another life. Which they did; a life unfamiliar to new acquaintances, a life on which the curtain closed, almost as if these people are living their next lives.
In a way we are doing just that, in Jerusalem, which is a blessing we do not take for granted, for today and hopefully our tomorrows.
Like the beauty of a single flower, everyday incidents of the “only-in-Israel” kind have brought a smile to lips and joy to hearts. On Shavuot eve, when walking from dinner at friend’s, a young woman came out of her house and asked if we were going to the beit knesset (synagogue). As we nodded yes, she handed us a log cake, saying something in Hebrew we didn’t quite catch but understood that it was spare cake she wanted to send to a synagogue where there would be learning through the night. We took the cake.
Or the time a neighbor came to say hello with his teenage son on a Shabbat afternoon and suddenly, without fanfare, they broke into a duet of a beautiful Shabbat melody, singing as one, father and son nodding and smiling to each other. Magic minutes and moistened eyes...
Another day we were waiting for a parked car to reverse so we could drive into its place, when another vehicle pulled in between it and us to sneak into the vacated spot. I leapt out of the car, stormed across the road as the driver stepped out of his and used my best elementary Hebrew to scream at the young man.
He claimed that he hadn’t seen us, but we had even tooted him. When I finished yelling, I saw that he got back in his car somewhat sheepishly and drove away, giving us the spot! Israel is a not only a young country, but a country with a young population compared with many Western nations. No wonder first grade is serious business, and as big a deal as the final year of school studies. Why, even the city mayor sends a personal postcard to students starting first grade.
Like the heady scent of a field of fragrant flowers, our lungs filled with the resonating air of Jerusalem, marking the 50th anniversary of the reunification of the city. We heard that Jews are the only people who call the city Yerushalayim, a word in plural that signifies the continuity of Ir HaKodesh (the holy city). We heard, too, how the emotional trajectory of 1967 united and changed world Jewry as three million Russian Jews were jolted from their forced assimilation and began their revolt to live freely as Jews. Natan Sharansky recounted that after his own wake-up call in 1967 and his years of struggle and imprisonment in Russia, when the Russian judge asked him in court prior to his sentencing whether he had any last words to say, he replied, “To you, nothing, but to my wife and my people, L’Shana Haba B’Yerushalayim!” As vital as rain is for life and growth, it can dampen and subdue us.
What were some wet and cloudy moments? Our ulpan class came up with a list of difficult changes in culture – economics and employment aside – on making aliya, including: six days of school a week, driving in Jerusalem (nerve wracking; why do so few drivers use their turn indicators?), the absence of work-free Sundays, the high sugar content of many foods. Some we’ll get used to, others may eventually change. One small hope I nurse is that the recent influx of French olim may gradually bring French fashion flair to quality and design of Jerusalem retail clothing.
Learning Hebrew isn’t easy. We went to a movie where the English title misled us, and found out too late that it was in Hebrew, with Hebrew subtitles! Luckily we knew the thrust of the story line, and filled the gaps from our imagination. But no, we’re not ready to sit through a film in Hebrew, even if we are into our third year of twice-weekly ulpan. If Eliezer Ben Yehuda hadn’t devoted his life, despite opposition, to building modern Hebrew, we may not have had to crack our teeth trying to learn its basics. Yet what other single individual is renowned for creating a living language from an ancient unspoken one? We were volunteering at a junior school when there was a shrill blast on the loudspeaker, which we thought was the new sound of the school bell, but the fifth-grader sitting with us packed her things in a flash and bolted out the door – she recognized the drill for a fire or terrorist attack. Terrorist attacks are a constant shadowy threat, like the terrorist truck ramming in Armon Hanatsiv in July that mowed down a group of soldiers near a bus stop, in a split second injuring many and randomly killing four fresh-faced 20-year olds who breathed their last as the grief of their families simultaneously erupted. July was a bad month. Here are two more: at the Lions’ Gate, Arab attackers killed two young Israeli Druse policemen who paid the highest price in protecting our land; while in Halamish three members of a family sitting at their Shabbat table were knifed to death by a 19-year old intruder from a neighboring Arab village.
Bleak to bright It is bleak news that makes the daily media – bribery and corruption claims against Israeli leaders in politics and business, rising antisemitism in Europe, political infighting, Israel’s very existence threatened on many fronts. However, a recent Jerusalem Post front page item that caught my eye was this: 10% of Jerusalem’s daily trash consists of baby diapers, the highest percentage anywhere in the world – not surprising, judging by the number of children, baby pushers and pregnant bellies in the streets, on the buses, everywhere.
A good news story at last.
May Jerusalem continue to grow and prosper, with all her olim, new and old. A place of contrasts; worn down and modern, Middle Eastern and Western, old fashioned ways and cutting-edge technologies, disorderly queues and unexpected courtesies, life lived in a rush yet time to stop with a helping hand, the Old City and a start-up hub. There is no place that cradles the heart and soul like Jerusalem.
The writer was a lawyer in Melbourne, Australia, before she and her husband Joe made aliya in June 2015.