There’s the Israel you know from your trips, your vacations, and your fantasies; and then there’s the Israel you’re moving to.
My name is Ariela Tova Cohen (yeah, my parents had my aliyah planned from birth), and at the age of 17, I finished high school, packed my bags, and moved to Israel.
I came with no friends, no family, no language and not through any program.
If we were to summarize the past eight years, all-in-all, my Aliyah was a success. I became fluent in Hebrew in 7 months, drafted into the army as a tank instructor and lone soldier (considered a pretty bada$$ job, if I may say so), served more time as an NCO (non-commissioned officer), studied at TAU (Tel Aviv University) in Hebrew and have been working for myself since I was released from the army.
Sounds pretty good right? And it is. But it was hard, so hard.
I remember sitting on the edge of the bathtub at a party feeling like the stupidest person in the world because I couldn’t understand anyone or anything and I thought I never would. I remember traveling three hours to get my driver’s license from the Israeli DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles), only to be told I had to have it stamped first at a branch close to my home. I then came back and waited online for an hour, only to be told that the service I needed is only available on Tuesdays.
I remember being in the army feeling like I was in the movie Idiocracy, and maybe it was me? Maybe logic had no place in my life anymore?
Allow me for a moment to put aside political correctness. Israel is unlike any other country in the world. It’s a country that likes to dress up in its father’s suit and pretend that it’s the fourth long-lost country of the continent North America. However, underneath the tie, it is still in the Middle East – and it shows.
Everything is arbitrary, up for discussion and for the most part lacking in rhyme or reason. The postman may or may not deliver your mail, services will cost vastly different prices depending on who you call (and what language you call in), and at the end of the day, you will most likely end up feeling like a frier (fool).
It’s a sink-or-swim country. You must quickly learn that everything is up for discussion, “no” is just an opening gambit and the first price you’re quoted is just the start of negotiations.
You will most likely hear “What? You’re from the US? Why would you come here??” more times than you can count.
You will have to get used to the whole Mediterranean thing of hugging and kissing hello and goodbye, and the brutal honesty of this country. If you ask your friend if you look fat in that shirt, if they’re Israeli and you do, they will say yes.
And allow me to tell you something no one else will. Israelis see Westerners, and specifically Americans as privileged and spoiled, as inherent friers (fools) for moving here, and ready to be taken advantage of. They’re either too stupid to notice or too rich to care.
IT IS a very harsh reality, but unfortunately, it is the reality that everyone is too PC to say. Israelis like Americans, (and Canadians) but think that they’re, for the most part, loud and naïve; they put up with Russians, but think they’re funny; are terribly racist toward Ethiopians but think they can sing; and in general, everyone hates the French (including the French). It’s a country that feels like a middle school cafeteria.
So why is it worth it?
Because on my flight here, everyone was fighting to give me their phone numbers to make sure I knew I had a home(s) if I ever needed one.
Because the number of times random strangers invited me for Shabbat dinner when they heard I’m a lone soldier is countless.
Because the whole country still does Friday night dinner, and no one goes out partying until after they’ve eaten at their parents.
Because today a woman stopped me in the rain and asked me to take a bag of food up to a woman in need because she couldn’t find a place to park, and she had kids in the car. And it was nothing out of the ordinary for her to ask, or for me to agree.
Because this is still a Jewish country, we are still Zionists and at the end of the day it’s a harder life, but a better one.
So how to be successful? Take the NGOs (non-governmental organizations) with a grain of salt. Most are well-meaning, but they will not be able to help you with everything you need (which will be with everything and anything, all day, every day, for at least the first few years).
Come with patience and understand that things won’t happen overnight (unless you have connections or pay for them to). If things seem illogical, you’re probably right, and just try to accept it.
Smile and be nice, but don’t be a frier or pushover. Israelis respect backbone, and even expect it.
Don’t wait in line without taking a number. There will never be anywhere that won’t have numbers for the queue and if you don’t take one you will never be seen.
And I guess the best thing you can do? Rent a Sabra until you’ve become one yourself, because everyone needs a sherpa.
The writer is the founder of Soft Landing, a company dedicated to redefining what it means to move to Israel. YourSoftLanding.com