Out there: Aliya in the Time of Cholera

Dealing with bureaucratic first steps – setting up a bank account, transferring a driver’s license, figuring out what health fund to join.

Aliya in the Time of Cholera (photo credit: PEPE FAINBERG)
Aliya in the Time of Cholera
(photo credit: PEPE FAINBERG)
My niece is sweet, smart, pretty and sensible. She just made aliya with her husband, both in their mid-20s. Immigration in the midst of war; Love in the Time of Cholera.
I tip my kippa to my niece, I really do.
Moving here now, amid all the turmoil, all the uncertainty, all the violence, is no easy thing, not a given.
Dealing with all those bureaucratic first steps – setting up a bank account, transferring a driver’s license, figuring out what health fund to join, dealing with the Interior Ministry – is trying enough in the hot, enervating Jerusalem summers. Doing all that with Color Red rocket-warning sirens going off in the background and an anxiety- ridden mood throughout the land is trying, squared.
My sister called from Denver on July 8, just after the onset of Operation Protective Edge, and about three weeks before her daughter’s aliya, asking if I thought a planeload of Nefesh B’Nefesh immigrants carrying her youngest child would still be coming as scheduled.
Sure, I told her, mining my many years of reportorial experience.
“Are you kidding? That’s three weeks away. This Gaza thing will be long gone by then. Long gone.”
Good call, that one. Very prescient.
EVEN MORE impressive than my niece and her husband immigrating amid exploding rockets is that had they remained in the United States, these two – both graduates of Ivy League colleges – could have done very well.
I know full well that theirs is not a unique situation, and that many, many people who immigrate give up a lot and have sterling career prospects in the old country. But that doesn’t make it any less impressive when you come face-to-face with that phenomenon.
And facing that phenomenon during these trying days is an important reminder that with all our problems here – both real and exaggerated – Zionism is still very much alive and kicking. The idea of a Jewish state is still powerful and compelling enough to get young, talented, capable Jews – some of the best and the brightest among our people – to leave family, friends and comfortable lives and join us here.
Every once in a while stories appear in the media about an Israeli brain drain, about how the really smart kids and college professors and hi-tech geeks are going abroad looking for greener pastures.
What we often overlook in our unique penchant to always underline the negative is that there is also a brain surge – really smart folks coming over to set up camp here. My guess is that the numbers are more than equaling themselves out. (In 1948 there were about 600,000 Jews here, now there are 6.1 million. It can’t be that all the smart and good ones up and left.) They are doing it right, my niece and her husband. They are making aliya as they are just beginning “adult life,” a smart time to make the move.
Relocating to a new land is difficult as is: Acclimating to a new language, new ways, new customs, sounds, sights, climates, food, temperaments and rockets falling on civilian population centers.
It is much easier doing all that before deep adult roots have been laid elsewhere: Before careers have been launched, kids have been born, loan requests approved, cars and homes purchased. It’s a lot easier coming during take-off, even during landing (retirement), rather than in mid-flight.
MY NIECE’S aliya has also had the side benefit of altering my own familial condition.
Now, a mere 33 years after moving to Israel myself, I finally have family in this country whom I have neither married nor sired. Extended family – but real extended family, not just distant (though lovely) cousins found by accident. No, we’re talking about close family – the kind you have to (want to?) share the holidays with, the kind who could conceivably ask you for some money, to borrow the car or to help them move.
The kids are tickled. After all these years of watching open mouthed as their friends spend holidays and vacations with one cousin or the next, receive a gift from one uncle or another, have connections for a summer job via this relative or that, they now – too – have someone they can introduce as a first cousin. Granted, a first cousin that can’t help them find any parttime work, but a first cousin nonetheless.
It’s a whole new family dimension.
I remember hosting my niece in our apartment some 15 years ago with her two brothers on their first-ever trip to the Holy Land. They were here over Tisha Be’av, and I told them we were going to go to the Western Wall that night.
“Why, what are they going to do there?” one of them asked.
“Paint it,” I replied, thinking at the time that with those kinds of questions there was little chance any one of them would ever end up moving here.
Yet there was my niece the other day, in that same living room, this time not just visiting the country, but rather having moved to it. The Wife and I had different reactions after the rookie immigrants told stories of their first baby steps in their new land, and asked some of the classic questions of the newly arrived.
“How come there is no receptionist at doctors’ offices, and everyone just piles up outside the doctor’s door?” was one such question.
“How do you buy meat here, what do the numbers mean?” was another.
For The Wife, this all sparked a degree of melancholy, triggering tough memories of our first days here in the ’80s, that painful sense of detachment she felt having left her family behind to come to a strange, foreign land.
My reaction was less melancholy, and more envy, as I compared what seemed to me the painless way they made aliya through Nefesh B’Nefesh – with help and advice and job fairs – to the waittwo- years-for-a-phone, knock-your-headagainst- the-wall manner The Wife and I had to do it all back then.
And the kids? Well, their reactions were of a different kind altogether. They were neither somber nor envious. They were curious. Curious about things that Israelis are curious about: How much their cousins have to pay for rent, how much of a monthly living stipend they get, how much they paid for the used car they just bought.
“Well that’s a rather private question,” replied my very refined niece, when asked about the car.
“‘Naw, you can tell me,” one of my sons countered. ”We’re cousins.”
“Cousins my eye,” I whispered to The Wife. “They’re Israeli.”
A collection of the writer’s “Out There” columns, French Fries in Pita, will be available September 15 at www.herbkeinon.com