Who are you? Who, who, who, who?

30 Jan

“In the world through which I travel, I am endlessly creating myself” — Frantz Fanon

There are a few things I want to write about, such as the healthcare system here, finding an apartment, but instead I find myself going full-circle and writing about identity.  My first post here dealt with the same subject, and I’m sure that as long as I keep writing, I will keep coming back to this same place.  As human beings we are always asking ourselves who we are, who we want to be, how to change ourselves and how to maintain the things that define us while the world changes around us.  So, I don’t expect to ever completely overcome this existential dilemma, and that’s just fine. Can you tell someone was a Philosophy major?

The thing is that it’s pretty easy to become complacent and stop asking questions.  In our day-to-day life, we often have no reason to confront our identity, we fall into a routine and we keep walking, one foot in front of the other.  I finally do have a routine here and it feels really nice, it feels like moving forward — it’s funny how doing the same things over and over again feels like progress.

I am truly happy here.  Other than one moment of self-doubt at the Bituach Leumi office, where I wanted nothing more to jump on a plane and fly back to Boston where my life wasn’t a study in taking numbers and waiting in lines, I feel with the deepest certainty that moving here was the right thing for me.  That despite the multitude of challenges I face here, despite feeling like an outsider sometimes, despite writing various probably boring blog posts about who the hell I am, I am at home.

Yet, I find myself flashing back to my childhood, to all of the struggling when we first moved to America and I was the weird foreign kid trying to figure out her place.  In Israel I was a rambunctious little thing, talking to everyone (I pity some of those people:p), sharing her opinions, I always felt a certain sense of freedom in being myself.  I think that is an advantage of growing up here in Israel, that kids can be kids, I do think that children here are less stifled by impatience and social convention than kids in the US.  Then, we moved to America, and I had this horrible accent and my English wasn’t good enough for me to say what I wanted to say, and I was miserable.  The first few years there were hard, and it’s harder when you’re a kid, because obviously it wasn’t my decision to make the move — I think self-imposed misery is a little easier to deal with than misery imposed by others;)  I forged on though, and life did get easier, and obviously expressing myself in English hasn’t been a problem in a long time.

I will never forget my 7th grade science teacher telling me I was such a shy, quiet girl.  I told my friends at the time and we all giggled about it, but I realized that I was giving off that impression.  I was so insecure about who I was, how to express my thoughts, whether things would ever get easier, whether i’d ever fit in.  So when yesterday, I was described as quiet, I had an “oh, shit” moment.  Am I back in 7th grade, stuck inside of myself again?

I’m not, but i’ve had this realization that I have been stifling my identity in a way that really isn’t acceptable.  I mean, I am an expressive person, that’s how I would describe myself.  I’m not a person that holds back on who she is, I’m outgoing, I like to tell funny embarrassing stories, I like to share my thoughts and myself with my friends, I like being around other people, I like communicating. Sometimes I’m jealous of those of you out there who are loners but i’m not, I’m a social being.

So how did I come to be described as quiet?   Well, I’ve had this misguided notion that I should speak in Hebrew and only in Hebrew as much as I can.  My friend David has been telling me it was stupid from Day 1 but of course I didn’t listen — Davestradamus, I promise to listen to your advice from now on because you’re generally right.  Except, I can’t really say what I want to say in Hebrew.  I mean I’m conversationally fluent, sure, but I can understand and acknowledge comprehension of what others say.  I can’t really add much.  So, I have allowed myself to be this girl who smiles and nods and says yes and okay a lot.  I like to find humor in life, and it’s pretty easy because funny things pretty much happen to and around me on a daily basis, but I can’t share those funny stories in Hebrew.  Who am I without my stories??  And oh my God, speaking on the phone in Hebrew is awful, I feel so awkward, I can’t even smile and nod!!! I’m left with just yes and okay.

So, as much as I want to maintain a commitment to learning Hebrew and not being one of those Americans who never integrates here, for the sake of my well-being I am just going to have to embrace my American side and the fact that for now, I need English to be myself.  Sure, I have this notion that struggling is noble, but in this scenario it’s just stupid and harmful.  I can’t have the kinds of friendships and relationships I want if I restrict myself to my 8-year-old’s Hebrew vocabulary.  Then i’ll just keep being smile and nod in the corner girl, and that really doesn’t fit me.  Plus, then I’ll keep getting to know other people and being able to appreciate them but they won’t be able to know me or appreciate all that I have to offer.    When I think of all of the people I’m close to here in Israel, the people that really know me, I speak English with most of them.  The exception is my family here, but the family connection is strong enough to overcome the boundaries of language. Israelis generally understand English, I have friends who have relationships where they speak English while their partner speaks in Hebrew. It works. There’s no reason to make my life difficult and complicated, but more importantly, no reason to trap myself — no one puts Orly in a corner, least of all Orly.

I’m not very happy that i’ve let things get to this point, that I didn’t realize earlier how much of myself I’ve been giving up, but I feel really good that I’ve learned something about myself and what it’s going to take for me to live to the fullest here in Israel.  I know my life here is a work in progress and I’ve been here less than 5 months, we’re in the early stages.  There’s no need for me to try and jump ahead several steps right now.

So, I apologize that this was probably indulgent and self-serving but I needed to get these thoughts out and let them bounce around in cyberspace, it feels good to let them go.

Back in Black

2 Jan

It has been brought to my attention that I have neglected this blog lately, and so I am back.  I’m going to start updating regularly again.  It’s amazing how much my life has changed since I last posted, I have been here almost 4 months and it feels like I both just got here and have been here forever.

My trip to Boston was great, my brother killed it at his Bar Mitzvah, I was so proud.  It was amazing seeing everyone again but sad having to say real goodbyes.  After 3 back-and-forth trans-Atlantic trips in 3 months, I won’t be back anytime soon.  By far the hardest part of this move, harder than dealing with ridiculous government bureaucracy, cohabitation with lizards, and lack of refrigeration, is not being part of everyone’s life in Boston anymore.

When I came back from Boston, I really dedicated myself to my job search.  I sat at Cafeneto a few hours a day and sent out job application after job application.  I started out focusing on Marketing jobs, but I soon realized I needed to adjust my expectations — with 5 years of Sales experience, I needed to look for a Sales job.  Immediately after a trans-Atlantic move, while hemorrhaging money due to cost of living in Tel Aviv, is not the time to make a career change.  Once I focused on Sales jobs I started getting interviews pretty quickly.  I also learned from friends that there is a lot of horizontal movement within companies here, so once you have your foot in the door somewhere there is often flexibility to try out different roles in the company.  So I accepted that my first job here would be phone sales in a call center.  I’ve been watching Outsourced, and am quite possibly the only person that likes that show, but it makes call center work look pretty fun.

Job hunting here is different.  I’ve read that in the US, 60% of jobs are found through networking, and that number must be even higher here.  I got as many contacts from friends and from Nefesh b’ Nefesh as possible and contacted all of them.  None of those leads panned out in my case, but it’s the way to do things here.  A major difference between here and in the US is that people here really do want to help, they will actually ask their friends, get you additional contacts.  So many random people offered to help me.  I was in a spice store near Jerusalem and apparently the guy behind the counter worked in Hi-Tech in TLV, he told me if I didn’t find something quickly to bring him a resume.  It’s such a different world.

I found my job on one of the many job boards here. For a couple of months I was monitoring the listings on Israemploy, JobNet, JobMaster, and the various LinkedIn Boards.  I quickly noticed that there are several companies who seem to be fishing, posting the same job listings over and over again.  Submitting my resume to those companies proved to be a waste of time.  For any English speaker looking for work in the US, I recommend paying the small fee and subscribing to Israemploy, it really is a great resource.

I went to every interview I was offered, as much for practice as anything else, since I knew some of the positions were completely wrong for me.  Life here is much more casual and that applies to the employment world as much as anything else.  My first job interview felt so foreign to me.  It was refreshing not to put on a suit to the interview, especially during the extended Indian summer we were having (have I mentioned how much I love the weather here?) It also just felt strange.  The interviews themselves were also very laid back, with the interviewer wearing jeans, speaking very informally.  I was warned that I might be asked overly personal questions but that never happened.

Perhaps my most memorable interviews were at a private ulpan and at a moving company.  At the ulpan, despite the fact that 90% of the job would be in English, the interviewer purposely interviewed me in Hebrew.  That went about as well as you would expect — ouch.  I had no desire to work there but nothing like a bad interview to knock you down a couple of notches.  The interview at the moving company was the opposite.  I guess I’m not a good actress because working in that depressing office in Ramat Gan selling moving services would have destroyed my soul, and it must have showed.  They basically kept telling me I was over-qualified and asking why i’d want to work there, and I gave my BS answers and smiled and nodded.  I let out the hugest sigh of relief walking out of that place.

Crappy interviews like that helped me recognize the right job when it rolled around.  The same day I went to Ramat Gan for my interview, I also met with a really nice recruiter who specialized in olim looking for jobs in Sales and Marketing.  Her name was also Orly and she was really great and honest, I immediately felt at ease with her.  She asked me about the interviews I had coming up and I told her about one I had in Ramat Hachayal through a different recruiter.  She told me that company was a great, young place to work and growing really quickly, and that it was too bad I was going there with somebody else because she would have sent me.  She basically told me it would be perfect for me given what I am looking for right now, and it meant a lot to me that she would say that to me despite the fact that she would make no profit from my accepting the position.

After doing my research, I decided that if I was offered the job in Ramat Hachayal, I would accept it.  I thought my interview would be at the company, but instead it was with recruitment company around the corner.  Their office was really nice but the interview was very frustrating.  I knew I wanted the job and was qualified for it, that it would be a good fit, but the 2 recruiters I met with had limited English skills and didn’t understand my resume.  Once I decoded everything for them and asked them to get me an interview with the hiring manager, I was on my way to what is now my office.  Several hours and several interviews there and I had a job offer.  I was so excited to get started the next week, I was going crazy not working.

I just finished my first month of work and I feel good.  The company is a Hi-Tech/Forex company, which is new to me, as is phone sales.  It’s been interesting learning about a new field and a huge international market.  I am selling in English to English speakers in Europe, Africa, and Asia.  December is a tough month because of the Holidays and there have been days that it was difficult not selling, after 5 years in sales it’s hard to take a few steps back and start something new.  Still, the month went as well as I could have hoped and I feel optimistic about the upcoming months.

Life certainly isn’t perfect, I am still struggling with not being able to effectively express myself in Hebrew, with finding where I fit in here, extending my circle of friends, figuring out my future.  Still, I feel pretty settled now and it’s a great feeling.  I don’t know how it happened so quickly but it’s 2011, we’re into the next decade of the 2000’s.  Since the entire world infrastructure didn’t really crumble on the turn of the millennium, as long as Nostradamus was wrong about the date the world ends, we’re going to be just fine.  My cousin pointed out to me that this is my second new year here (having arrived the day before Rosh Hashana).  It’s not often in life that we have the opportunity to completely start over, and that is exactly what i’ve had this year.  I’m looking forward to what the new year brings.

Dude, where’s my stuff?

28 Oct

“Once I pulled a job, I was so stupid. I picked a guy’s pocket on an airplane and made a run for it.” — Rodney Dangerfield

So, I know I have been remiss about posting here, but here I am at Ben Gurion Airport for my 3rd Israel/Boston roundtrip in less than 3 months.  At least I have my Daft Punk and my free Wifi, life could be much, much worse.

Part of the reason for my absence is that I finally received my things a week ago!  I’m not gonna lie, the first month and a half here have been hard, and I stayed positive because the things worth doing in life are rarely easy.  Building a new life is difficult, but once I have a strong foundation in place, it will get easier.  So on August 27, all of my furniture and most of my worldly belongings were packed up and placed on a truck in Boston.  For the next week and a half I couch surfed, and arrived in Israel with 3 suitcases full of clothing and shoes and whatnot.  Why do I have so much stuff?  My cousin gave me an air mattress which was my only furniture-like item.  For a week I didn’t have kitchen appliances, it took another week and a half to get a fridge, and another month to get other furniture.

There are people who have it much, much worse than I did, don’t get me wrong.  Still, I was living like a vagabond.  I knew this would be the case, but I underestimated the personal toll that it would take on me.  A month and a half on an air mattress is too long, I will tell you that right now.  You probably already knew that, but ya know. Sitting on the floor to eat your meals will not inspire you to cook healthy food, and not being comfortable in general does not result in productivity.

So, needless to say, after a long drawn out ordeal with my shipping company (I am giving them a chance to rectify the situation before I go into my whole experience with them), I was over the moon to have my things.  Specifically, my couches and my bed.  After 5 years of sleeping on a futon, I finally got my first big girl bed in early July, and we didn’t even have a month together before we were cruelly separated.  The day the movers came, they took a look at the shoebox I live in, looked at my furniture, and didn’t believe it was going to fit.  I started to wonder too when my apartment was completely filled with boxes and I was trapped in a corner R. Kelly style.  I don’t have a closet big enough to get trapped in, whatcanyado.

Through a creative use of space, everything is in.  My bed takes up my whole bedroom, and let’s just say it’s a bit tzafuf — crowded — in there.  It’s kind of like playing a game of frogger, jumping from one furniture item to the next to get around, which is pretty fun.  Now that I have a table to eat on I am excited to cook and now that I have a bed I am excited to sleep every night.

I finally was able to get my spinning resume translated into Hebrew and send it to a local gym.  My attempt to translate myself was horrifying, so the lesson there is to sit with someone else and translate it together.  They probably will not be able to edit the shitshow that you produce by translating yourself into a coherent resume.  Once I sent the resume in I got an interview the next day and now I finally have a spinning class and a gym membership, which is huge.  Exercise is something I love, it is a way to strengthen my mind-body connection, it’s a time I feel truly at peace.  It’s also really fulfilling to challenge myself, to really focus and see results.  In terms of my quality of life, this is a huge development.

After a week of friend and family time in Boston I come back, teach my first class the next day, start ulpan, and I feel that there is positive momentum and hopefully there will be new developments in the full-time job search.  I’m also going to apply to an MBA program here.  After 2 months of living in limbo and frankly, being pretty bored (as much fun as all of those governmental offices I’ve been frequenting are), I am so excited to have some structure in my life.  It’s 3am and I am tired, which bodes well for my drowning myself in wine on this flight and sleeping like a baby, but does not make for the most exciting blog post.  Fear not, my hot mess of an Ikea adventure and general shenanigans will be forthcoming, and until then, lehitraot.

Take A Number

17 Oct

“The bureaucracy is expanding to meet the needs of the expanding bureaucracy.”  –Oscar Wilde

It’s been a little while since my last post, and the primary reason for that is that I needed some time to let my blood pressure come back down.  I don’t think that any aliyah blog can be complete without a discussion of Israeli bureaucracy, an infuriating necessity of the move.  Over the years, I have become a pretty calm and patient person in bureaucratic situations out of necessity, sweating the small stuff is bad for your quality of life.  This has been a true test, though.

When I was 20 years old, while studying abroad in Scotland, I was offered an opportunity to travel to Israel with the Jewish student federation in the UK, and I knew better than to turn down a chance to go.  One small problem — I didn’t bring my Israeli passport with me to Scotland, not knowing that i’d need it.  No big deal, I thought, I am an American.  So, I travelled to Israel with my American Passport, and all was well until Border Patrol.  “Orly?” the woman asked me, “that is an Israeli name.”  I nodded.   Then she said “You were born in Israel, where is your Israeli passport?”  I replied that it was in America with my parents.  This is when my kind security guard informed me of my 2 options : I can either get a new travel document, or I can stay in Israel and serve in the Army.  No travel document, no leaving.  So, this was obviously problematic.  Fast forward to me spending an entire day of my short trip waiting at Misrad Hapnim for  a Teudat Maavar.

That day taught me an important lesson, and one that I didn’t really understand from the days of my childhood when my parents helped me with everything: Israeli bureaucracy sucks.  My lesson was reinforced when I attempted to get a new Israeli Passport before my Israel vacation this summer.  Of course the consulate is open all of 3 hours a day, and my trip was planned fairly late in the game, so getting there on a work day to deal with my passport was a challenge.  My Teudat Maavar from the past came back to haunt me because my parents didn’t know where it was and I had to report it lost and go back to the consulate 3 or 4 times.  Every day I e-mailed and called about the status of my Passport.  On the last possible day, I was told to come in, and on that day I got yet another Teudat Maavar (good for 2 years) instead of a Passport (good for 10 years).  Why, you may ask?  Well, there were some computer problems in the office in Israel.

I knew that making aliyah would involve a lot of bureaucratic shenanigans, and I tried to mentally prepare.  Most of these things I will only have to do once.  So, a few hours of discomfort for a lifetime in Israel is worth it.  Really, though, there is no way to prepare for this hot, hot mess.

First there is the aliyah approval process.  The Israeli government, through the Jewish Agency, offers incentives to people making aliyah.  “Aliyah” is a hebrew word for “ascent”, and a Jewish person moving from somewhere in the diaspora to Israel is making aliyah, and is referred to as an “oleh.”There are 3 different aliyah classifications: 1)An oleh chadash has never lived in Israel and receives the most rights; 2)A katin chozer lived in Israel at some point but left before the age of 14, and receives almost the same package of rights; 3) A toshav chozer is someone who lived in Israel as an adult, left for a prolonged period of time, and is now returning.

I want to preface this with the fact that I am incredibly grateful for all of the wonderful benefits I get — financial benefits, reduced taxes, a free education.  If it weren’t for these incentives I could not have made this move, moving 5,000 miles is costly.  However, if anyone reading this is considering coming back, I think it’s important to understand the process.  Being a katin chozer means jumping through a whole lot of additional hoops to prove that you have not lived in Israel since the age of 14.

An organization called Nefesh B’ Nefesh (NBN) is an invaluable tool in making aliyah.  Aside from the fact that they may provide additional financial incentives, and that they provide support services while you’re here, they have streamlined the paperwork process.  They have an application checklist and you simply e-mail them the items on that list and they make sure it gets to the right place.  Ultimately, it is the Jewish Agency that approves your aliyah, but at least NBN is there to make sure the paperwork doesn’t get lost.  I started my application process less than a month before my move, and so I hit the ground running, e-mailing document after document.  There were a LOT of e-mails.  In addition to copies of all of my passports from the age of 14 to today, they needed all of my parents passports from 1996-2000.  Fun.

After I submitted all of my documents, I made an appointment to meet with a shaliach, or representative, of the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem.  I was armed with all of the documents I submitted, walked in with a smile, and figured, how bad could this be?  The meeting was quite pleasant.  As part of the process I needed proof of my Judaism, and my rabbi at home was away on vacation.  So I had a copy of my mother’s Israeli identification card which clearly states that she is Jewish, and that I am her daughter.  So, that should do it, Judaism is matrilineal, right?  My shaliach says, “I’m not sure we can accept this.”  Okay…

I leave the Jewish Agency and proceed to get a little lost in Jerusalem, walk into a store for some retail therapy, and my cell phone rings.  “Hello, we just met and I realized that we forgot to talk about some other things we’re going to need,” my shaliach said.  He proceeds to tell me that they need my High School transcripts, my parents’ tax returns from the years of 1996-2000, and a letter from their employer during those years.  I was flabbergasted.  I told him that he had copies of all of my entry and exit stamps, and all of my parents’ entry and exist stamps for all of the years he needed — there is no way we could have lived in Israel without being in Israel– and that this was “overkill.”  He replied, “do you want me to tell the Israeli government that this is ‘overkill’?” and I could feel the sneer on his face through my cellphone.  I explained to him that I could not live in America without income, paying Boston rents, for several weeks while I waited for my High School and my rabbi and the Social Security Administration to dig up ancient documents.  There is  no reason why anyone would keep tax returns more than 7 years.  I got no sympathy, but in the end I was able to get in touch with the right person at the Jewish Agency through a connection, who told me that passport copies sufficed and got my aliyah approved quickly so I could book my flight.  My approval came and my (free!) flight was booked about a week before I left for Israel and after I had shipped out all of my belongings, so it was a relief to say the very least.

So why did I ship my things out before my aliyah was approved?  Because where there’s a will, there’s a way, and no matter how incredibly hair-pullingly frustrating this process is, it will work out.  When I want to do something, I do it and there is no stopping me.  My biggest challenges were still ahead of me, though.

Once in Israel I had a number of governmental offices to go to in order to get documents I needed. This was made more difficult by the fact that I arrived right before The Holidays in Israel.  In America, around Christmas and New Year’s, even if they’re at work no one is really working.  The month between Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot is the same here in Israel, and perhaps even worse.  Almost every week was a 3 day work week, and when you add to that the short hours of many governmental offices, and the fact that they are maybe open 3 days a week and perhaps not receiving the public all 3 of those days, and maybe open 3 hours a day, well it’s hard to do anything over the holidays.  I was able to go to the first 2 offices I needed to go to during The Holidays, so that was an accomplishment, and it was not fun but it did not end in tears or in me wanting to get on a plane back home.

My third destination was Bituach Leumi, the office I needed to go to in order to set up my nationalized healthcare.  Bare in mind that I had already been in Israel a month, and for someone with prescriptions that need to be filled, that’s already an issue.  I had been warned that Bituach Leumi was terrible, but nothing could have prepared me for what was ahead.  I arrived and made my way through 2 rounds of security.  Security really doesn’t bother me like it does some people — whatever it takes to keep us all safe is worth it to me.  Israel excels at keeping its citizens secure in the worst of situations, and so when people whine about having to get to the airport an hour early for a flight from the US to Israel, I cannot sympathize.

So, I walk into the office and find myself in a line.  A line in Israel is not like a line in America, or a queue in the UK.  A line here is a group of people in a random formation pushing and jostling each other and trying to make eyes at whoever is in charge so they can get out of there ASAP.  I am not going to be one of those pushy assholes who will push a little old lady out of the way to be seen first (although sometimes it’s a little old lady doing the pushing).  It’s just not worth it.  However, you do need to go into these situations with war paint on and enforce, or otherwise you’ll find everyone cutting in front of you.  You have to tell them how it is.  Don’t count on whoever it is you are waiting to see to care who got there first either, they could care less, so it is your job to make sure that you are seen or you could spend an entire day in the blob of people, waiting.

The first line was to tell me which line to wait in.  So, I receive a number and go to the appropriate line.  I’m number 171 and they’re on number 53 or something so it’s going to be a long day.  Everyone is asking each other what number they are for enforcement purposes.  You should always know who is before you and who is after you.  Otherwise, it will be a free-for-all.  After about an hour and a half it is my turn.  The woman behind the counter hands me a pile of papers and tells me to go home and fill them out.  “Can’t I fill them out here?” I ask.  No, she said, I need to go home.  So helllll no, I sit down and start working on things but the paperwork is in Hebrew and I don’t understand all of it.  So I go back to the first blob of people by the door, get another number, and meet with a woman who very kindly helps me fill out the paperwork.  She needs copies of a couple of documents, so I go to the coin operated copy machine in the back, wait for the man in front of me that isn’t smart or patient enough to us a copy machine and keeps kicking it while sweating profusely.  Once he gives up and tells me it’s broken I make my copies and bring them up to the woman up front.  She says it looks good, submit it, and in about a month they would process it.  This is where I start unravelling.  A MONTH?  So you are telling me I am going without any kind of medical coverage for 2.5 months, when I was entitled to it immediately upon arrival?  So she has no idea what to tell me, but tells me that the woman in another line can help me.  She gives me a number — I’m number 462 and they’re on 342.  This is great.  I go up to the hot security guard and ask him if my turn is going to be today and i’m pretty sure he laughs at me and not with me.  Fine.  Then, through divine intervention some guy who had gotten in the wrong line gives me his number, and it’s my turn!  Finally, my luck is turning around, right?  I go up to the woman at the desk who calls my number, and she tells me she can’t help me.  But there is someone who can!  Here, take another number and go upstairs to this room and wait in line there, they will help you.  I’m feeling a little defeated but at this point i’ve invested several hours and there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel.  I go up the elevator to the second floor of the building and find the room where my “line” is.  It is an empty room and there is no line, I have been given a number to wait at an empty room.

So, after maybe 3 hours, waiting in 3 different lines, and then being sent to an EMPTY ROOM, I have admitted defeat.  I submit my documents, call NBN who say they will try to speed things up, potentially cry a little, and get back on the slowest bus on history (the 9 bus — if you live in TLV, avoid this bus, it makes the B Train in Boston look like the Acela).

A couple of days later, I have to go to the offices of my shipping company in a town called Yakum where there is a kibbutz and an office park.  I make the trek to the bus station, take the bus over, and follow the walking directions I was given.  Which lead me to a pond.  Awesome.  I call them, get some more terrible directions, and eventually make it to the office.  Now, after walking an extra 40 minutes on a day that is hot as balls in a place with no shade whatsoever, I was not a happy camper when I got to the office.  I signed one piece of paper, talked with a guy for a few minutes, and that was it.  Also awesome.  I’m leaving and suddenly I am offered a ride back.  They keep saying to me “why didn’t you ask, we would have given you a ride here?”   I called 4 times on the way there while this woman kept giving me wrong directions, but these guys aren’t to blame for that so I bit my tongue.  They were actually really nice.  On a really shitty day of bureaucracy, busses, shared cabs, blood, sweat, and tears, a nice person can really make a difference.

Two days later, it is Thursday, the last day of the workweek in Israel.  I receive 2 phone calls in a row.  First is from Bituach Leumi, who is expediting my file thanks to a connection there, telling me that the paperwork I filled out was wrong and I needed to come back.  Yay.  The next is from my shipping company telling me that despite the fact that I asked if I needed to go to Meches (customs) by myself maybe 5 times and they kept answering no, I needed to go to Meches by myself.  My shipment is here, waiting at the port to be released, and so this needs to be done ASAP so I can get my bed.  It probably won’t shock you that sleeping on an air mattress for a month and a half is not pleasant.  My back hates me and right now it’s mutual.  I am also sick of sitting on my floor.

So that brings us to today, Sunday, the first day of the Israeli workweek.  This was the day that threatened to destroy my spirit.  First, I took a bus to Bituach Leumi and finished up my paperwork there.  Then, I walked a ways to get a shared cab, to take me to the bus station I needed.  I waited at the bus station for half an hour, got on the bus, and started my trek to the Meches office in Rishon since there isn’t one in TLV.  A long ride later I get there and the place is a ghost town.  There are numbers so I take one, but other than the security guard at the door the place is empty.  I sit there for about 10 minutes worrying until a woman walks by and I ask her what to do.  She tells me to go knock on one of the doors, which I do and I am let in to be told that they are having lunch.  I completely understand that people need to eat lunch, I do.  However, if your office is only going to be open until 2pm, I don’t understand everyone taking lunch at the same time at 12:30.  I am finally seen and the woman tells me I basically need to provide all of the paperwork I provided to the Jewish Agency all over again.  I need to go get a letter from the army saying that I don’t need to serve that none of the other offices needed because I am too old to serve so it’s self-explanatory.  She gives me clearance as a toshav chozer instead of a katin chozer so I can at least receive my shipment, but I will have to schlep out to Rishon again if I want to receive all of my rights.  An Israeli breakfast and an iced espresso later I gathered the strength to get on my 4th bus of the day and go back to Tel Aviv and walk home and collapse in my glorious air conditioning.

So, sorry if this was a little complainy-pants, but the last couple of weeks have been wearing me down.   Today, at the Meches office, was the first day I said to myself “hell I should just get on a plane and go back to Boston where things are simpler.”  I think that it is really unfortunate that instead of it being easy to acclimate here, it is a horrible experience.  However, it’s worth it in the long run.  One day soon I will have  real big girl bed, sofas, my bike, and I will be living the good life.  Until then it’s all about perseverance and maybe the occasional glass of wine or three after a day like this.


Learn from my mistakes, my friends

11 Oct

I’m selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.” — Marilyn Monroe

It hasn’t been a very exciting day, spent mostly on my résumé (that’s right, check out those sexy accents) and job applications.  So, in the lighthearted spirit of the glass of wine currently in my hand , I present you with a guide to surviving Israel without making a lot of stupid yet entertaining mistakes.  Anyone who knows me well knows that i’m a-okay with a little embarrassment if it makes for a good story down the line.  So, you get to profit from my embarrassing moments, YESH.

ORLY’S GUIDE TO ISRAELI SURVIVAL

  • Don’t translate American expressions directly into Hebrew.  This is something I really struggle with because I don’t consciously translate my words, I think in Hebrew, so saying stupid things is completely automatic.  So, when you’re sitting with a new friend describing how you don’t want to work in sales anymore because you don’t like being shat on by clients, you are not leaving him with the best mental image.  You don’t want someone you just met visualizing you being shat on.  Either it will gross them out or they will like it too much, and neither of those scenarios is good.
  • A lot of American expressions actually have made their way into the Hebrew vernacular.  You might think, “sweet, that means I know how to say a lot of things already!”  Well you are WRONG my friend, this actually presents even larger challenges.  You must say things you are used to saying in English with an Israeli accent.  Otherwise, no one will understand you anyway, or you will look like That Stupid American (TSA) and then cabbies and street merchants will try to rip you off.  So you might tell someone here how hung over you are because of last night.  They will look at you like you are some kind of freak.  You are not hung over, you are ung overchhh.
  • On that same note, it may take a little while to adjust to English words being transliterated into Hebrew all over the place.  This is especially true in the culinary world, so a lot of people find menus challenging.  Once you learn not to expect every word you read to correspond to a Hebrew word, menus are a breeze, you already know what everything is in English.
  • If you send someone in America your resume to look over, they will probably ask you if you have some kind of mental malfunction and what you are doing putting your age and marital status on your résumé.  In Israel, you do that, and if you have kids that goes on your résumé too.  Why dance around discrimination when you can go at it head on.  Israel is a more honest and direct place, which is sometimes advantageous, and, as this scenario shows, if you’re a single mom with 3 kids looking for a job you’re probably screwed.   (Don’t worry guys, I haven’t had 3 kids, nor am I knocked up with triplets.)
  • Random Israeli men will try to friend request you on Facebook.  I think the Jewish Agency sends out some kind of bulletin that there is fresh meat in the country.
  • You may think that it is a good idea to go to a club and have Frenchmen pour vodka down your throat.  It’s not.  When I studied abroad, one of my good friends got mono by making out with a French guy.  The moral of the story is, stay away from Frenchmen (sorry if I have offended anyone French, you have given pomme frites to the world and I respect and celebrate that accomplishment.)
  • On this very same night, it may seem like a good idea to drunkenly stumble to your Israeli non-boyfriend’s house, maybe spew on the way for good measure, and “break up” with him at 3:30am.  This is not a good idea.  Go home, faceplant in a pizza or something, hydrate yourself and reassess in the morning (and by that I mean afternoon).
  • So, you’re at a bar and you are making eyes with this insanely hot guy and he’s making eyes back and this continues for a bit, until his insanely non-hot friend Shlomi starts talking to you, and then according to the bro code you’ve been claimed.  So you move on to the next best guy there, who’s still really adorable.  Now, you might think that when he asks for your phone number, you should give it to him.  Just say no, my friends.  Wait until after you’ve made out with him, so that if he is a terrible kisser, you don’t have to deal with him calling, texting to see why you didn’t answer, texting you asking you to call him, all the while throwing mami and motek in there as much as humanly possible.  Israeli men are very direct, which is sometimes refreshing after the Boston men who have no beitzim (that means balls — no offense to any Boston men with or without balls reading this).  But sometimes it’s pretty annoying.
  • I love Hamafteach, it’s a great club with great DJs but any time you go there, some dude that you just met will ask you point blank to have sex with him.  Then you turn him down, and he asks you why, and you have to explain to him that you just met him and he’s really not that great a dancer and smells kind of weird (ok, don’t say that last part.)
  • If you have a foreign accent, take prices that you’re given at the shuk or by street venders and divide by 3.  That’s probably how much you should be paying.  Divide by 4 if you are French.
  • Abandon the notion of customer service.  As long as you don’t have expectations of having your ass kissed, American style, by everyone who is trying to sell you sh!t you can be happy here.  Just because you paid for that fridge and the delivery doesn’t mean that the company will have it delivered.  Just because you had to dial them about 100 times to get through 4 times the day the fridge was supposed to be delivered, and all 4 times they assured you the fridge was on its way, it doesn’t mean that it’s the company’s fault that you did not get the refrigerator.  No you see, it is YOUR fault.  Your ass should be happy you even have a refrigerator!  There are people without one.  What, you say?  You paid for the fridge and for delivery?  Pish posh.  I suppose you can have it eventually.
  • The way I see it, there are 2 main strategies to get what you want in Israel.  The first is to kill them with kindness.  I went into misrad haklita, a governmental office essential to me who of course do not pick up their phone or respond to e-mails, and work on an appointment basis.  So I go in without an appointment and very sweetly ask to see someone and explain why it is important.  It’s my lucky day, I get my meeting, and I leave with the document I need.  The next time I go into misrad haklita, they have called me to make a 9:30am appointment.  I show up at 9:30 am, and 4 other people have a 9:30 appointment — with the same person.  So I get all pissy, and what does that accomplish?  Nothing.  Sometimes you just have to accept that it is what it is.  That’s just what I did and it was all sababa, I met a bunch of olim, we discussed the hot mess that is Israeli bureaucracy, and I eventually got my turn.  The second strategy is all-out war.  This is the one most Americans lack, but I managed to hold onto over the years.  You need to be forceful and assertive and raise your voice a little(lot) and flail your arms wildly.  Then they understand that you’re not just playin’ and you have other things to do and you get what you want.
  • There is a third strategy, which is more of a combo.  You can make it a meal and add some tears to either one of the above strategies.  In the case of my refrigerator, I managed to get the phone number of the delivery company from the company I bought the fridge from.  I called him up, a little yelling happened, some tears happened (When it’s hot as balls out, living without a fridge for 2+ weeks will make you cry, trust me…ok, maybe that’s just me.)  In the end, he delivered my fridge on his day off.  He was also hot, bonus!
  • Acquaint yourself with the Israeli wildlife and learn to love it.  It’s a small price to pay for not having to endure brutal winters, living in an amazing city, being able to walk to the beach every day, and having a hummus place that’s open 24 hours across the street from your apartment.

So there you have it, the only things you will need to survive in Israel.  Print this out, tattoo it on the palm of your hand, frame it, post it on your fridge, and thank me later.

Celebration of The Lizard King

8 Oct

I just turned 28 years old this Monday, and I would like to think that I’m firmly into adulthood here.  Older, maybe a little wiser and more mature.  If you ask my 13 year old brother I am an elderly woman, I’m sure.  But every time I start to feel like an adult, something like last night’s events happens and I start to really doubt myself.

So, last night was really fun, and as it wound down I found myself at the club I like to call Fangtasia because it is about 3 floors underground, dark and dungeon-like and has a crowd that’s alternative by Israeli standards.  It’s the kind of place where everybody does their own thing, lets their freak flag fly a little bit, and nobody cares.  Plus, the DJ is always great.  I’m there with a very cute guy I met — note to the women of the world, if they look all cute and innocent, they’re not.  Really, who’s innocent anymore, anyway?  So, cute guy starts trying to eat my face and I decide that it’s already after 4am and I should make my escape home.

So, I walk home for 40 days and 40 nights through the streets of Tel Aviv and finally make it home. The sky is starting to brighten so I close my blinds and set up my bunker for the night aka morning, shutting off alarm clocks and cell phone ringers, chugging mass quantities of water, and making a snack so my head doesn’t explode the next day.  I walk into my room to change into PJs when I encounter The Lizard.

I should preface this with the fact that I’m generally not one of those girls (ugh, women) who are scared of living creatures.  I’m fine with garden snakes (i don’t recommend messing around with the ones in the desert here), I’m okay with spiders, mice don’t scare me.  Okay, I admit I scream every time a jook scurries across my floor (to those of you unfamiliar with Israeli wildlife, jookim are cockroaches the size of mice.)  But then I kill the mofo and all is right in the world.  For some reason, The Lizard scared the crap out of me, I totally panicked.  This thing wasn’t very big, but it was this gross opalescent pink color and had these gross beady little eyes.  My bedroom is literally the size of a shoebox, my furniture hasn’t arrived yet and i’m sleeping on an air mattress, I really don’t have space for a roommate.  Plus this thing isn’t paying rent anyway.  I grab a dustpan and try to capture it and it scampers into my closet with my clothes.  I am officially grossed out.  I grab a broom, empty my shelves of clothes, and I have a pile of clothes on the floor and no lizard.  So I clean my mess and admit defeat.

What did we do before the internet?  How could we convince ourselves we had every disease on WebMD?  We had to pick up books to do that, how tedious.  So, I consult every friend who is online who will listen and set upon googling what kind of toxic wildebeest this thing might be.  Suddenly, I regret not going home with the guy that kept begging me to go home with him (note to the guys of the world — it is so hot when you beg a chick to go home with you, keep doing that).  Maybe him eating my face would be preferable to The Lizard doing it?  Nah.

I am totally unfamiliar with the reptiles of the world apparently.  Google tells me that salamanders secrete poison and i’m like OH GREAT.  I find a report on species of lizards living in Israel and I sift through pictures of various lizards trying to find The Lizard’s family.  Then, my friends fill me in that this thing is a gecko.  I never would have known that, he didn’t offer me a good deal on insurance or anything.  So, I do some more in depth investigative work and find out that it’s a Mediterranean Gecko and it’s pretty common to find one in your house in a hot or tropical climate.  So, at 6am, I finally determine that this thing probably won’t kill me in my sleep, and even though I’m really not fond of the idea of waking up with it crawling on my face, I lay my head on my pillow and pass out.

Now night arrives with her purple legion
Retire now to your tents and to your dreams
Tomorrow we enter the town of my birth
I want to be ready

In the beginning

6 Oct

And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer — F. Scott Fitzgerald

At 28 years old I find myself starting my life over again, leaving a life that was comfortable.  So, why did I make aliyah?  That is the million shekel question.  The answer begins with my trip to Israel this summer.

At the age of 27, I finally felt established in life, I had direction.  I was leaving a job that was no longer rewarding so I could attend Business School and start a new career.  I had a great group of friends who I loved dearly and was enjoying life in Boston.  I had just moved into my first true 1-bedroom apartment with a closet that would make Carrie Bradshaw proud.  I was excited to go back to academia and feel challenged, which I hadn’t felt in quite some time.  So, really, I was finally comfortable and feeling like I was on track.  If I hadn’t visited Israel this summer, I would have kept right on going, gone to school in America, started a career there, and spent the rest of my life there.

As a gift, my grandparents sent me to Israel for the month prior to the beginning of B School — boy would they regret that decision.  I hadn’t been back for 5 years because of work, summers were my busy season and they were when my family always went on vacation in Israel.  It wasn’t until I completed all of my aliyah paperwork that I later realized I had barely been to Israel since we left in 1990.

So, this is where things get cheesy.  I got off my plane in July of 2010 and walked through a completely remodeled Ben Gurion Airport.  While the airport was no longer familiar, the feeling was — I felt like I was at home.  It’s a feeling that has always washed over me every time I visited Israel, as soon as I stepped foot in that airport.  My first day here, I told my cousin that I was going to move here.  I was on vacation in Tel Aviv, enjoying the city, the beach, the nightlife.  This is not the basis upon which I made my decision though, I remembered what I loved about Israel.  I can speak my mind here without anyone looking at me with that “how dare you” look you get in Boston, sometimes followed by the “do you realize you’re female?” look.  To be honest, I never felt that I fit in while in Boston, I always felt that I was just too much, too much personality, too much chutzpah, I don’t know.  Also, in Israel it was easy to meet people, to make connections.  I met more people in my one month in Tel Aviv this summer than I met in a year in America. While Israelis have a reputation for being rude, they are honestly the kindest and warmest people I have encountered — a stranger will offer you a bed, or a meal, or an introduction to a contact that may help you, and actually mean it.  Family and friendship here in Israel are everything.  There is less of the feeling that people are disposable.

So, my first week in Israel, I started telling people I was moving here after business school.  Up until that point, my fate seemed pre-determined.  I never really felt that moving to Israel was a viable option for me.  First, I attended college in the States. When I was 15, I went on a teen trip and said to myself that after High School I would make aliyah, but when the time came, the expectation was to go to college immediately, and back in those days I did what was expected of me.  Then, I was going to study abroad in Israel, and thought that maybe I would reconnect with the country and the language and move back after school.  Unfortunately, the timing was wrong and the situation in Israel was extremely volatile, and so I made the difficult decision not to go.  In the end it was the right decision, I avoided the bombing at international student orientation that summer that killed 3 Americans.  I also had the opportunity to study in Edinburgh, Scotland, which was an amazing experience (although it was no Israel).  After college, I had bills to pay and problems to deal with so I jumped into the working world and didn’t look back.

About a week in, to my trip, I had a realization — Now is the time to move.  If I waited after I got my MBA, spent $100,000+ on that degree, I wasn’t going to move back to Israel.  The earning potential here is much lower, and I wouldn’t make that money back.  My American MBA also wouldn’t be as important in Israel as it is in Boston where Boston College has a strong brand and a great reputation.  Also, what if I met someone while I was in school?  It is unlikely that they would want to make the move, even if I could make it work financially.

So it was now or never.  I was 28, unattached, no kids, had just left my job.  I had a month until school started, I had to make my decision fast.  A week and a half into being in Israel, I started making phone calls.  First to my family in Israel, who approached my decision objectively and with an open mind.  It was a big change but one that could be very good for me.  Next, was the phone call to my parents, who were shocked but also supportive.  Lastly was the most difficult phone call to my grandfather, the patriarch of the family.  I fully expected him to flip his lid, but instead in his state of complete and utter shock, he was very supportive.

The next day, pitzutz.  My family in America literally exploded.  My grandfather started sending me multi-page e-mails, then more e-mails to my parents, and before I knew it every single member of my family was getting e-mails, all about how I should be convinced not to move.  Apparently, my grandfather, a man who calls himself a Zionist and sends dozens of e-mails a week about supporting Israel, thinks Israel is a good place to visit and to “support” but not to live.  He has some Hobbesian idea that life in Israel is solitary, poor, nasty and brutish.  It’s sad but I think that a lot of American Jews think this way, that Israel is a good place to support from afar, but in the end America is far superior.  They have no sense what life in Israel is really like, and when they visit, they go on a tour or stay in hotels and don’t experience Israeli life.

When I told my friends, I encountered shock.  Everyone knew how hard I had worked to get into a good school, that I had just moved apartments in preparation, that I was excited to begin studying.  I knew that I would miss everyone so very much, I think the most difficult part of this process is leaving an amazing group of friends and starting over.  Along with the shock came an understanding of why I needed to do this.  When I left Israel at the age of 8 I was devastated and told everyone that the move was temporary, and that I would return.  Although as I got older, that’s something I stopped actively saying to my friends, it’s a subtext that was always there somewhere.  I don’t think there were many people in my life that did not know I was Israeli in origin, it’s always been part of my identity, even as Israel felt farther and farther away.

I had a rough few days dealing with the familial explosion, but once I make a decision, it is made.  I am strong in my convictions (and maybe a bit stubborn, too), that’s another reason I fit in here.  So, I started getting together the many documents I needed.  This is already getting far too long, if you’ve even read this far, so the actual aliyah process will be the subject of a future post.  I returned to America for 2 weeks, packed up my entire life, had my aliyah approved, and got on a plane to Israel.  I was so incredibly excited, after weeks of limbo, to finally start my new life. So here I am, baby.

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