By Ruvy Kossover
“If you are like many coming home to Israel, making aliyah, you are doing the same thing we did when we came to live in Israel – coming without firm prospects to live. If you were moving anywhere else on the planet, I’d say that this was very unwise. But, ultimately, you are coming home to the bosom of the family. As with all families, lots of us have all sorts of traits you may not like. That is what makes coming home to Israel so different from moving off to Tahiti or New Zealand – you are coming home to family, your extended family of descendants of Hebrews, as opposed to moving off to some “paradise” of some kind or another.
So, the first thing to get used to is that this is not paradise. It’s real, very real. On the other hand, it is like a dream as well. My father and grandfather, z”l, could only dream of this place. We live here. And so will you.
You will need to learn Hebrew – knowledge of the language is the currency of the land, more valuable than money. It gets you what you need, from a bathroom (sherutím [שרותים]) to a coffee shop, (beit kafé [בית קפה]) to money from the government and the Ministry of Absorption (misrád haklitá [משרד הקליטה]).
The second thing to get used to is that things have an air of incompleteness here. Israel is very much a ‘work in progress’, and you discover the meaning of this word in your gut here when you see the “incompleteness” of things here.
The third thing to get used to is that politics and the decisions of politicians mean a lot more here to you, in a most visceral way, than they do (or perhaps did) in the States. The one big luxury of being an American was that you could safely ignore what the idiot politicians did, most of the time. That is not true, here. You’ll see this as time goes on, and comprehend what it means to you when you live here.
Finally, what you need to understand is that modern Israel was founded by Russian and Polish Jews, and they brought their culture with them. So, in many ways, you are living in a culture that Russian and Jewish revolutionaries dreamt of founding (as opposed to the nightmare that evolved in Russia that became the Soviet Union). This has a corollary that is equally important for you to comprehend. This is very much a Jewish country, and the Jewish attitude of ‘who do you know’ — is very important here – almost as important as the Soviet attitude (also found here) of ‘documents, please?’
I’m encapsulating the understanding we gained over a dozen years of living here. There is more, of course, but I’m trying to cover the main issues in a brief and concise way. Let’s say that you’ll be here a bit after Sh’vuót. There is a subtle psychological change that takes place here after Sh’vuót, which is kind of the climax of a series of happy spring holidays, like Purim, Pessah, Independence Day, etc. The next important day here is a fast day concerning itself with the destruction of Jerusalem, Tish’á b’Av. And this fast day sets the tone, so to speak, for the High Holy Days of Rosh haShaná and Yom Kippúr, which deal with getting another year of life from the Hand of the Almighty. This is another thing we learned over time, living here.
The things I’ve just explained to you, you will not learn in an ‘ulpán’ teaching you Hebrew, or even in a yeshivá studying holy books. The natives will expect you to know – if they are even aware of these things themselves. And of course, you won’t. That’s why I’m explaining them to you.”