When Allen and I made aliyah in the summer of 2012, I needed to make myself feel as at home in Israel as I had in the U.S. “Aliyah” is the Hebrew word for “going up,” and refers to immigrating to Israel. In moving closer to the roots of Jewish history and religion, one is assumed to rise in spiritual level, which is why it is called “aliyah.”
But it hasn’t always seemed like an improvement in my spiritual life. Or in other aspects of my life either. Some of the process was easy; some of the process I’m still struggling with daily, over four years later.
Living in in one place most of my life, there were certain things I took for granted. I never thought about the language I spoke, the streets I walked on, the history I shared with my neighbors. And suddenly, in the course of an eleven hour plane ride, all that changed.
In Israel, you can get along if you speak only English. But I wanted to do more than just “get along.” I wanted to be to go into a store and know whether I was buying shampoo or toilet bowl cleaner. I wanted to listen to the news and understand what insults politicians were trading this week. I wanted to talk on the phone and not hang up wondering if I had just bought a non-refundable ten-year cell phone plan with free calls to Mars. So I studied Hebrew in ulpan, and after four years, I feel competent within my own life. Most of the time.
But truly feeling at home involves more than language. It is knowing
the geography and history and folklore of the country. It’s not just knowing the facts, which can be learned from books. Feeling at home includes understanding on a personal level. It is standing on a hilltop, looking down on a valley and immediately understanding why the Philistines never conquered the whole land. It is listening to water rushing in a small river, being thankful that winter has given us sufficient rain. It means not bothering to listen to the weather report six months of the year because you know it will be “without change.”
To learn and internalize all this involves more than ulpan; it means talking to people and traveling the land. I have become almost addicted to touring. With over 4000 years of recorded history, there seems to be an almost infinite number of fascinating places to visit. Some places have Biblical connections. Some places are interesting because of
what happened during the British mandate, less than 100 years ago. Others are simply fun places to go. Many of of my travels will find their way into my blog. I hope you enjoy reading about them almost as much as I enjoyed visiting them.
So do I feel “Israeli” yet? Sort of. In some ways I will always carry traces of my origin. I will no doubt always long for skirts with decent hems. I doubt I will ever resign myself to dealing with workmen who do not clean up after themselves. I’ll probably never master the art of shoving through the crowd entering a bus.
My preference for felafel without French fries on top will always mark me as an American. That and my obvious American accent whenever I say a word.
But every day, I feel more at home in my new home.