It’s been two years and 18 columns since my first “aliyah diary” in this newspaper.
In the introductory column, written in Teaneck as our belongings were being loaded into a shipping container, I promised to “keep it real” in my dispatches from the Holy Land. I remember that every time I sit down to write.
Many of you have e-mailed to say that you enjoy reading our adventures as newcomers in Israel. I am gratified to know that. To me, the aliyah diary is not only a precious mode of communication but also a way to organize my thoughts and gain perspective on what has been a meaningful, challenging, joyous, and life-changing experience.
Here are some updates on topics I’ve written about.
I mentioned my husband’s second cousin, David Leichman, in my column published Aug. 31, 2007. After reading it online, David tracked us down and we have since gotten together a few times with him and his wife, Rabbi Miri Gold.
The two of them were the subject of my first “Veterans” feature for the Jerusalem Post’s Friday magazine. Since then, I’ve had the privilege of interviewing dozens of other fascinating and inspiring people, such as the children’s authors Uri Orlev and Yaffa Ganz; Esther Wachsman, mother of the kidnapped soldier murdered in 1994; pop diva Noa; and Jerusalem’s “bar mitzvah king,” Rabbi Jay Karzen.
Contacts at the Post led me to Israel21c.org, a site devoted to “beyond the conflict” articles on Israeli innovations in technology, science, culture, and philanthropy. The pieces I’ve written have filled me with awe for the people who populate this minuscule spot in the Middle East. From the 92-year-old inventor of the solar water heater systems that dot our roofs, to the myriad young entrepreneurs improving the world with original medical, agricultural, and energy-saving devices, my subjects have reinforced the realization that we have just one natural resource, and that is our ingenuity.
The unique incubator for this resource is the Israel Defense Forces.
I have learned that Israel’s military is our society’s primary social and professional glue. In large measure, olive-green fatigues mask the cultural and class differences of the street. All soldiers – be they office clerks, tank commanders, or wizened reservists – converse in an acronym-laced common language that bonds them together and excludes anyone who hasn’t worn an IDF uniform.
Soldiers often meet future spouses, business partners, and lifelong buddies during their compulsory service. Our daughter is not enamored of her human-resources position or the hot, dusty base where she is stationed. Nevertheless, she gives the army full credit for providing a milieu in which to polish her Hebrew and negotiating skills, make girlfriends from places and life situations she’d never otherwise have encountered, and cultivate a relationship with her beloved boyfriend, Charlie.
We have Charlie and his warm Sephardi family to thank for breaking us out of our Ashkenazi, English-speaking comfort zone – and we are richer for it.
I have written much about our struggles with speaking Hebrew. Although two years of living here and five months of ulpan have markedly improved our conversation and comprehension, Steve and I remain frustratingly far from fluent.
If I could do one thing differently – and offer one piece of advice to potential immigrants – it would be to work diligently on mastering Hebrew. One can get by here with minimal language skills, especially with the proliferation of English-language cultural and educational events. However, achieving full integration is possible only with articulate Hebrew.
That said, being an “Anglo” has its charms. Recently, for example, I took a routine medical test and asked the physician behind the desk if he knew English. The Argentinean native not only translated the results into my mother tongue but eagerly launched into a lengthy conversation, in rapid English, about politics and literature. Before I managed to slip out the door, he made me pledge to reread Philip Roth’s “The Plot Against America” and call him to discuss it in light of Obama’s presidency.
Our baby grandson is not ready to discuss anything at all, but he’s being raised in a bilingual environment – the best of both worlds.
And speaking of babies, many of you inquired concerning the neighbor’s cat, Hubie, and her three kittens born just before Passover. After two kittens were adopted by a family down the block, little Junior had Mom to herself until the recent appearance of a new threesome. Hubie had her second litter with uncanny timing: once again, with the neighbors on vacation, she gave birth in our backyard.
Not far from the nest of newborns, hundreds of still-green kumquats are starting to sprout. On the tree behind them, a lone pomegranate is growing. This regal red fruit, said to hold 613 nourishing seeds, ripens just in time for Rosh HaShanah and graces many a holiday table to remind celebrants of the Torah’s 613 laws.
To me, the seeds also represent the seemingly endless possibilities for the coming year. Sweet or sour, I hope to share them with you on these pages.