In the summer of 2003, our family participated in what reporters called a “mass exodus” of Jews that became a new immigrant wave of “Anglos” to Israel.
We were in the second year of that wave. My husband and I, our daughters, ages twelve, eight, six, and our five-year-old son landed at Ben Gurion International Airport after a ten-hour flight exhausted but ebullient, ready to start a new life as American Israelis. Two older children remained in New York.
That was more than 6,000 rockets, one war and who knows how many military operations ago, including the current counterterrorism Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. Sometimes people ask if we have had second thoughts about moving to a land “where bombs fall.”
Of course we do – but not because of the bombs, which come and go, although I admit that has made life challenging. My children have learned how to identify the safest room in the house, and I was finally able to convince them to clean up the basement. Thank you, Home Front Command!
We live in Arad, tucked away on a breathtaking ridge overlooking the hills of Moab, located halfway between the Dead Sea and Be’er Sheva in the northeastern corner of the Negev, close to the Judean Desert and the South Hebron Hills.
It’s a small town (population 26,000), less than an hour’s drive from the Grad rocket attacks that have recently graced the streets of some of Be’er Sheva’s central neighborhoods. By camel or donkey it would be slower (you can pick either up at the Bedouin souk, or open air market, any Thursday) – but as the missile flies, it would take only about fifteen seconds longer.
But culture shock has focused more on the mundane issues of day-to-day living, like microscopic salaries and swelled expenses. Things like having to pay the property tax on our rented house, because “that’s the way it is here.”
Trips to the bank or any government office, which can be considered a field trip to Mars. Take a book or bring your laptop. It’s easier. A good chess set might be helpful as well – you can make new friends.
Dealing with Middle Eastern logic. Example: our post office, which is undergoing renovations, believes in the motto, “Divide and conquer.” Regular mail service is being handled by tellers at a nearby hotel (I am not kidding) and shipping and package processing is still being handled in the original location. The hours are different, however, and change every day, according to the whim of the office manager. I have yet to figure out the pattern.
This kind of thing drives me mad.
And yet there are so many positive aspects to life here that the issues of security and sanity tried by Middle Eastern mentality, although serious, are dwarfed by comparison.
For instance, I have discovered that although it is impossible to argue with the Electric Company, you can shame them into cooperating by telling them that they don’t have a Jewish heart.The issues of security and sanity tried by Middle Eastern mentality, although serious, are dwarfed by comparison to the positive aspects of life here.
If my kids are stuck and the buses are no longer running, most of the cab drivers will take them home and hand me the bill later.
At the supermarket, the cashier not only informs you of the latest deals, but she is also likely to scold you if you don’t take the free second item on a 2-for-1 deal.
Health insurance is mandatory, nationalized and ridiculously inexpensive. We pay approximately $65.00 a month for the premium plan for our entire family.
A bigger benefit is the attitude toward health care: our clinic could not understand my reluctance to go to a holistic healer for a moxybustion treatment for my fibromyalgia. Persuaded, I was charged $18 for a one-hour treatment that included reflexology and aromatherapy massage of the affected areas.
There are other, less tangible benefits as well.
I still have no idea where I misplaced my front door key, but really it doesn’t matter because we rarely lock the door. My kids can go out at night, and I never worry about their safety.
The wadi (dry riverbed) behind my house preserves the path that our patriarch Abraham walked.
A half hour away, one can find an ancient synagogue and the archaeological remains of an entire abandoned Jewish town, similar to the story of Roanoke in Virginia. Nearby are caves and ruins on the site of the former village of Judah Iscariot.
Jewish holidays are really holidays here. The Sabbath is really a Sabbath, at least in most of the country, and everywhere people wish each other “Shabbat shalom” (A peaceful Sabbath).To be a Jew means to yearn for Israel.
On Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, the streets are filled with people, but also with a peace that I have never seen anywhere else in the world. Not one car on the road regardless of the level of Jewish observance in the community.
And then, of course, there is Jerusalem.
All Jews say at least twice a year in our prayers, “Next year in Jerusalem.” All my life my parents spoke of it, guided us toward it, and taught us that to be a Jew means to yearn for Israel.
It is a passion, a quiet thirst engraved onto our very chromosomes. Just as my heart warms every time I return to the U.S. and the passport control officer says, “Welcome home,” so too do my eyes fill whenever I manage to return to the Western Wall of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
This is where we belong.