For most people the new year starts on January 1st, but I get an extra week. Yes, the page in my calendar turns just like yours, but two years ago, on January 7th I began a whole new life. That's right! TWO YEARS AGO TODAY I made Aliyah to Eretz Israel.
Now, I've been on rollercoasters. I've even been on one that goes upside-down 8 times, but I'm telling you there is nothing like the ride of Aliyah. I've had ups higher than Mount Hermon, and downs lower than the Dead Sea. I've cried enough tears to replenish the shrinking Kineret (Sea of Galilee), and smiled brighter than the summer Tel Aviv sun. After two years of this ride, here are my 6 Don'ts of Aliyah:
1. Don't come here because it is going to be easy.
Like I just said, life as an olah chadasha (new immigrant) is a lot to handle. We zionists dream of coming to live in our Jewish homeland and build beautiful lives as a part of the peoplehood, and it all seems like this glorious, glowing concept. It is. But this is also a place on Earth and although this might be the land of milk and honey, life here cannot always be sweet. When you move to Israel you will be an immigrant. Being an immigrant is difficult. You are immersed fully in a new society, a new culture, and need to learn a new language.You need to find a place to live and a way to pay for it. You need to find a support system. You need to deal with the bureaucracy of the Israeli government system. You need to bring a lot of advil because you will have a lot of headaches and you need to bring a lot of tissues because you will cry a lot of tears. But don't let it stop you. You know you want to be here and build that life, even if it is challenging. It is your nature as a Jew to face that challenge to better your people.
2. Don't be afraid to ask for help.
Maybe it is because I was raised to be a strong, independent human, or maybe it is because I grew up in the modern-day United States, but for whatever reason I have always had the idea that being a successful person means being independent. In some ways that is true. It is important to be able to support yourself financially, take care of yourself, etc. However, if there is one lesson I've learned over the past two years in Israel it is that you will not make it if you do not ask for help. As I've already made plain and clear, this place is new and different from anything you're used to. You will need help navigating the healthcare system, opening your bank account, figuring out which shampoo to buy, and a whole slew of other things. You might have a rough month financially and need to borrow some money, you might be lost and need directions, or you might just need a hug. No matter what it is you need, ask for help. It is the Israeli way to help each other (even if we are yelling while we do it). The way it works is someone helps you when you need it because when they need it you will help them too. It's the only way we survive.
3. Don't feel bad about how bad your Hebrew is. (But don't stop trying.)
In my (humble) opinion, one of the hardest things about immigrating is learning a whole new language. I see olim (immigrants) who came from Israeli families or learned Hebrew growing up and I am completely jealous. They are totally cheating! Hebrew is really complicated. Objects have genders, they have five verbs for every single action, and everything appears to be an exception. We should all just quit, right? WRONG. It will come, (super) slowly, but surely. But you need to try. When you are shopping, speak to the store workers in Hebrew. When you are eating at a restaurant, order in Hebrew. When you are at Misrad Hapanim, try to fill out as much as the form as you can before you ask someone else to do it for you. And when that frechah (guidette) American Eagle worker rolls her eyes at you and says "Em, you know you can speak English to me?", just smile and say "beseder" as you continue to break your teeth.
4. Don't get stuck in the olim bubble (or for Anglos, the Anglo bubble).
Don't get me wrong; it is totally nice to not have to speak a word of Hebrew every now and again, but one mistake I see a lot of olim making is building their community entirely around olim and olim-centric activities. I know; it's so easy. You go straight to an Ulpan with 100 other olim and BAM! You have a pseudo family for the rest of your Israeli life. Who am I to judge? This totally works for literally thousands of olim. But in my (humble, as usual) opinion, you will miss out on so much that life in Israel has to offer if you don't take time to really bond with native Israelis and other people. Not only do they know where to find the actual "best hummus ever", they can shed a lot of light on why Israel is the way it is. Observing and learning the way they move through life here and the attitude they've developed from being raised here is really helpful in your development as an Israeli. After all, you didn't make Aliyah to not be Israeli, right?
5. Don't resist new ways to "be a Jew" or "be Jewish".
Confession: I literally had no idea what Sephardic Jews were or that they even existed before I came to Israel. I'm super embarrassed to admit that, but it is totally true. Everyone comes from their different "Jewish world" and Israel is the place where all these world's collide. It can feel like betrayal to learn you prefer new or different customs from the ones you were raised with, but it shouldn't. This is part of the beauty of both Judaism and Israel. All of our customs are literally based on people's debates, thus there is no correct answer. The question of "who is a Jew?" is one of the hottest, and by that I mean heated, debates in the Jewish world and in Israel. As you meet new people (Jews) from all over the world, with all kinds of ethnic backgrounds and religious customs, let yourself experience some of these new things. You don't have to change your ways, but you are totally limiting yourself from really developing as a member of the Jewish people if you close yourself off to all they have to offer.
6. Don't stop exploring Israel.
Another embarrassing confession: I lived 19 years of my life in California and I have never been to Yosemite. When you live somewhere it is very common to stop exploring. You establish your life and your routine, you have your home and your community, and it is comfortable and feels good. But just because Israel becomes normalized for you doesn't mean all of its magic disappeared. Israel might be a tiny country but there are dozens of trails to be hiked, museums to be toured, towns to be visited, and hummus to try. It will forever be the beautiful land of adventures and discovery you initially fell in love with. You just have to let it.
So as we say here in Israel, b'hatz'lcha. Good luck. Ha kol ihiyeh beseder. Everything will be ok.