On casting my lot: 10 life lessons about making aliyah, after a decade in Israel

I arrived here ten years ago today.

Ten years in Israel. A decade living here, a decade not living anywhere else.

A few years back, I shed the term ‘aliyah’ from my personal experience vocabulary. It wasn’t a conscious decision but it slowly crept through as I realized living here and making it here is way more than ‘aliyah’ as the word has come to be packaged and sold.

But I’m breaking out the a-word for this list I deserve to write after a decade of making it in Israel. For the pride I feel as a successful American expat, as a successful implant into the place I know as home.

Am I assuming I know so much and have so much wisdom to impart? Yes.

Or, as my Israeli persona might say it, pashut mageya li.

Ten Life Tips for Making It in Israel (according to me):

1. Dream big but manage expectations

In 2004, you know what I wanted to be when I’d grow up? Some sort of political savior, the bringer of peace and light, a lone voice of reason in the Middle East.

In 2015, you know what I want to be when I grow up? A seeing eye dog trainer.

Wanting to be a part of change in the world got me part of the way here. It wasn’t the only thing that got me here – adventure, ideology, travel, leaving home, the potential to build my adult life a little differently. A healthy dose of idealism is a good thing. A healthy dose of realism is a very good thing.

As long as it’s healthy, hold on to your idealism loosely enough to still realize you’re going to be taking buses and paying taxes on a daily basis.

2. It’s easier if you’re easygoing

Keep your options open. This is probably a piece of advice new olim get a lot and ignore the most. Or not, but I’ve definitely seen it around me over the years. People who are stuck on an idea, stuck to a career path, stuck to lifelong notions of what living in Israel means. Stuck to who they were, stuck to who they thought they’d be by now. Stuck to assumptions made by the time they were filling in immigration application forms.

It’s not just ‘life is more easygoing in the Middle East’ or some Mediterranean culture thing. It’s about making a big move in life and throwing as much flexibility at it as you can handle. Discomfort outside the box means you’re doing something right!

3. Let go of pride

It’s a tough one, even on the best of days. I had pride problems long before I moved to another country where just about everything is done differently. If we can master this one, we can have a great time getting through the everyday challenges of being a new immigrant. Learn from everyone. Learn from the old ladies at the bus stop. Learn from the sabra kids.

And speaking of hurt pride…

4. Speak Hebrew. Speak more Hebrew. Even on your worst Hebrew days.

Ten years in I still have bad Hebrew days. Like, really really bad Hebrew days. Like I’m not that hot to trot on a typical day – I’ll always sound like an immigrant – but there are those days you’re on the phone with some customer service rep and you’ll hear the wrong tense or male/female mistakes coming out of your mouth – really 101 stuff – and think, wtf?!

Blame the parenting exhaustion, blame the lack of TV, blame the circle of friends I keep.

I have this rule. The only professional I am allowed to ask to speak in English with is a medical one. And even there, I don’t use it all the time. For instance, I gave birth to my first and third kids in Hebrew.

But it happens. And even when I’m so fucking exhausted because the baby hasn’t slept in a week and we’re sitting at the doctor and I’m begging the Universe to just have him switch to English to relieve me of my personal hell, well… he doesn’t. And I keep going.

5. Come with a viable career path or create one

The last job I had in the States – after my university stints in journalism and activism – was totally utilitarian. Its purpose was to get me cash to get me as far as I could paying rent in Jerusalem. I was an English and Political Science major in university, and I had no freakin clue what my next job would be if I were to remain in the States. In fact, I hadn’t even given it a thought. I was going to be a political wunderkind in Israel, remember?

But I got here, and after arousing from a 6 month haze, I started job searching for real. I spent a month chipping away at job boards and submitting cvs every day. A few interviews. Then I threw my cv into the wind and I got super, but incredibly, but insanely lucky with the job I landed.

Funny thing – I was hired because of the journalism experience, as a… marketing manager at a startup.

I had no clue about startups. I was supposed to save the whales. I thought I was selling out. I thought I had no clue about marketing. But I was wrong – my timing was great for getting involved in online marketing, where the spirit of a college activist can really take flight in the hi tech world. And gaining these skills sets me on a path to help my causes in other ways, in my spare time and my current job.

Ten years later, I’m still here with a career. I got insanely lucky with the opportunity but see #2 above.

6. Not everyone is out to get you (or, complain but then stop complaining)

Ah, immigrant life. So much to laugh about. So much to scream about.

Israel – what a country, huh?!

Laugh, cry, tell jokes, complain once in a while… just don’t overdo it. It’ll eat you up. I see threads in anglo groups on Facebook bitching out living here and I think, really? You’re going to let it eat you up?

People are people. Maybe it’s because I come from NYC. Everyone is out to get you, no one is out to get you. There are assholes taking advantage of people every where in the world.

Some people here try to take advantage of you. Some people elsewhere try, too. And most people are just looking out for #1 – including, well, me and you.

Have a sigh, have a laugh, have a cry and move on.

7. It’s not really only ‘making aliyah'; it’s also becoming an expat

Every immigrant has multiple personalities. You have your native one while in your native country, you have your immigrant one in your new country. You have your ‘Old Country’ one while hanging with your buddies from the Old Country in your new country.

Embrace it. We get to be a lot of things to different people. We are by default somewhat worldly. We have a level of life experience.

When all those taxi drivers ask why the hell you moved here when you’re from New York, for instance, they have no clue. You had another life. You have reasons. You have dreams. Proudly answer him. Represent your whole identity.

8. Be true to yourself: don’t lose yourself but lose yourself a little bit

I like to joke, except I’m not joking, that in English, I’m Liz, in my 30s, with a couple university degrees and world travel behind me, with life experience, with an opinion to share. In Hebrew, I’m Elisheva, a five-year-old in kindergarten who needs speech therapy.

But over the years, overcoming my pride, I’ve learned to embrace it. It is what it is. I am worth more than the quality of my second language, of my lack of native childhood, of my working hard to make it work here.

There’s a lot to me. I’m ok with all those sides. I’m not going to be anything that I’m not – I’m not gonna fake it, pretend I can roll my resh (huuuge pet peeve and I’m not alone here), be more sassy than I am, blow up at people because I’m trying to be ‘Israeli.’

I know many shy, quiet Israelis, by the way.

Be yourself. Sometimes, be a spicy version of yourself. Enjoy yourself. Let other people enjoy who you are.

9. Maintain various immigrant lifelines

Build friendships with all kinds of people, but speaking of the immigrant community specifically, all kinds of other immigrants. Have a few vatikim in your pocket, ranging from ‘got here last year’ to ‘got here five years ago’ to ‘holy crap how many wars have you lived through?!’

Ask, take and give advice. When you’ve been here long enough, be the vatik to a good number of off-the-boats.

10. Take it one fucking day at a time

To my fellow expats, my fellow olim, my fellow vatikim – how awesome is this? How insane are we, to pick up and travel somewhere and label it home? To go in the way that many many humans have throughout history? To live where we choose to live? To defy our birth country, our mother tongue?

We all have something in common, we made a choice to take a chance. And it may work out for you and me – and may not work out for either of us, whether after a year, five, ten or 50.

We’re all mad here – we’re all laughing till we cry, crying till we laugh, rolling our eyes at how corrupt our government is, trying to be heard, trying to make a decent living wage, balking at the price of cottage cheese one day, praising our tight-knit relationship to the cab driver the next. We’re angry, we’re ecstatic, we’re depressed. We’re running to bomb shelters, we’re dancing in public streets holding a Torah.

We’re now Israeli. We were something else. But each of us, one way or another, have cast our lot with this crazy place, the gathering of the Jewish people, Israel.

Those 3 dreaded words: work life balance

Waldorf Astoria bathroom selfieHow is it natural to go from a 6-month-old clawing at your neck while laughing in your face all day, and then at 5pm switching to wearing suitable Waldorf Astoria clothing, packing business cards into your clutch and smiling like you haven’t been waking up every two hours for the last few nights?

It’s not. It’s not natural. There’s no way. The trick is to not give up on yourself while trying to make it seem natural.

Or the trick is to get as many cute cheeky naked butt shots of the 6-month-old before you have to leave for the evening. The trick is not to think too hard that you haven’t seen the other kids since 8am and won’t see them before they go to bed tonight.

The trick is to not feel weird about leaving the house every day with diapers stuffed next to your work laptop. Or to ignore that it’s a shame you’re sweating through your nice work clothes as you race back and forth between ballet and soccer practice.

One day I’ll come back here and explain to you how I did it.

First I gotta figure out how I’m going to do it.

 

 

Women, workplace, wages, BEYONCÉ.

A solution to the gender wage gap

Something I’m learning: getting ‘older’ professionally exposes me to considering more often the ‘women in professional situations’ issues.

Here are a few things I’m thinking about today:

When Women Manage Men Who Don’t Respect Women

Kinda surprised this went on that far; then again, I’m also totally not surprised. Her line of thinking seems familiar to me.  I’m sure a lot of that is personality. But we’ve all been programmed by society in some way.

John Oliver on the Gender Pay Gap

John Oliver decimates and hilarifies the American gender pay gap issue. As John Oliver does. I’ll admit, this is not something I think about much. I try to focus on my own deal, there are a lot of female workplace gripes to be had. But when you put it like this…

Beyoncé‘s business genius by the numbers

And, finally, well… Beyoncé. Though Beyoncé gives me mixed messages about how I should feel about Beyoncé.

 

UPDATE: Somehow I missed The Daily Show’s Jessica Williams exploring sexism in the city…

*Sandberg!* and other things I got from work this week.

Self-Portrait. I call it, ‘Keeping Shit Together’

>clink!<

Here’s to my first full out-of-the-home work week (ok, 80% out-of-the-home) in three years.

Do I have observations? Yes, I have observations. Somewhere. Probably. Behind my droopy eyelids. Under the piles and piles of house mess I’m responsible for.

Obviously, there are pros and cons of working from home and working from an office.

But it’s the latter that’s made me go, Sandberg! .at least three or four times a day.

Sandberg, as in Sheryl Sandberg. Goddess of Facebook. Leader of Lean In. Mother of… at least one.

Sandberg.

Let’s take pumping. If breastfeeding is a beautiful, natural, most basic act of a mother sustaining her child, pumping is the ‘do I look like a cow in this?’ version.

Yes, honey, you look like a cow with two plastic cups at your breasts squeezing every drop of a substance that falls under the category of ‘bodily fluid’ into a container with bright yellow milliliter markings up the side.

Then you’re meant to button up, get back to your desk and analyze TPS reports.

Sandberg!

And in some cases, you may, uh, be doing that in an executive office.

That isn’t your own.

HowEVER, Sheryl (and Marissa, for that matter) – you never mentioned the commute! Well, not the traffic part or the crazy drivers. But the QUIET. The sweet sweet sound of silence in the form of engine revving and wheels rotating and you know what? I don’t even know what else goes on because in my head, there are just trees blowing in the wind and beautiful blue skies overhead and the occasional cussing out the guy in front of me, but even that is adult conversation.

I will say this for Sandberg… I may not have your money or stature, but at least I have a family-friendly culture backing me. And some decent female role models to talk to, within a relative arm’s reach.

It’s going to be hectic and insane and every breath seems as delicate as a spiderweb cliche, holding everything together. For now. (Until I think of a better cliche).

I hope your American female colleagues can say the same soon enough.

Welcome to the wartime TMI challenge

Is there a word for the despair one feels at no longer knowing who or what to believe?

It gets worse with every conflict: social media. A platform initially designed for sharing college memories and life milestones became a place for arresting my sense of truth.

Over the years, I’ve come to follow more and more people with worldviews and backgrounds that drastically differ from mine. I like it; it keeps me centered. It makes me feel just uncomfortable enough to keep on my toes, just insecure enough that I’m constantly sharpening my own truth.

At the beginning of this latest Gaza conflict I ditched traditional news sources, opting for scanning headlines with an occasional click, and instead followed dozens of new people on social media: Gazans, Arabs from around the world, journalists from a spectrum of news sources (mostly based in Gaza), and others. I had already been following extreme right and left wing Israeli voices for years.

Problem #1: It turns out, when you’re reading everything with a grain of salt, you end up absorbing some pretty bad-tasting discomfort.

The discomfort has turned into pain over the last weeks. And its sting gets sharper as I’ve watched a sudden rise in non-political friends fill my Facebook newsfeed with urgent, sensationalist, pleading headline after headline after headline (which I made a policy a couple weeks back to never ever click).

Problem #2: Everyone is sharing the same thing, regurgitating it to the same audience.

And people get fed their own homegrown-grade of bombastic propaganda. There seems to be no place to go to seek facts if you are following remotely. We can’t trust anyone else, so we can only continue to share our own hearsay.

Problem #3: Everything… but everything… sounds like propaganda now.

Every time I open Twitter – which is less often these days – I’m greeted with DEAD CHILDREN and antisemitic cartoons and RIGHT TO DEFEND ITSELF and NOWHERE TO GO and digit-heavy infographics and HUMAN SHIELDS and so on.

And no matter how much of a basis in truth and experience and fact each piece of content contains, whether you’d tag it ‘pro-Israel’ or ‘pro-Gazan’ or ‘pro-human’, the wrapping and the sharing and the repeating ends up downgrading its meaning.

A lot of talking, less listening.

I can only imagine how all this leads to misunderstandings of other realities for people not actively seeking truths outside their own.

Clearly, I asked for it. Maybe I’m listening too hard. And clearly, I live one of many many angles of truth here. So when seeking understanding of other truths, how far do I go? How sick do I make myself in the process? How morally compromised do I become? How depressed do I let it make me? The actions taken to erase my name, the actions taken in my name to save my name, the danger, the sadness, the collateral damage, the short term strategy, the long term goals…

Problem #4: Because each of our experiences is by definition one-of-a-kind, every person reading this will read it differently, to his/her own tune, to his/her own meaning.

Are we ever really hearing each other then?

All I have left to say is… if being a member of a population at war doesn’t enable me to learn anything new, to think harder, I consider myself a failed human.

What we can learn about the ‘innocence of children’ from Goodnight Moon

So here’s something. I received a link to the following article today (thanks cuz); a submission to the New York Times Draft blog for writers.

What Writers Can Learn From ‘Goodnight Moon’

Though I was certainly an English major, I’ve actually never, believe it or not, fully analysed an entire critique of Goodnight Moon before. And this piece, focused on writing technique, spoke to me as a writer – there are definitely interesting technique takeaways in there.

But today specifically, I took something else away too. It had actually already been on my mind. And that related to the perceived ‘innocence’ of children.

Here’s what the author, Aimee Bender, has to say about the way Goodnight Moon differs from other children’s books:

It works like a sonata of sorts, but, like a good version of the form, it does not follow a wholly predictable structure. Many children’s books do, particularly for this age, as kids love repetition and the books supply it. They often end as we expect, with a circling back to the start, and a fun twist. This is satisfying but it can be forgettable.

This had me circling back to what I, quite literally, woke up to this morning: my five-year-old son showing us a drawing he made of a boy, perhaps himself, choosing shelter during a rocket attack.

With everything going on lately – in the world, downed planes, civil wars, massacres, and at home, rockets, air strikes, terrorist kibbutz plots, collateral damage – I’ve been wondering lately how much innocence really is lost from children. How much innocence they have in the first place.

Are children as innocent as we assume, and if not, should we be pretending so?

Around the world, millions of children lose their innocence a lot earlier than say, middle class Western kids. And that includes plenty of American kids who are homeless, poor, hungry, and trapped in a devastating lifestyle.

How much innocence is there, really? Is it, say, a shelter of sorts, from an eventuality? Is it the lucky few who even get to experience the so-called innocence?

Is it our own regret at reaching the threshold of adulthood, passing through it, and forever exposing ourselves to the world we’ve actually been living in the whole time?

Back to Goodnight Moon. What always bugged me about it is that it’s not smooth. It’s not neat. The author lays out the room, and then goes on with the goodnight chant, which is perfectly natural, but the contents of the chant don’t match up. The pages aren’t parallel.

What a surprise, then, to find that there is a blank page with “Goodnight nobody” out of nowhere, sharing a spread with “Goodnight mush.” What a surprise, then, that the story does not end with the old lady whispering “hush” but goes out the window into the night.

Goodnight Moon feels like it should be a tidy tale. It’s not – it’s bumpy. What you expect doesn’t actually happen.

Perhaps that is a piece of children’s literature that speaks truth to children who are supposedly ‘innocent’ or blank slates. In fact, a little bit of a bumpy ride might feel natural to a small child who hasn’t yet neatly summed up the world as good vs evil.

There’s been talk lately about how much to expose to our young kids, how far to go to protect their ‘innocence.’ I’m just not sure how much of that is a construct of the safe situations we were lucky to grow up in. In which, eventually, we too lost our innocence.

Kids, even living on the safest terms, don’t exist in a vacuum. And I reckon they’ve figured out long before we think they do that life isn’t a Disney movie. So what should we have them think in times of stress? When things get ‘real’?

If it’s real for us, surely it’s real for them?

What do you think?

War time in Israel

It’s different this time. I guess it’s always different. It’s different this time because I don’t have enough fingers to count how many people I know, by first or second degree, who are called up, serving or waiting to serve in Gaza.

And whereas in the past I figured the odds were too out there, I guess this time… it’s all just too close to home.

I don’t have a lot to say. The heart is heavy, the stomach is lead. The beep beep beeeep of the hourly news is louder than before. The prime minister sounds different.

We’re meant to go about our day, otherwise the terrorists win, but that is a really unnatural sensation.

We smile, we softly laugh. Occasionally, we lift our heads at the sound of a phantom siren. We hug our kids even tighter in the evening. We hear explosions from 90 minutes away. We go to work in the morning.

We read the names of the dead sons and really, there is no sigh of relief when you don’t recognize the name.

Because even though it’s not your own friend or brother or cousin or coworker… it’s someone else’s.

 

The facts about Gaza that we’re not saying

For the last few days I’ve had this lump in my throat, blocking me from saying something I feel but haven’t been able to articulate.

Do you know what I feel when the window’s been shut, the door is locked, and I’ve sat down on the floor of our safe room?

I feel incredibly lucky.

Lucky to have a roof over my head, lucky to have a government watching over my safety, as much as the means churn my guts. Lucky there are laws that buildings must be built with safe rooms now. Lucky that I can get to mine within single-digit seconds, let alone that I actually have 90 of them. Lucky that I know once the door is closed, chances are pretty much 100% – based on my location and building structure – that we will be totally fine.

It’s horrible that there are thousands of eighth and ninth graders in the south of Israel who have never known a different life than constant trauma. There are no words to adequately sum up that situation. It’s horrible they haven’t always been given proper support from our government – that they’ve had to push for it throughout the years. It’s horrible that things only get really serious when the rockets creep out towards the center.

Here’s the part I’m having the specific trouble with.

Israel – the entire Jewish world, in fact – is still pushing through a very low time. A roller coaster that ended up crashing after the highs and lows – when we found the bodies of the three kidnapped teens. We supposedly felt unified, we felt as one, we felt each other’s pain, and for just a few minutes, forgot the clothes we were wearing, the type of headgear we may or may not don, we let it go in order to cry together.

Then it got worse.

Our national pride – our infinite price on life – was stabbed right through its core, when at least three young individuals took an innocent Jerusalem Arab boy’s life in their hands, in a way unfathomable. We wrung our hands, we cried out in pain, we condemned and we distanced.

And now… now we’re combating Hamas in Gaza. Again. For the third time in six years. It’s complicated. Of course it’s complicated. In so many directions, it’s complicated. The rockets that are targeted over here, the rockets that are targeted over there. The history, the context, the instability.

The fact that to protect ourselves, we cause A LOT of collateral damage.

While I do believe the IDF embraces a military culture that tries harder than others to preserve life… to use intelligent targeting, to warn civilians – and I do believe Hamas puts its own people on the line to make its grisly point…

We’re just not acknowledging it enough. We are not ok with this. We are not ok with trying our best and it still causing loss of life. We must not be complacent about it. If “murder is murder is murder”, so too, life is life is life.

And as I watch the rocket reports happen live over social media among my peers – meaning those as lucky as I am, scattered across Israel, absorbing the terror and the sadness and the frustration in each individual’s own way – all I can think is, everything about this discussion is us, us, us.

Rockets explode over our homes. Debris is caught on Tel Aviv streets. Posting what we were doing when the siren sounded (again). Posting what our kids thought. Posting what other people should think. Posting with humor, a nationalistic characteristic to get through the pain. Posting repeated hasbara – what some might call, without irony, ‘truthful propaganda.’

Stats. Infographics. Diagrams of missiles. What the IDF is doing next. How much we all appreciate the Iron Dome technology. What we should be doing next. What we shouldn’t. What we feel. What we don’t feel.

I don’t think we have to take away from all of that – especially the stress and pain at watching our friends and family get called down to the front line – in order to recognize this next point.

Gazans… ordinary Gazans – who do exist – Gazans… have none of it.

No Iron Dome.

No government that actually cares truly to make their nation function.

No safe rooms.

No privacy.

The fact is… no matter what propaganda, theories, or the truth we don’t know yet dictates –

Innocents are dying.

But Hamas takes its own citizens hostage!

Children are dying.

But Hamas uses them as human shields!

But an entire people – yes, a group that lives together and dies together deserves to be called, and very much is, a people – an entire people is being tortured by multiple forces, pulling at them this way and that.

And I’m not saying we have to spend hours arguing over whose fault that is. I’m not saying it’s one way or another. I’m not trying to get into a political shit swamp because if I cared for that, I might post hasbara after hasbara after hasbara… on Twitter.

I’m saying in the name of our collective value for life, in the name of our fortunate circumstances that our leaders do care for our safety, in the name of existing as beings on this Earth,

that surely – surely – among the infographics, the op/eds, the ‘fuck you Hamas’, the hashtags, the rocket outcry – we ought to take a moment or two or million and grieve over what’s become of our, of their, humanity.