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.

Snow responsibly: Extreme Weather Guide for Israelis 2015

It’s (become) the most wonderful time of the year: snow in Israel! Going strong three years in a row (thanks, climate oddities). Predictions are that the coming snowstorm this Wednesday will be pretty intense, though possibly less than last year.

So, yeah, my kids totally think ‘mageya la’hem’ snow. Can’t blame them.

Nothing makes me prouder of my North American origins than an Israeli snow day. Finally, finally, I know what the fuck I’m on about.

Leggings under your outer pants? Amateur hour.

Two pairs of gloves – thin clothy kind under, bulky thinsulate kind over? Of course.

Plastic bags over your socks, rubber bands around your ankles? Obviously.

Digging out your beach boogie board for sledding? That’s just survival of the fittest.

Happen to own a pair of snow-protective Merrells because I liked them and they were on sale in New York in March and I’ve worn them inappropriately for four years in the Middle East but now I’m forever prepared with dry warm feet? Extra credit.

Here are a few more Israel-specific tips we learned from last year:

  • Now – like, right now – turn on your yunkers (centrally-heated radiators), if you have them, even on low… it will warm your home enough that you will definitely feel a difference if (when) the power goes out.
  • Keep your cell phone charging whenever you have power for the times that you won’t. Note, 3G will probably go too.
  • Similarly, keep your laptop charged so you can use it as a backup charging station for your phone.
  • Close your trisim (hard window shades), at least overnight, to keep warmth in.
  • Prep alternative methods of cooking – if you don’t have a gas stove, consider getting a gaziya/prepping yours with a full gas balloon. One reason, really: coffee.

What other things you need to have on hand, in order of importance:

  • Milk
  • Chocolate
  • Milk
  • Gloves, boots, hats
  • Plastic bags and rubber bands
  • Flashlights, batteries
  • Candles, matches
  • Fun neighbors
  • Entertainment
  • BAKING SUPPLIES. That should have been after milk. (Sorry, neighbors).

What you need to NOT DO AT ALL COSTS:

  • Pour boiling water (or water of any kind) on the ice in your driveway/street/shared outdoor spaces.
  • I will repeat that: DO NOT POUR WATER ON ICE TO MELT IT.
  • Do. Not. Pour. Hot. Water. On. Ice. To. Melt. It.

Enjoy it! We’re pumped. Have fun. Share your pics. Rub it in your Tel Aviv friends’ faces.

And remember, neighbors: snow responsibly.

52Frames: Self Portrait

Week 1: Self Portrait

Challenge Accepted
Hi. I’m Liz.

2014 was an intense year. I was pregnant with my 3rd kid. I left my work-from-home job the last month of pregnancy. I birthed to my kickass daughter. Took her on a job interview. Started a new job the same week a war started. Became Marketing Director at a startup. Began getting dressed in the morning to arrive at an office.

Managed to make it to 2015 juggling my huz, my 3 kids, new job, community, blog, everything else I make work and…. 52 Frames. Somehow, I never missed a week.


Nettles update: Nine months

You are a force.

Barring, well, physics, you are unstoppable.

The world is your jungle gym. You will claw and climb until you get there (by the way, ouch, get your nails cut).

I couldn’t figure out what was missing – your siblings had a coffee table to learn how to stand up with. We long ditched it, so now there’s not much. Except there is, because I in the last week, I’ve found you’ve figured it out.

So today I caught you like this: (“Oh, that’s a walker?”)

“Ma!!! Ma what are these things in the bath?!?!”

A couple Fridays ago we enjoyed The Great Onion Discovery.

You mangled your prize.

You’ll play along with the rest of them… As long as you’re involved in what’s going on, you’re content.

Especially when it involves mangling.

And, if I haven’t made it clear, you move too fast to be photographed.



Tzur Hadassah update: small town, big plans, lots of drama

Oh, hi. To say it’s ‘been a while’ is an understatement. Yes, I still live in Tzur Hadassah. Yes, I’m still the mayor (what?).

To say ‘a lot’ has been going on here is an understatement, and also, an overstatement, because let’s face it – we are still a small town and content to sit and wonder if that proposed gym will really open or not (no. UPDATE: yes!).

But there has been much talk on several topics, so here is a breakdown.

1. Tzur Hadassah is being annexed by Jerusalem (!!!?!?!!)

Here I am, all ready to start making protest signs out of ‘saki kaki’. The word spread around a few months ago that an evil plan has been hatched by Jerusalem (ahem, Nir Barkat?) to annex Tzur Hadassah for secular votes. Maybe a potential 3,000 votes to save a city so far gone. Or maybe it is to gain a double-digit arnona tax increase for a city so far gone. It seems laughable. Except that, well, maybe it would happen and it isn’t funny.

(And not so laughable when you see #2 below).

Oh how we get screwed, let me count the ways:

  1. No one will pay for anything we need anymore – like roads between us and Jerusalem – being fixed, never mind being built.
  2. This does zero for us. There are no benefits for us being considered a suburb of Jerusalem. Except maybe some kind of club card.
  3. Seriously, the arnona is high enough. We are suburbia. We moved out of Jerusalem for a reason.
  4. Politically this makes me want to vomit. Politically I have a hard time with being considered Jerusalem.
  5. Who you callin’ a pawn?

We were assured by Matte Yehuda Regional Counsel leader Moshe Dadon, our current ‘owner’, that he’d never let that happen. Unless he gets to drop his most expensive asset onto someone to make his numbers look better?

I don’t know who to believe anymore but I know that being flippant about it is totally keeping me calm for the time being.

 2. They’re gonna turn Tzur Hadassah into a GIANT METROPOLIS

This has been a rumor/plan/thorn for a while. Tzur Hadassah: the Modiin of the Jerusalem Hills (with character).

The plan, 15 years ago, was that Tzur Hadassah would eventually be developed as a 20,000-unit mega-town/minor city, eventually reaching 100,000 residents, independent of a regional counsel. Think Beitar Illit and grander.

It keeps being brought up, and subsequently fought, by our Va’ad. Apparently where it stands now is that the town should be no more than 20,000 residents (as opposed to units). It’s even an official national plan – תמ”א 35. This is still hella more than we have now – which is lower single digits.

This was also not in my personal game plan, and for years we have been having a town-level conversation about the small-town character we all bought in to. Unfortunately, we may not have much choice here. The 20,000 residents part is coming into effect.

As our Va’ad head, Shlomo Magnezi, said himself in the bulletin where I got this info (translated) –

“In both cases (#1 and #2), residents of the community and its representatives do not share the decision-making process, which is done in the dark and does not reflect the planning and democratic decision-making.”

3. Another construction site in the forest between Tzur Hadassah and Beitar Illit

There are another 1,000 units planned for the forest area between Tzur Hadassah and Beitar Illit, presumably on the Tzur side of the machsom (checkpoint), presumably yet another corner of the land encroaching on Wadi Fukin, the tiny Arab farming village in the valley between the two towns.

(Note: Tzur Hadassah is within the Green Line).

The Va’ad and environmental groups are very much against this move, but it seems it is already in the works on a national level. Not shocking, and very disappointing.

What I have heard recently is this is slated for a specific demographic – namely, people who served in the army or got their degree – something to that effect. I assume to combat the inevitable outlook that this is just a way for Beitar Illit hopefuls to gain property close enough.


On top of all that is the 1500-unit plan that’s been fought about for years – the Makbat housing plan west of Mavo Beitar, across the road from Tzur Hadassah. This is completely unorganized, taking into account not traffic needs, nor traffic dangers, nor lack of resources for such a population increase, nor the marketing of these units as idea for, let’s just say, Beitar Illit hopefuls, who are increasingly locked out of the charedi utopia which can’t build fast enough and because of demand, awards applications for housing ownership based on lottery.

In fact, there is a potential housing grab here ripe for conflict. While we’d like to think we can all get along, it seems fairly clear based on, oh, Jerusalem, that this just is not the case in practice. The quiet towns of the ‘mazleg’ region of the Jerusalem Hills operate very well – personally, I’d include Beitar Illit in this equation – we are friendly, we are peaceful, we are live and let live because for the most part, no one is trying to force anyone else into a lifestyle.

5. Advertising of all these units

Maybe this isn’t PC, I don’t know. But I’m not a huge fan of the way new housing units are being advertised – namely within and to the Gush Etsion communities.

I always told people who asked about Tzur Hadassah – if you’re considering between Tzur and a Gush Etsion town, you probably don’t understand the lifestyle and character of Tzur Hadassah.

It’s bad enough a lot of people assume it’s a ‘settlement’ over the Green Line.

We are so so proud to be apolitical, pluralistic, relaxed, laid back, non-denominational, mostly non-religious-in-nature town. We do respect each other, even if some of us don’t agree with others of us sending to the Chabad gan or using the mikva. And others of us understand the source of that disagreement fully, even if we do it.

People here generally don’t want to feel like they can’t be who they are, comfortably, out in the open. People here are generally comfortable being non-inflammatory, being open minded with each other, being totally different on the outside, cherishing particular values on the inside.

Maybe when I say ‘people’ I mean me. And my circle. But that’s the character of this place I cherish. That’s why ads catering to a certain kind of family make me think twice about what’s going on and where we are going.

I know change is a part of life. And change moves at an even faster pace here in Israel. And people need to live somewhere.

But it’s still hard to watch forests go down, even knowing they went down for me to. And it’s hard to know the fate of your town is not in your hands, and not even in your representatives’ hands because the state is controlling it. Especially the demographics, different than your own, to who it markets.

Perhaps the next post I write will be a positive look at how we’ve grown – at our desired pace – and what’s to come for us on a small town-level.

Please, if you have more info, or notice an inaccuracy here, let me know and I will fix. This is based on correspondence by the Va’ad, past conversations with people considered ‘in the know’, and what I’ve seen.