My 25th Aliyah-versary

Today is my 25th Aliyah-versary. On this day, 25 years ago, I “made Aliyah”, in other words, immigrated to Israel with my family.

I was five. The first thing I remember was the hot blazing sun and the oppressive heat outside the terminal of Ben-Gurion airport. Over the next years, I got used to the heat and humidity of the Israeli coast, although in the past six years, I’ve upgraded myself to the better and cooler standards of Jerusalem.

 My grandfather who was living in Israel met us at the airport and as a grandfather meeting his grandchildren for the second (in my case) or first (in my younger sister’s case) time, he gave us gifts. I got a large teddy bear named Menachem, which I keep to this day (although not in bed anymore…).

We then took a taxi to Tel-Aviv to where we were to stay for the next few months- the Beit Milman “Merkaz Klita” (absorption center). A “Merkaz Klita” is probably an establishment unique to Israel. Its aim is to help new Jewish immigrants adapt to their new country. It provides living accommodations as well as Hebrew classes for grown-ups until the families are able to find their own place to live in, new jobs and new schools. Beit Milman now serves as dorms for the students at Tel-Aviv University.

As far as I remember, Beit Milman had approximately six floors of apartments for immigrants, and underneath those, there was a floor for laundry, a floor for “Ulpan”, where the grown-ups went for Hebrew classes. The ground floor had a lobby, where we could find pay-phones and outside there were shops.

Our apartment had one bedroom, where my sister and I slept (I almost phrased that “where I slept with my sister”, but then decided that that sounds totally inappropriate…), a living room-kitchen, where my parents slept, one bathroom and a balcony, where my sister and I spent long afternoons covering the wall with drawings in colored chalk. I don’t remember the cockroaches, but my mother claims that there were more of them than us.

That was where I received my first Lego sets, they were race cars, and I began a lifelong infatuation with those bumpy, colored bricks.

It took six months for my parents to find us an apartment to live in and for my father to find a job. During that time I started going to kindergarten. It was hard finding friends because of the language barrier. Young children don’t go to “Ulpan”. They’re expected to pick the language up on their own. In those few months in kindergarten in Tel-Aviv I had one friend. His name was Sassi and I’m pretty sure our parents “set us up”. I would go to play with him at his home in the afternoons and we would somehow get along without understanding each other. In kindergarten it was harder, because I had to compete with his older friend Meir, whom he usually played with. There was another American family living in Beit Milman, whose oldest son was my sister’s age. They became our only friends in the building.

I remember one night when my sister and I grilled our parents for new words in Hebrew. We went through a bunch of vegetables, trying to learn new words, until they yelled at us to go to sleep already. Another time, my 2 and a half year old sister told my parents proudly that she had learnt the Hebrew word for bread. It was “Brread”, she declared, with a Hebrew R (the real word for bread is Lechem).

After six months, we finally moved to Ra’anana, a town north of Tel-Aviv, which now has approximately 80,000 residents. The other American family from Beit Milman had moved to the building next door. We had to say goodbye again to our few friends left in Tel-Aviv and start all over again in a new place. But it was a huge step up for us, moving from a one bedroom apartment to a 4.5 bedroom apartment. I got my own room, where I slowly started building an entire city of Lego on the floor (which had to be demolished a few years later when my younger brother was born). Ra’anana also had a large English speaking community, which made things much easier for us.

 I went to a new kindergarten and the next year to a new school, where I started learning Hebrew with the help of my friend Gilad, whose parents are American. While the other kids learnt to read and write, I learnt to read, write and speak. I now speak Hebrew on a slightly higher level than most “Tzabars” (sabra, the prickly cactus fruit, is the term used to describe Israeli-born Jews). Only other English speakers are able to pick up on a very slight American accent. In the long run, I’d say I turned out okay.

The hardest thing for families making “Aliyah”, besides adjusting to a new life and a new language, is leaving their friends and families behind. My only family in Israel is my paternal grandfather. My father’s family is very small, on account of the Holocaust and of both his parents being only children. My mother’s entire family lives in the US, and this blog started because of them. We see them occasionally, when we travel to the States and some family members visit us here, but not nearly often enough. In the 80’s when we came here it was harder. The main means of communication was mail. Not e-mail. International phone calls were still too expensive to make on a regular basis. So the new technology, e-mails, Skype and Facebook definitely help.

In the 80’s it was also hard to find many products that we were used to from the States. Many products could only be found once a year when the local supermarket had an “American week” sale. Today, with the boycott by many companies, such as McDonald’s and Coca Cola, against Israel over, there is almost nothing you can’t find here. There are some products which are glaringly missing from the mainstream supermarkets such as zip locks (which for some reason haven’t caught on here), real maple syrup (which is frightfully expensive) and berries (which are sold in tiny baskets in very few supermarkets for a small fortune). On the berry front, berry-picking tourism is starting to become popular here. My wife and I went with a few friends two weeks ago to pick berries in celebration of her birthday. We came back with 2 kilos (!) of berries (=4.4 pounds), of which we consumed about half. We made ice cream and liquor and froze the rest for later. We might go again soon.

We came back with four of these baskets.

We came back with four of these baskets.

But despite the early difficulties, Israel is my home. I believe it to be the home of the Jewish people, where Jews can live safely and freely, and there is nowhere else I’d rather live.

So Happy 25th Aliyah-versary to us!

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