This past Friday night I was invited to post- Shabbat- dinner drinks at a new friend’s apartment. It was a lovely evening, and at the end, a toast was raised to an attendee who was moving back to his home country after living in Israel for work for 2 years. As we wished him well on his return to his native land, the common refrain from the largely Anglo group was “You’re so lucky to be going back!” and “Wish I could do the same!” I stared around at the room, absolutely gobsmacked. Not one to be shy with my thoughts, I wondered aloud; “Are you guys still American citizens? Have you renounced your citizenship? Are you native Israelis? Why don’t you just go back, too?” I didn’t understand why, if leaving Israel was a desired and plausible option, everyone was still here!
The responses came from all sides, “How long have you been here?,” they wondered. I responded with, “I’ve been here since July 1, and I finished ulpan December 15th.” This response elicited knowing looks between those involved, as if to say, “Soon you’ll learn.” I was confused. All this time I had been hearing that the transition to Israeli life was most difficult at the beginning. It was hard to leave family and friends, difficult to find a job, a pain to navigate bureaucracy. And now, here I was hearing the exact opposite. That this was my honeymoon phase, where every day was rosy and Israel could do no wrong.
So which is it? Walking home, I thought about each perspective. On the one hand, I was very much honeymooning. I came to Israel on a wave of intense Zionism, buttressed by a long, thought- out aliyah process and many years of living in New York behind me. I knew that this was the life I wanted, smooth sailing or not. So I made a conscious decision not to “sweat the small stuff.” This stuff currently includes making a doctor’s appointment, (“We will have that doctor available in 2 weeks” Hope I last that long!) a broken couch (“Someone will be by to fix your couch in 24 days (!!!)” Is this real life? Three weeks on a broken couch?!) and finding a job (“We will let you know about continuing the interview process next Thursday” Oh, cool, I’ll just wait here on this broken couch, then.) And even though these frustrations would never exist back in the States, I signed up for them. I signed up for poor customer service and socialized medicine, offices closing for 5 days for no reason and a reasonable wage of 5 dollars an hour. Nothing is really freaking me out too bad just yet.
It makes me nervous to think that all this positivity and confidence I have in my life here might have an expiration date. It frightens me to think that maybe in a year, maybe two, I’ll be sitting across from some new oleh from New York City, she all bright- eyed and bushy- tailed, and I will express a desire to move “back home” to NYC. When I left New York, I had never made a more cautious and well- thought- out decision in my life. I went to informational seminars and had Skype meetings. I asked millions of questions and interviewed extensively. I was no recent high school graduate burning to start my life in Israel (not that those olim are not impressive, maybe even more so.) I was a woman with a Master’s degree and years of work experience, and entire family nearby and more friends than I deserved, yearning to make Israel my forever home. I made the decision with a full heart and yet this conversation has stuck with me.