This past week was spent settling into our new home. While we still have about 30 boxes to unpack, we finally have sofas to sit on, places to store our dishes, and even a semblance of organization in my children’s book and toy collection (though I doubt that will last long).
But, of course, I always have a problem – this time, it’s the oven again. In most Israeli kitchens, the stovetops and ovens are actually separate appliances. Oddly enough, our new apartment has a single unit oven with a stovetop, like those we used in America. (Well, other than the fact that Israeli ovens are significantly smaller and have nonsensical markings on the control dials – but I digress.)
We had purchased this oven from the previous tenants to avoid the hassle of delivering and installing a new unit. The only problem is we couldn’t get any of the burners on the stovetop to turn on.
Oh, how I miss American customer service. Perhaps it’s due to coronavirus, or maybe it’s always this way, but the advertised operating hours for the gas company appear to have be mere suggestions. Each time I called, I received a recording that the office was closed. After days of trying, I finally reached a customer service representative who insisted there was no problem with the gas and we should just keep trying to light the stovetop.
As I hung up, exasperated by another pointless call and no clear plan forward, I looked up to see my neighbor standing beside me. Now, here is one thing I love about Israel. Your family and friends may be thousands of miles away, but in Israel, you are never alone. Israelis, new and old, are always willing to step in and help.
This wonderful Israeli neighbor whom I had not met before, had overheard my conversation and offered to help me speak with the company. Of course, by the time the neighbor and I finished chatting, the gas company’s phone line was closed again. (Thankfully, when I finally successfully reached and convinced the gas company to send a technician, he was able to fix the problem with a literal flick of his wrist. As it turns out, the gas valve had been turned off prior to us moving in.)
Our most recent challenges have involved preparing my son for kita alef (1st grade). While school does not begin until September 1st, back-to-school preparation apparently begins in July. Beyond the list of school supplies, there is essential information we have gathered from olim vatikim (veteran olim) moms. For example, to socially fit into Israeli kita alef, you must have a knapsack on wheels – preferably made by Kal Gav. Any regular backpack would have my son sticking out like a sore thumb.
I also learned that beginning in kita alef, all students must wear shirts stamped with the school’s insignia. However, there is no specific type of color, material, or style of shirt that must be worn. You just take a shirt to a local clothing shop, and for five shekel you can get it stamped with the insignia of your school. It’s a shame we didn’t know this information before our aliyah as we would have stockpiled on solid shirts instead of the fun designs we brought.
And yes, there are other issues that arise that need a little more professional help to sort out. Here in Modi’in we have a wonderful Absorption Department, with olim coordinators that go above and beyond to help. In addition to helping us navigate the absorption bureaucracy, our coordinator has helped us with problems with mail delivery and even banking issues.
The most amazing part of it is that our coordinator reaches out to us every couple of weeks, just to check in on us. Who knew that you could get better customer service from the government than from the private sector?
A reader last week wrote to me concerned that I make living in Israel sound so hard that it may discourage others from moving. Admittedly, life here can be frustrating and confusing, but let me be clear: Despite everything, we are happy to be here. We are literally living out our dream and, with the support of our growing network, we are gaining a foothold here in Israel. Indeed, looking back at some of my earlier columns, I am amazed at how far we have already come.
Honestly, the aliyah experience may not be for everyone. But, if you choose to make the journey, be reassured that there is a support network of Israelis waiting for you. You already have my e-mail address. Be in touch. I am here to help.