May we all be inscribed – Aliya Part VI

Rosh Hashana in Israel. Jewish holidays in Israel in general. To experience this, not as a tourist (which I only ever did once when I was 10 years old, and spent Succot in Israel with my family & grandparents), is extremely special.

Yes the shops are packed, and there are crowds everywhere. Yes you may have to wait hours at the bakery for sweet round challah. Yes, the kids will have barely any school for the next few weeks. But YES, this is because it is the Jewish new year! It’s not some holiday for some other religion, that has little to no affect on us, other than to be inconvenient because the supermarket is closed when I need to go. It’s for my holiday! The buses say “Shana Tova” (Happy New Year) on them. You call the electric/water/gas company to pay a bill and they wish you “Shana Tova” before getting off the phone. This is our country, this is our homeland, and this is our faith, practiced in the land given to our forefathers by God.

We have been in Israel for 6 weeks now. Our lift finally arrived, Baruch Hashem, a week ago. What felt like an empty vacation apartment has suddenly turned into our home, with our furniture, our dishes, our photographs, our books, my nail polish… The dog has her patio table to sit under again. The kids have their clothing, their toys, their special things. I have proper coffee mugs. We are truly at home now. Having the lift arrive so close to Rosh Hashana was in many ways a blessing, as it motivated us to get unpacked as quickly as possible. While we do still have some closed boxes (that don’t contain Pesach stuff), we are mostly unpacked, we have found everything we need (except that brand new box of kitchen glasses from Bed, Bath & Beyond – they’ll show up when we move again), and I have been cooking and (attempting to) baking for Yom Tov.

As the Day of Judgement approaches, and we each have our own demons to face, I’d like to say publicly that I have faced mine. The biggest demon in my life was my reluctance to return to Israel. It was something that followed me for 16 years. Like a voice whispering in my ear, every time the prayer for Israel was said in shul, every time a friend made aliya, every time a friend went on vacation to Israel, every time Israel was in the news, the voice saying “you know you want to be there.” And my own voice always over powering that voice and saying “No I do not. I’m right where I want to be.” It took many years for my voice to become the whisper, and for the other voice to become louder. And while I can’t explain what exactly changed, or why I suddenly felt “ready”, it certainly feels like a demon has been conquered.

Making aliya is not easy. Making aliya with a family is even more difficult. As positive as my posts have been since we arrived in Israel, I admit that it’s not easy. There are challenges that you can’t imagine before you arrive, even if you think you know about them. I just listened to the community panel from the Boca Raton Synagogue from last Saturday night, about aliya , and it resonated with me. Even if you do speak good Hebrew (I do), you won’t understand how things work. Even if you have lived here before (I have), don’t expect to jump right in where you left off. Even if your kids are excited to be here (they were not), don’t expect them to immediately be happy at school. Even if the school is helping your kids with Hebrew (they are), don’t expect the kids to suddenly start speaking it (they don’t/won’t).

But don’t let these things be the reason to NOT make aliya. If aliya is in your heart, just do it. If you feel that Israel is your homeland, just come. Don’t tell me “it’s not that easy” – I know! Do your homework, move somewhere that has a network of people who can help you. If you need to, move to a city where there are lots of Anglos. If you want to move somewhere more Israeli, find out ahead of time whether there is any kind of Anglo community there, and if they are set up to help new Olim. Speak to as many people as you can, from Boca, from elsewhere, who have made aliya to those exact places that you are looking into. Even if they made aliya 5 years ago, they are still Olim. They can still remember what it was like in the beginning. They will give you the best advice about schools, shuls, supermarkets, apartments, cars, jobs – everything. Don’t be afraid to ask “stupid” questions. Understand that you WILL need those English speakers, even if you are fluent in Hebrew. It’s nothing to be embarrassed by. As great as Nefesh b’Nefesh is at coordinating the paperwork, and managing flights and ceremonies, once you arrive, you need to be in a place where, daily, you have people who can help you. Go on a pilot trip – even if you spend every summer in Israel and think you know where you want to be – you may end up finding a completely different place. We moved to Rehovot, having only spent a brief 30 hours here last December over Shabbat! And what a great decision it was.

Wishing everyone, in Israel, and in the Galut, a Shana Tov, and may we all confront our personal demons, and take them out in 5775.

אם תרצו, אין זו אגדה – If you want it, it’s not a dream (Theodore Herzl ז”ל)

“Acharei haChagim” – the return to “normal”

Around the time of the High Holy Days (“the Chagim”) – Rosh Hashanah all the way through til the end of Succot – things sort of grind to a halt. It’s busy season. Stores are full, traffic is crazy, it’s high season for tourists, and nothing much gets done outside of holiday prep. So, even though school began September 1st, we have known that only “acharei haChagim” would the kids start getting the extra Hebrew help they are entitled to as Olim. We knew that job hunting would be slow, because no one hires before or during the Chagim. There’s not a lot of point trying to accomplish very much at all.  Unless you purchase things for your kitchen or home – those are on sale before the Chagim, but never again afterwards.

So now it’s finally “Acharei haChaim” and things should start to get back to normal. The question however, is, what the heck is considered “normal” here?

The Holidays were wonderful. Our new shul was a great place to daven (pray) on Rosh haShanah and Yom Kippur. My parents joined us in Israel for Succot, which was fabulous, and a large number of our friends from Boca were also in Israel over Succot, and we did get to spend time with most of them. We rented a car for the few days of Chol HaMoed, and were able to go to Gush Etzion, Jerusalem, Netanya – for a Boca bat mitzvah – and to an archaeological dig at Beit Guvrin. Not having school allowed the kids to relax and just enjoy life here. We built a large succah in our yard, and it was a lovely change to not need fans! What a difference to Boca – Succot in Israel is actually pleasant. I wasn’t yearning for the much coveted air conditioned succah of my cousin in Boca. In fact, we really dwelled in our succah this year. We didn’t sleep outside, but we ate our meals, sat reading, davened and simply hung out in the succah.

And then, after Shabbat, “chozrim laShigra”, as they say (return to schedule). The kids went back to school on Sunday. No, that wasn’t pleasant – I will always lament the loss of Sundays. It’s time for me to start my work, running a mobile manicure business. I now have full weeks to work, and hopefully the kids having full weeks at school (just not full days – the younger ones are home by 2 most days!) will allow me to at least get started. I also purchased a washing machine finally. After all the days of chag, and the excess laundry produced (plus excess sheets and towels from having guests), my neighbor’s generous loan of the little washing machine that leaks just had to come to an end.

I ordered the washer from the same store I purchased my fridge. They might not be the easiest to bargain with (they seem to stick to their prices and maybe knock off delivery at best) but they seem like decent people, and I’ve been told by others that they stick by their products. When we bought the fridge, it was next day delivery, and the delivery guy unpacked it and plugged it in. I did have to call a technician to come and validate the warranty. Yup – the guy from Samsung had to come to my apartment, look at the fridge and explain to me how it works. So I was prepared to be told that a similar system was in place for the washer. Correct.

So, the washer was available for next delivery. I was given a 7 hour window. Luckily it arrived within the first 2 hours. The delivery guys brought it up and then announced they wouldn’t be able to fit it through the door to the laundry room without unpacking it, and they are not allowed to unpack it. Only the technician can do that. So they dumped it in the middle of the living room. And left. But not without demanding a tip. Even though we paid for delivery and they did nothing but roll it into the elevator and then into our apartment. I could have done that myself. (They used a dolly – give me a dolly, I can move anything). So now, here is my  lovely new washing machine:


See how the white contrasts so beautifully with the wood on the china cabinet? And clashes with the shiny tile floor? There it will sit for two days, because the earliest I could get a technician to come out is on Wednesday afternoon. He will hopefully not get annoyed that he has to move it into the laundry room. And then he will plug it in, hook it up and explain to me how to use it. I’m sure it’s more complicated than a fridge. I wonder how much more laundry we can drum up between now and Wednesday night…

So yeah, what is normal again?

Part V: Why they say you need $100K in the bank

One of the things people say to you when you tell them you want to make aliya is “I hope you can afford it, you need at least $100K in the bank”. The answer of course, should always be “Hashem will provide”… right?

So here’s the thing, you can budget up the wazoo, and you’re still going to spend more money than you ever thought possible when it comes to making aliya.

You can spend months working on budget spreadsheets, calculating the cost of your lift, rent, cars, groceries, utilities, incidentals and more. And it will all go to pot once you arrive.

First: The lift. So you pick a 40ft container, you go with the company in your departure country that you feel happy with and you get a price. Everyone tells you don’t worry, you’ll get screwed somewhere. Believe them. You will. Thankfully, the moving company that we worked with were fine to deal with on the US side, and there haven’t really been too many issues on the Israel side, other than that extra two weeks added to the original shipping time… Our lift arrived in the port of Ashdod on Monday, was released from meches (customs) this morning, and God Willing, will be delivered to our apartment Sunday. Thank you God. By that time it will have been almost 5 weeks since we landed. I don’t actually remember what my dishes look like, or how many bottles of nail polish I boxed up (crikey, where on earth am I putting those?!). I don’t remember what it’s like to sleep on a bed, or to have a hamper for dirty laundry. I know I own more clothes than the ones I’ve been wearing for the last 7 weeks, but it will be like going on a big shopping spree when I unpack the wardrobe boxes.
Whatever they tell you that you’ll pay for the lift, you will pay more. There will be the charges on one side, and regardless, there will be charges on the Israel side, and they will be higher than you’re initially told. Deal with it and budget for it.

Second: Rent – presumably, like us, you have a budget for renting and you include utilities. Remember that in Israel you also pay Arnona (municipal taxes) and, if you’re in an apartment building, va’ad bayit (building maintenance). The price of these vary on city and location within the city. Olim Chadashim are entitled to an Arnona discount for one out of the first two years of making aliya – important to know, and must be taken care of at the Municipality of the city in which you live.

Third: Groceries. It’s not that groceries are more expensive in Israel, although some things are. It’s that you will be completely overwhelmed by the grocery stores, and will not know what to buy. You will be so overwhelmed trying to figure out what you are looking for and where to find it, that you are unlikely to remember to price check until you  get to the register and your bill is exorbitant. And allow yourselves at least 2 hours each time you shop at first, because it will take that long to find what you are looking for. Ask locals where they shop for what, and understand that it might be worth it to shop at multiple stores to get better prices.

Fourth: Schools. Yes there is public religious school in Israel. No, you do not pay tuition. However, you have to buy all the text books in addition to school supplies. Text books are expensive. Keep in mind that you can buy used, and it will save some money. By the way, shopping for school supplies was also completely overwhelming. I highly recommend going with a friend who speaks Hebrew, and/or finding a store where you can just hand them the list and ask them to put it all together for you.

Fifth: Transportation – there are many cities in Israel that make it easy to live without a car. Public transport here is fairly decent, and taxis are not outrageously expensive. However, keep in mind, that from time to time, you will need a car. Sometimes it just is not practical to get places without one. So far, we do not have a car, although we do plan to get one. We rely mostly on the local buses, and from time to time taxis. We rented a car for a week to enable us to get a little further and shop for some larger items, and we also rented a small car for a day when we needed to do them same thing a few weeks later. Most grocery stores will deliver – you can shop there, and tell them you want a “mishloach” and then you box it up and they deliver it to your home a few hours later for about the same cost as taking a taxi home, or you can shop online and have it delivered without ever setting foot in the store. The problem with that, is that until you are familiar with what you’re shopping for, it can be tricky to figure out in Hebrew.

I’ve outlined just a few things to consider financially, there are many, many more. If you are looking into purchasing appliances in Israel, do some research ahead of time, keep in mind that they use European sizing here for things such as fridges (measured in liters, not cubic feet), washers & dryers (measured based on weight they hold rather than volume). Also remember that delivery is rarely included in the price, and that Israeli law requires that appliances are installed by a certified technician or the warranty is invalidated. You have to schedule the technician to come out separately to the delivery. So, for example, if you purchase a washing machine and the store can deliver it the next day, keep in mind that the technician may not be able to come the same day, and you won’t be able to use your washer for another couple of days.

So, back to the first line. is $100K enough? There is no answer truthfully. if you have enough money to purchase things outright, good for you. If you don’t, and you need to purchase things in installments (very common in Israel, for everything from groceries to cars), remember that initially the bank will not want to give you a real credit card, and can take up to 3 months before they will issue it. The same goes for checks. They will not give you checks right away. In addition, some appliance stores will not accept foreign credit cards. So, just some more things to keep in mind.

Shabbat shalom from my still spacious apartment, that next week will feel a lot smaller!

Part IV: Why Rehovot: Because this!

When Keith & I returned from our pilot trip in December 2013, the obvious question was “so nu, where are you moving to?”

We were at friends’ for lunch our first Shabbat back, and we both said that we had narrowed it down to two possibilities. Those of you who know Keith & I well, are aware that we rarely agree on much if anything. So you will not be surprised when we each had a different first possibility that we had narrowed it down to. But, the second city out of our mouths was “Rehovot”. So we looked at each other, gave that one sided Israeli shrug, and said “Guess we are making aliya to Rehovot then”. And that was how we decided. From that moment on, people asked “Why Rehovot?” usually followed closely by “are there any Americans there?” – to which Keith liked to answer “None! That’s why we’re going there!” But that’s really not the case.

So, why Rehovot? There were a number of things that attracted us.

First and foremost: Schools. All the other cities we visited, when it came to talking to locals about schools, there were many opinions. We were advised against sending our kids to the public schools in some places, because they’re just not so great, or told that we could send to public schools, but then to expect to shell out a lot of money for tutors. In Rehovot, almost everyone sends their kids to the public elementary school. In fact, many of the people at our shul, are graduates of the religious elementary school in Rehovot themselves! For Middle/High School for girls there were a number of options, all of which sounded great, and we were happy for our 12 year old to have a choice of where to go. So far she is very happy with her decision.

Second: It’s an Israeli city. Meaning, when you walk around Rehovot you don’t hear English. You hear a lot of Russian, but you hear mostly Hebrew. This was extremely important to us – for us, and for our kids. We didn’t want to live in a location that had a lot of English speakers, we wanted to be somewhere that would force us to learn Hebrew, to speak Hebrew, and to integrate as much as possible, which brings me to:

Third: And this really, is parallel in importance to schools – community. A lot of Anglos who make aliya move to Anglo areas in order to have that sense of community that exists outside of Israel. Which makes sense – because complete integration into Israeli society is near impossible if you didn’t grow up here, go to the army and/or marry an Israeli. (Truthfully, the same can be said about integrating into most societies around the world – it’s difficult to do if you’re an immigrant.) In many synagogues around Israel, it is simply the place you go to pray. You show up for minyan, you daven, you leave. When we  visited Rehovot for a Shabbat, we experienced a shul that was like most synagogues outside of Israel. The Berman Shul. There is a kiddush weekly after services where people socialize and children play. Many of the members of the synagogue are English speaking. For us this was ideal. Living in a very Israeli city, but knowing that on Shabbat and holidays we have a shul to go to where we can easily communicate and socialize.

In the almost four weeks that we’ve been living here, this community aspect of the Berman Shul, has proven to be a most excellent choice. From the moment we landed we have been taken care of. Our empty apartment was filed with mattresses, sheets, towels, basic kitchen utensils and food. We’re still waiting for our lift to arrive (Please God, this week!), and in that time, we have been invited out every single Shabbat for meals. In addition, we are without a car, and I get daily calls from friends who are going grocery shopping to find out if I need to come with. We have had help in getting what we needed for the kids to start school.

All this help is coming from members of our new shul, our new community. Not a single Shabbat has passed without people coming up to us in Shul and introducing themselves. This is especially impressive, as we’re not the only newcomers to Rehovot over the summer. In fact, while many people still ask “How come Rehovot?” it turns out, it’s actually the “in place” now. In the space of just a few weeks, the shul welcomed 5 new families, and over the last few months even more families arrived.

The really beautiful thing about this community is the inter-generational connection. Something that struck us about Rehovot when we visited was the number of people our age who had grown up here, gone to the army and college, gotten married and then moved back to Rehovot. There are generations of families living here. It’s a place where you make your home. Last night, I was privileged to be invited to a friend’s house after Shabbat. There were about 40 women there, many old-timers in Rehovot, many as new as me. The age range was from 20s to 50s. For a long time, my friends have all been similar ages to me. You tend to gravitate towards people at a similar life stage. Then you can kvetch about the stuff you are going through, and try and convince each other it is normal. But having friends at different life stages is also beneficial. Like the people we ate lunch at yesterday, who made aliya nearly 20 years ago, with children the ages mine are now. Those people can look at us, hear what we say about some of the more difficult aspects of making aliya, and tell us, for real, that it will all be fine.

You should never underestimate the importance of having a community, and to have a community where everyone works together to help each other, without asking for anything in return, is what creates a warm, welcoming environment, and makes new members want to stay, to integrate, and to eventually become part of the welcoming committee themselves.

Thank you members of Berman Shul Rehovot, for making our landing soft, and for showing us that we made the right decision!


Part III: School is back in session

It goes kind of like this for my kids: 4 years, 4 schools (including home school). For my 7 year old, she’s been in 5 schools in 6 years – not bad!

My eldest started school last Thursday. She applied and was accepted to two (private) schools near Rehovot, and we gave her the choice to make alone. She chose a school that is only girls, and is for middle-high school, so begins in 7th grade, and ends at 12th grade. In many ways the decision was smart, because all the 7th graders are new, not just her. Of course, many of the girls already knew other kids from their elementary schools, or from youth groups. My daughter had met one other girl before school started, another English speaker (though native Israeli), so she wasn’t completely alone. Her school is a 20 minute bus ride from Rehovot, and there is a “hasa’ah” (bus) that picks the girls up in the morning and drops them back in the afternoon. So far, she seems happy. She is slowly making friends with girls who are not English speakers, and she has met the teacher who will be helping her weekly with Hebrew, and homework.

Today, September 1st, the other two started school. Their school is the local public religious school, and it’s a mere 12 minute walk from our apartment. Within the next week (or few days if this heat doesn’t subside a little) they will be walking to and from school together.  This morning was a little overwhelming, with hundreds of kids and parents walking onto the campus all at the same time! The gate was decorated with a balloon arch, and the teachers and administrators were standing at the entrance to welcome the kids with baskets of candy.

We escorted the kids to their respective class rooms, where they found a seat and sat down. My 2nd grader was a bit wobbly initially, but she didn’t cry. She knows 2 other kids in her class, both of whom are English speakers. I spoke to her teacher and made sure that she knew we are very new to the country, and that her Hebrew is not so great. She immediately went over to my daughter and let her know that she speaks English. At that point it was time for us to leave, and there were no tears or tantrums. My 5th grader (can’t believe this boy is almost 11!) was perfectly happy, having met up with a buddy from synagogue as soon as he went into his classroom, and was found wandering the halls as the bell went off… let’s hope he spends most of his time doing what he’s told.

School was only for a few short hours today, and when we arrived to meet the kids we were greeted with smiles. They each had a good day, met new friends (the 2nd grader seems to have bonded with another girl in her class who speaks no English, but who managed to help her understand what was going on nonetheless). And she came home calling me “Ima” instead of Mommy…

This week is all short days, which, while hard for parents to get anything done, is definitely a bonus for my kids. Gives them a chance to get comfortable, meet other kids, and start getting the hang of Hebrew. Very soon they should be getting pulled out of class a few times a week to be taught Hebrew, and to get extra help with homework and stuff.

Definitely a huge hurdle to have passed, and I’m happy day one is out of the way for everyone. I anticipate some difficulties eventually, as it wouldn’t be normal for it to be all smooth all the time, but one day at a time, and I’ll take what I can get!

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Part II

The kids are now practically Israeli (just not the Hebrew speaking kind). They drink chocolate milks from bags, know where the nearest makolet (mini-mart) is, go alone to the park and know how to use the “rav kav” card thingamabob on the buses.

We’re definitely still on our “aliyah-moon” – even when I get annoyed about things, I manage to brush it off with “yiyeh b’seder” (it’ll be ok) and get on with things. The hardest thing we dealt with last week, was not our first siren (that came last Tuesday night) but hearing that our lift would not reach the port in Ashdod until September 8th, and therefore we won’t have our stuff until some time after that. I stewed over that for a few hours, because as pioneering as I am (those of you who know me well, are no doubt snorting liquid out from your nostrils right now at the thought of me being a pioneer at all….) spending another 3 weeks at least without a real cooking utensil, and more importantly, without my make up and nail polish, is really just a  bit much. I can sleep on a mattress on the floor. I can wash the same towels and sheets over and over. I can even manage to cook with the few things people have lent us, and hopefully we will get a real fridge soon which will enable me to shop for more than a day at a time.

But I really want my clothes. I’m tired of the few things I’ve been wearing non stop for 3 weeks. I want to do my nails. Everywhere we go people ask me what my work is here, and I tell them “I’m a certified nail professional”. They probably think I’m certifiable because my nails are unpolished and boring. Oh well. Yiyeh b’seder…

So, we had our first “azaka” (siren) last Tuesday night. It was about 10:45pm, all the kids were in bed, and Keith & I were working on stuff on laptops. The noise started, we glanced at each other for a split second, and both said “oh, that is definitely a siren”. In that split second, our 12 year old woke up, left her bedroom, went straight into the safe room (our 10 year old’s bedroom), opened the window and pulled shut the sealed shutters. Like a pro. Keith picked up our sleeping 7 year old, the dog followed us all, and into the room we went. Our 10 year old woke up only after the siren had stopped and said “what are you all doing in my room?” The 7 year old woke up briefly, and the dog farted, which really was enough to make everyone wish away those 10 minutes really, really fast… No one panicked, no one was scared, everyone went straight back to sleep, and that was that. It did prompt some interesting conversations the next day. Everywhere we went, the kids paid attention, and asked where we would go for cover if there was another siren. But not in any way that makes us  believe they were scared. They are just aware now. 90 seconds is a long time to get to safety, as long as you’re in a built up area. We are lucky, in the south, they only have 15 seconds.

We dealt with more bureaucracy during the week too, with a visit to the Absorption Ministry (how many countries have one of those, by the way? A ministry dedicated solely to helping immigrants?) We learned about the “sal klita” – the absorption basket – money that we will start to receive shortly, and Keith was given information about Ulpan (Hebrew classes). Ulpan, by the way, is 100% free, plus the Absorption Ministry reimburses you 90% of your travel expenses! What a country. 

We got everyone fully signed up for health care. For the first year it is completely free. Imagine that! When I moved to the US from the UK, it was next to impossible for me to get health insurance as an individual who was willing to pay for it, let alone get anything for free! After the first year, health insurance is covered by the Israeli equivalent of social security, but the cost is negligible compared to what you pay in the US. I’m not  going to argue with anyone over the quality of Israeli vs US healthcare, I’ll just say that I’ve lived in Ireland, Israel, the UK and the US, and the US has by far the absolute worst health care system, and Israel has by far the very best. Nothing is perfect.

We went to purchase textbooks for the kids for school. School is free, but the parents buy the books. I was completely overwhelmed when we walked into the store. So I asked if I could possibly leave the lists with them, and come pick up the books when they were ready. They told me yes. When I told someone this in synagogue on Shabbat she said “oh you’re already so Israeli!” – And there was me thinking it was a very Boca thing to do!

Our 12 year old starts school on Thursday. She has an orientation on Wednesday afternoon. Today we drove by her school to see where it is, as we had no idea. It’s a brand new  building, just completed this summer, and from the outside it looks very, very nice. A large building, on lots of campus grounds. She’s a little nervous, but also excited. She has met a number of girls that she will be in school with, and 7th grade is the entrance grade at the school, so it’s new to all of them. She has a late start this year, compared to last year – she’ll be picked up by the bus at 7:15 instead of 7, and the bus is picking her up outside our building. Score!

We have rented a car for the week, so we can explore a little further outside of Rehovot. I have a special birthday coming up on Wednesday. I really wanted a Nespresso coffeemaker for my birthday, but instead, it looks like I will be getting either a bed, a fridge, a washer, or if I’m very lucky indeed, a printer…

Yiyeh B’seder!


Aliyah: Our story in many parts: Part I

Yesterday, almost a full week post arrival in Israel, we got connected to the internet at our apartment. For a week, I have been writing and writing, and each time I wrote more, I realized that I couldn’t possible publish a single blog post about our actual aliyah experience last week. So, now that I am able to publish what I write, I will spend some time editing and writing more, and will post pieces of the story, a little at a time. Enough to keep you interested, to keep you coming back for more. I hope.

We woke early last Monday morning, around 6:15, and began to get ready for the trip of a lifetime. Once all the kids were up, our bags fully packed and ready to go, Keith picked up our dog, Guinness, from the doggie hotel where she had stayed since Friday. Boy was she happy to see us!

We had booked a car service to take us the short ride to JFK, and when we explained that we were 5 people, 1 dog, 9 cases and duffle bags, 5 carry ons and a dog crate, they sent us a 14 passenger van. It was still tight!

On arrival at the airport, we needed 3 luggage carts, all of which were overflowing. Somehow, we managed to get everything and everyone (and Guinness) into the airport, and find the Nefesh B’Nefesh crew working the floor. They pointed us to a Disneyesque line, that began in one place, curved around in a big U, and eventually led to a Nefesh B’Nefesh desk where we filled out final information before our check in. From there, it was straight to check in. The staff at El-Al were extremely courteous, even when Guinness decided to step on the luggage scale and say hello. We handed over our many passports, plus Guinness’ USDA papers and finally offloaded our luggage. Keith had put together the crate for Guinness while we were in line, and once we were checked in, it was time to convince her to get into it, and leave her with the other dogs (and a cat) making aliyah at the “Oversized Baggage” area. I guess that she’s figured out that no matter what, we are always coming back for her, because when we opened the crate, she walked straight in, rearranged her blanket and lay right down. That made all of us relax a bit, as she has never enjoyed being crated.

From check-in, we went straight to security. We bypassed the departure ceremony, mostly because it was already well past the time that started, and it was very crowded in that area with families tearfully saying goodbye.

Once at the gate area (I finally had coffee), we found our friends who were on our flight, and all the kids were happily joking around together. I have to say that my kids surprised me that morning. I expected tears, refusal to get on the plane, and hysterics, but instead I had smiling, excited, happy children. They admitted some nerves, but also excitement about a new life in Israel.

We didn’t rush to get on the plane, and once on board everyone settled down quickly. To be on a plane with almost 350 people, all of whom have the same purpose – to move to Israel and make it their home, was an experience unlike any other. I can’t explain the feeling, I can’t even try.
Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, cofounder of Nefesh B’Nefesh made a welcome announcement, the pilot thanked us all for making aliyah, and there were cheers when the plane took off from JFK.

The flight itself was smooth enough – I hate flying – and there was an atmosphere on board that cannot really be put into words. Ordinarily you may not speak to the stranger next to you on a flight, and if you do, the first thing you ask them is unlike to be “Where are you going?”. But on this flight, that was the only question asked – where to, how come, how long have you been planning, and so on, and so forth.

The arrival ceremony was beyond my wildest dreams. I was excited about it for so long, and sometimes you’re disappointed when expectations aren’t met. But not this time. Yes it’s long, and yes everyone is exhausted from a long flight, and jet lagged, and emotional, but it’s so great!
At the bottom of the steps to the plane stood the president of Israel, Ruvi Rivlin, and the chairman of the Jewish Agency, Natan Sharansky (truly exciting, as I remember all the demonstrations I went to as a kid for his freedom). There were over 100 new soldiers on our flight – young people, making aliyah and going straight into the army.

We were met by my cousins from Netanya, and one of Keith’s friends from Yokneam. They joined us for the ceremony, which was a bit long, but streamed live on the internet, so our families and friends were able to watch from the US and the UK and Ireland. There was also wifi in the hall, so I was able to see people commenting on Facebook and Twitter that they saw us disembark from the plane and during the ceremony.
Once that was over, there was some bureaucracy to take care of, and we freed Guinness from her crate. She was super happy to see us, very confused, and definitely jet lagged! She’s still jet lagged and super confused, but she likes Israel, because there are a lot of cats, and she gets to chase them out of our yard. I’ve heard it said that the only free ride you will ever get in Israel is the free taxi to your destination from the airport upon making aliya. In our case, we were allocated a mini-bus. Rehovot is only 20 minutes from Ben Gurion, so in no time at all, we were in our new home.

Our apartment is exactly as it looked in the photos. It’s very spacious (our lift isn’t due for another couple of weeks). The kids each have their own room, which is exciting for all of us. The wonderful members of our new community, and our landlord, made sure we had enough mattresses, pillows, sheets, chairs & a table, some basic kitchen stuff and a full fridge!
Our neighborhood is very nice, a number of buildings built around a park, including a dog park and a playground.
10583945_10152179596190870_4586744457979321767_n 10603805_10152179595895870_467940149441423506_n 10425078_10152179595585870_9034215147000383898_nThe photos show the kids trying “shoko  b’Sakit” (Chocolate milk in a bag) for the first time. They always said it sounds “disgusting”. Oddly enough, they no longer do…

The first couple of days were taken up trying to figure out phones, ordering internet service, figuring out the buses, getting our teudot zehut (id cards) and other tedious boring stuff (like finding our way around a city we had only visited once for 24 hours!). Everywhere we went, all we had to say was “I made aliyah yesterday” and everyone was at our service.

I learned that the only things I really, really need in life are a washing machine and a working phone.  I will have a working phone by the time this blog is published. We looked at washers on Friday, and I was ready to buy one Sunday to be installed ASAP. Meantime, our upstairs neighbor came down to introduce herself. A few minutes after she left, she came back, because she said, she just bought a new washer, and her old one is sitting in her entryway, waiting for her soldier son to take to Tel Aviv. “Take it,” she said, “Use it til you can get one. He’s not in a hurry to move it. It’s small, but it works, just leaks a bit at the bottom”. So five minutes later, thanks to Keith and her husband, I had a working washing machine in the apartment! For real. It’s tiny, but it works, and we have clean clothes for shabbat. I have to also mention that 3 different people offered to do our laundry for us from our new shul. One of them even took a load to do. Never underestimate how much you rely on having a washing machine!

New friends took us grocery shopping, did our grocery shopping, delivered us pizza, lent us a phone that works, gave us information on buying appliances, cars, offered us furniture and so much more.

We are all set for meals for Shabbat for the first couple of weeks, and we even have an invitation for Rosh Hashanah! We still have a lot of bureaucracy to deal with, but it seems that everyone is happy to help these days, and not so quick to say “not my department” like in the old days. Today we registered Elnadav & Shalhevet for the local religious public school – a very easy process (but we still have to get supplies and uniforms…). Tomorrow we go to Misrad HaKlita (the Absorption Minisitry) to finish up a few things, and then one more trip to the Municipality. We did manage to get to the Ayalon Institute Museum this afternoon with the kids. Right here in Rehovot, usually referred to as “The Bullet Factory”, it was a secret, underground ammunition factory used in the lead up to the war of Independence in 1948.
Everything is great, and I’m pretty sure that once we are done with all the basic stuff of getting set up, we are going to be even happier here. Once upon a time, if you were a new oleh in Israel, Israelis took advantage of you. While I’m sure some still try, today, it appears that if you’re a new oleh, everyone wants to help you, everyone wants to make sure you have a “klita kallah ve’neimah” – an easy and pleasant absorption. If this is how Israel has changed in the 16 years since I last lived here, I’m happy to be back!

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