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.
The 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!