At Home, Away from Home

I did it! I became an official, legal citizen of Israel!
Am I Israeli by heritage? Naw.
Have I spent extensive amounts of time here? Naw.

Actually, I’ve spent a grand total of 4.5 months here, I know about 4 people, and I don’t speak any Hebrew.

Why did I do it?
How did I do it?
What am I going to do now?

All shall be revealed! Well, maybe not. I don’t have any complete answers for these questions, except I do know the process I went through.

It begins with the fact that all people of Jewish heritage, typically meaning that your mother is Jewish, or Jewish converts are permitted return to Israel. It’s sort of like a backup plan in case of emergencies. Israel is the Jewish home base for safety and care.

This being the case, the flight to Israel is comp! In turn, I had to fill out a bunch of papers, do a couple of interviews, get health stuff, birth certificate, passport, and a letter of proof of Jewishness from “my” Rabbi. Mind you, I haven’t had a Rabbi of my own since I was about 15. But, I sent him an email, and after some convincing, he realized that I was definitely a full-fledged Jew. Maybe it was the fact that I was willing to become a citizen of another country just because it was free. *Stereotype alert*

Heck, not only is the flight free, but they also start you off with some health insurance, some money, a SIM card, Hebrew lessons (Ulpan), free education, and job and housing assistance. I mean, it’s a sweet deal, why would I pass that up?

Yada, yada, yada, jumping ahead, I made Aliyah! That makes me an olim (immigrant). I also just learned that it’s not the tax payers who must pay for these pricey trips, but it’s from the help of donors! Israelis LOVE olim, particularly Jewish olim.

Of course, I joke when I say it was just the free ride that convinced me to come here. While that factor and the benefits were a sweet perk, there’s something else about Israel that draws in nearly 30,000 new immigrants each year, and that number is rising.

Getting them sweet Fahrenheit digits. When I left home in New York, it was pretty warm, but it wasn’t warm enough for my face to melt into a puddle of hummus, so I decided to change that. Tel Aviv’s temperature will not be going below 85 degrees this week, just how I like it. I could have moved to Florida or California, I guess, but they talk funny.

Hold off on reality for a bit. As I mentioned, all the perks from the government help me to stave off my fears of the real world a bit longer, post graduate school. Of course, I plan to return to my regularly scheduled programming once I go home, but a couple of months to volunteer, take a breather, and live Spring Break ’17 is just what the doctor ordered.

Antisemitism is at an all-time low! Fortunately, I was never harmed in the name of antisemitism, but I have felt the heavy breath of it down my neck for most of my life. Usually, people just say extremely stupid and ignorant things to me and then follow it with, “Don’t get me wrong, I love Jews… you guys have all the money!” God bless America. In Israel, I hear the word ‘Jew’ a lot, but never followed with, “…should just go eat a bagel and stop getting involved.”

You can be a Jew just for the jokes… and the kvetching. On the reverse side of no. 3, if you want to talk smack about Jewish people (as one yourself), you won’t have to do it alone. Like all cultures, Jewish people have their flaws, but hearing it from a goy is painful. Hearing it from an unfiltered Israeli just feels right. Let some steam off and we can all laugh at the expense of the black hat, religious Hasidic Jews without shame. Mind you, my flight was half an hour delayed because the young fellas with peyas (banana curls) didn’t want to sit next to women. Oy!

ALL the snacks! Most cultures love to eat, especially their own foods, but Jews nosh. A little here, a little there.… That’s why most people in Israel don’t complain about pigeons, we just understand them too well. Being covered in crumbs is the most natural state of the Jewish folk. Feeling tempted yet?

You hate subtlety. Passive aggressiveness is what Americans thrive on, we hide feelings and thoughts and we rarely say what we truly feel. We wait until the person leaves, then the attack begins. When it comes to Israelis, there is no need to be couth or have decorum. If an Israeli doesn’t hear you, if your outfit is ugly, if you’re being a chazer (pig), if they disagree with you, or if they can’t stand you, you’ll know it. It’s off-putting at first, but eventually, you learn to hate it.

Families are extremely close. Israeli parents, essentially, send their kids off to potential death everyday, then send them to war at 18, then keep them in their homes and as close as possible until he or she gets married or dies. It’s an oddly mixed up but endearing way of doing things. A man in his 30s, living with his parents is not uncommon, because as soon as he gets married, he will likely be living a few blocks away, anyway. Of course, a man in his 30s who is not married is also fairly uncommon, it seems. You will never hear an Israeli say, “He’s just too obsessed with his mother!”

Less aversion to risk. Most places I travel, my host will do anything in the world to prevent me from getting lost. They usually act as though that would be the worst thing that could happen to me. In Israel, getting lost is how you learn, how you see more, and the best way to prove yourself. If I go out and figure out my way or just explore and see the area, my host feels he has succeeded in showing me Israel. Yesterday, I asked my host what happens if I get lost, he replied, “I’ll keep the lights on for whenever you find your way back!”

Fiery blood. Whatever an Israeli does, he never does it wrong. Regrets and failure are not obsessions around here. Everything experienced was something learned and appreciated. People take risks and never back down. Last night I heard a news story about a pizza maker who dealt with an Arab attacker at his pizzeria by grabbing a wooden pizza slab and hitting the guy over the head. Risky? Yes. Freaking amazing? Totally! I want to be him when I grow up.

You are invited. As I mentioned, Jewish immigrants are truly doted upon. When I tell people I just became a citizen, they shake my hand, they give me discounts, and they are really excited for me! However, it’s not just the Jewish immigrants that are welcomed. The refugee and non-Jewish immigrant numbers are growing, too. Although this is of slight concern to some locals

since the whole idea of this country is to be removed from the antisemitic attitude of outsiders and form a nation of like-minded folk, there is still a love and acceptance of all people. Anyone who respects and loves this tiny, tiny country is an ally and a friend.

BONUS: As a side note, if you need one more reason (as I did), know that Israel is the leading country in the world for the vegan movement. It offers the most varied and available selection of cruelty-free foods, has the biggest and most active activist communities for animal rights, and because of Kosher requirements, it could be said (though, highly debatable) that animals in slaughterhouses and farms are treated as humanely as possible. Although I am skeptical that this concept even exists, it has been said and some of you may support this minimized cruelty.

To answer the final question, what am I going to do now, my answer is that I am going to embrace this beautiful country. I am going to stuff myself with delicious produce and pita bread and halva. I am going to work with the refugees who came here to escape evil leaders. I am going to partake in a society that welcomes gays, women, immigrants, Muslims, and treats all animals, humans or otherwise, as living beings who deserve equal rights.

Israel is not perfect, but it’s a special country full of special people and I am so grateful to be here.

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