How up are you on your Israeli geography?
One of the things I found most maddening before we moved to Israel was place names. Beyond Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa, I had barely heard of other places here. Maybe Beersheva, because it’s in the Torah. Some places were in the news (Chevron), so they were somewhere in my consciousness. Others, not so much.
That quickly became a problem when we started planning to move here.
Maybe this is something you’ve experienced?
Anyone who has been anywhere in Israel, even if they’ve never lived there, has anywhere between three and a dozen places to recommend. They’ll come up to you anywhere, anytime, and spout this list like it’s gospel (or, you know, the Jewish equivalent).
Telling Kiryat Arba from Kiryat Shmona
These places are not all cities. Some are cities, some are neighbourhoods within cities, some are kibbutzim or moshavim, some are, I don’t know, hilltops somewhere with a few idealists in trailers parked on top.
For a while, they were coming at us with regularity. People just roll off the names of five or seven places – especially on Shabbos, when I had no way of writing them down – followed by the instruction that “you should check it out.”
I couldn’t tell Kiryat Arba from Kiryat Shmona (except one is 4 more), or from Kiryat Ata, for that matter. Or Maalot from Maaleh Adumim, Rechavia from Rechovot, Shlomi from Shiloh.
Can you? (If you can, you’re way ahead of where we started!)
Rather shamefacedly, I can now admit the truth. Want to know what I did with all those well-intended recommendations?
Promptly and utterly forgot them. They went out of my head like they’d never been there in the first place.
Once you get here, by the way, Israelis will assume you know. When you grow up in a country that’s only 6 hours from top to bottom, with cousins and army friends in every corner of the land, you have heard of basically everywhere.
Turn right at Arad
Israelis, of course, assume everybody else has heard of all the places here as well. They’ll mention that they were visiting friends in Arad or that they came from Mitzpe Netofa or Alona or Katamon, and you don’t know if that’s miles away or a street right around the corner.
It’s hard to believe that one of those obscure place names could someday sound a lot like home.
Even Haifa, I’d barely heard of. Though nobody bothered to recommend it, at least, that I can remember (maybe they did?). I never dreamed I’d end up living here, or at least, somewhere near here.
And that’s the other thing about these well-meaning recommendations:
Just because somebody has spent a nice Shabbos with family or friends in Ramot or Zichron Yaakov or Karmiel or Katzrin does not mean that that’s the ideal resting place for you and your family.
Just because somebody enjoyed a wine tasting on a sweet, breezy kibbutz somewhere in the Golan does not mean that’s the right place for you to live.
Even if somebody spent a year (ten years ago) learning in a yeshiva somewhere near Ashdod, or a seminary in Har Nof, does not mean they know what’s right for you.
The best thing to do when somebody drops a place-name recommendation is to nod and smile and (if it’s not Shabbos), write it down. It might be worth checking out, especially if the recommender is somebody who knows you well.
(Of course, none of this applies if the person giving you advice is a rav or somebody else in a position to know where your family is at, spiritually. But even then, rabbonim from outside of Israel, if they haven’t been here recently, are not all well-versed in all the community choices that are open to you.)
What to do with all the advice
Thank the person with a smile (yes, another smile!). It’s sweet that they care about you. Listen to their memories of the wine tasting or yeshiva or bike ride or hospital fundraiser. Encourage them to come visit you in Israel, wherever you end up. Ask if they have plans to make aliyah themselves (can’t hurt to give a little nudge!).
And then… move on. Make your list based on YOUR criteria: housing, schools, hospitals, friends, family, shopping. Whatever’s important to you.
I worried a lot that these people would feel hurt that we hadn’t taken their advice. Mostly, now that I’ve been back a couple of times, they don’t seem to be. They seem happy that we’ve found a place that works for us, and interested in what the criteria were, in the end.
And one more thing: I tell them about Kiryat Shmuel, and why we’ve chosen to live here, in the end.
I don’t have any illusion that everybody will remember even the name of our little neighbourhood. I’m almost certain they won’t. (Honestly, every area in Israel seems to have the name of somebody obscure: Kfar Shmaryahu, Kiryat Moshe, Kikar Menachem, Givat Shaul.)
No, I tell them in the hope that some of them may meet somebody else making aliyah, somebody just a bit like us. And then they’ll have another recommendation to add to the list. “Oh – you’re going to northern Israel? You really ought to check out Kiryat Shmuel!”