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Thursday, September 3, 2015

How to survive the most brutal 6 months of your life

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Here’s the truth that nobody is going to tell you:  you may just be in for the worst 6 months (or so) of your life.

That’s the side of aliyah that you don’t see in the ads, or the videos, or the posters or the shots of smiling, happy families at the airport.

My family’s not in those shots.

You won’t see my son, lying kicking and wailing on the floor of the airport.

You won’t see my daughter, weeping because she misses our family in Canada.

You won’t see me in our apartment at the merkaz klitah, screaming and crying in the middle of the night because my husband cannot make the cruddy Israeli beach karaoke – literally the loudest music I’d ever heard, and I’ve been to more than a few concerts – go away at 3 a.m. on Shabbos morning until I finally fell asleep with a pillow over my head.

Or the kids lying in bed calling out, “Juke! Juke!” (cockroach, cockroach)

I don’t know if I’d call it the worst six months, but it was definitely a difficult period.  A very difficult period.

Friends of ours spent 6 months in Israel a year or so before we came.  They'd just had a baby, so he had parental leave, and they’d always wanted to spend time here.  Everything went wrong - absolutely everything.

Their apartment was horrible, filthy and the supposedly religious people they’d rented from were charlatans.  The kids caught... well, everything.  They came back to Canada earlier than I’d expected and I wasn’t sure if they’d ever want to see Israel again.

“We were very disillusioned by the people, more than the lice and worms and such,” my friend said, when I asked her this week about that time.  “It was shocking to deal with dishonest, amoral, extremely religious Jews, and lose so much money to them.”

Ultimately, she says, “we were just waiting until we could leave.”

To me, that’s why the experience was so rotten.  They were only here temporarily, and they knew it.  They knew they could leave early, head back to Canada if (when) things got too bad. 

If you’re not making aliyah, there’s no "through" to get through because there’s no happy ending in Israel waiting for you on the other side. 

Even before we came, I knew that the first six months of aliyah are absolutely the hardest… and that was the only part our friends were going to experience.

I’ve heard from so many people who are grateful to get "back home" after a year in Israel.  Yet if you talk to olim, you’ll find out that that’s when many finally start being relaxed and happy… right about at the same one-year point.  

The way I see it, it all depends on what you think of as the finish line:  successful aliyah and klitah, absorption in the land, or “making it” to a certain date when you'll be able to get out and get back to your normal life in chu”l (chutz la’aretz = outside of Israel).

Yes, you may well be in for the worst 6 months of your life.  Things are going to be tough and hectic and weird and crazy-making.  But they will also, sooner than you think, be as normal as anything.

Tell me about YOUR first 6 months (or year) in Israel!  What gave you the strength to “tough it out” and make it on through?

Tzivia / צִיבְיָה


12 comments:

  1. I totally agree with you. I've been in Israel for almost 27 years and when I hear people say, we'll give it a year, I know they probably won't make it. A year is nothing! I think one of the problems is that when you're in chul, Israel is this huge ideal and aliyah a big goal. Then you get here and discover there are Israeli criminals and rapists, cheaters and scammers. And you've lost your life long goal. It's time to get down to making a life here and it''s hard. One of the best things I read by an oleh said, it's not that it's better there, its different here. Not worse, just different.

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    1. That's a good quote. I think maybe there's an exception for newlyweds who spend their first year here and then take back wonderful memories because that's when they were young and naive. Life is probably a little magical, even here in Israel, if you're a newlywed. :-)

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  2. We've just made Aliya 2 months ago. We're probably more fortunate than most; we already owned a nice home in Israel, and it was all set up. But we are of retirement age, although still working, so the adjustment at our age is harder too! Bureaucracy is unbelievable, but if you can laugh about it, you can beat it! I found the hardest part was transferring our driving licenses from UK to Israeli after 50 years' safe driving. We were treated worse than learners and no, it wasn't the driving on the other side, because we are used to driving here when we were here on holiday. It was having to unlearn all our bad habits and start over. But we passed our tests first time thank heavens! We're slowly settling in now, and it's feeling more like home all the time!

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    1. I remember meeting you... didn't know you'd made aliyah and just want to wish you well! Just need to get used to it and to 'accept' - lehashleem im hamatzav....!
      Gitta

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    2. Ugh. I still have to do mine; dreading it, though my husband's went very easily. Then again, he's the best driver I know.
      And as I said on facebook, if you want to write up your drivers' license experiences, I'd be happy to share them with others here!

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    3. Gitta,
      Now THERE's a useful phrase! Thanks for sharing it.

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  3. It's true that the first year (or 6 months) is the toughest. But as an oleh (7 years) I think this article does an injustice to it - big time. First, there are many many wonderful things that can happen, even in the first 6 months. I know many olim who are thrilled to be here. Yes, there are horror stories. But the Nefesh b'Nefesh videos are not mere propaganda - there is some truth to them.

    Second, and probably most important, so much depends on the mindset that people bring with them when they make aliyah. If they are expecting it to be like when they were in Israel on vacation (and many do), of course they will be disappointed (living in Orlando is not the same thing as visiting Disneyworld). If they are expecting it will be just like America, but with a little Hebrew thrown in (and many do), of course they will be disappointed. Israel is not America. There are things about living here that are harder - and there are things about living here that are much more wonderful. Olim need to come with the idea that they are making a life for themselves in a new country. ANY move is difficult, no matter where one moves to. When you then factor in that you are moving to a place with a different language, a different culture, a different set of rules, etc., it makes it that much more challenging. If people understand this when they make aliyah, and keep an open mind (i.e. not everything in America is better - some things are not better, but you were just used to them), then aliyah tends to go a lot more smoothly. (And in my experience, the bureaucracy has gotten better, and many of my experiences in Israeli government offices of late have been far better than with America bureaucracy).

    For all the chatter about people leaving, the reality is that the majority stay. I've seen some leave who unfortunately had terrible experiences not of their own making. But for the most part, the people I know who left within a year or two were people I could have predicted would leave based on their mindset. I'm not interested in whitewashing the very real challenges of aliyah. But it's important to remember that many/most succeed at it, and there are, in the end, many fantastic things about living in Israel that make it all worthwhile.

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    1. I'm totally on the same page! I don't think NbN is all propaganda, I think they work very hard, though perhaps they are stretched thinner than they'd like people to know. I love any NbN reps we've had contact with, but then, I also never expected them to hold our hands as we got used to life here.
      Most of this blog is about successful aliyah, so I hope you'll agree that I believe in it, too! :-D

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  4. The entire first year has been tough. Tougher than you can imagine. But when I made Aliyah, I never said "I'll give it a year." I said "This is my home, I know it won't be easy, I know I will miss my godson more than my heart can handle, but I am not moving back to chul" and that is what has made it semi-bearable for me, I miss my daddy terribly and can't wait til I can visit. But it will be just a visit. I am dirt poor, living on scraps, searching high and low for a job to pay my bills, but I am in Israel. I make every effort to speak in Hebrew, to act more Israeli (except the pushing - keep your hands off my body unless I know you), to visit different communities for Shabbat and Chagim to see where I want to move. It really has a lot to do with your mindset.

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    1. Joan,
      If mindset determines success, then you are ALREADY a successful olah. Kol hakavod!

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  5. I came alone at the age of 66 with no family here and almost no Hebrew. It was not not the most brutal 6 months of my life at all. That happened when I was 14 and 15 years old and there have been very difficult times in my life. But this, brutal. No. Aliyah has not been easy at times, but not as hard as other times in my life. It is almost a year and the tough times are about having an apartment with no heat and sometimes spending some Shabbats and some chagim alone. I spent time in Israel before I came for good and was well aware of the difficulties and expected that being alone (leaving friends and my brother was difficult) would be a challenge. For whatever is left of my life, I feel blessed to live in our homeland.

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    1. Irene,
      I'm so glad it's been largely a positive experience for you! It is true that some of the most upbeat, optimistic olim I've met have days when it is the roughest thing they've ever done. But your message is a helpful reminder that it is truly a blessing, and we are indeed home here. Thanks!

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