When I first moved to Israel, my language skills in Hebrew were not great. I didn’t even know the words for “bank account” when I went to open my first Israeli bank account. I brought along my roommate to act as my translator and to help me figure out the difference between the various forms I filled out.
That was eight years ago.
Whenever I need to deal with Israeli bureaucracy now, whether it’s going to an office to file some forms, speaking to a customer service representative about problems with my Internet account or something as simple as reading my electric bill, I think back to those first few months.
In this last year, I’ve been reminded more than ever of how far I’ve come. It started when I needed to go to the Israeli Tax Authority to file some paperwork. Unaccompanied by friends or family members, I was able to fill out every form and ask every question without any assistance. I walked out thinking, “Did I really just do all of this by myself without needing to speak a word of English?” It was a milestone moment. Languages have never been my strength; learning to navigate the language barrier is one key to a successful aliyah.
With this new sense of confidence, I started paying closer attention to Hebrew documents that I’ve been ignoring for years. I have heard of friends here in Israel who hire people to go through their bills with them. Sometimes they find that they’re paying two bills for what should be one account. I needed to learn to have more faith in myself than “the system.”
Paying closer attention to my credit card bills, I noticed a social security charge. That is something that is supposed to be deducted from my paycheck. I had a feeling that this problem went further back than just one credit card statement. Another thing I’ve learned after so many years in Israel is how to manage the bureaucracy and never trust anything to go smoothly. Before going to the social security office, I looked at their (Hebrew) website, downloaded every form that I needed in a situation like this and gathered every pay slip that I’ve received in the last few years. Each time the person I spoke with said I needed to come back another time with a certain document, I said, “Got it,” and plopped it down in front of him. There would be no brushing me off that day!
He looked at the computer and said, “You’re right. We owe you over 4,000 shekels (the equivalent of about $1,000).” Even though it was money that I should have caught being taken away from me years ago, finally figuring it out and having it returned to me felt like winning the lottery.
These language milestones are not the only hurdles I feel that I’ve cleared this year. The other hurdle is my relationship with America. Eight years ago, I would have jumped at any opportunity to visit America. While I have never regretted my move to Israel, that doesn’t mean that I do not miss the country of my birth.
This past winter my company asked me to do a month-long business trip around America. Eight years ago that would have been a dream come true – one month traveling across the United States. By the end of the trip I had a great time; I went to California and Florida (my first time in America outside of the New York and Rhode Island areas since my aliyah), I saw family and friends and even had a little time to enjoy myself … but I missed Israel.
When I first moved to Israel, America was naturally more familiar to me. This year it became the reverse – I understand Israel better than I understand America.
When a person first immigrates to Israel, he is classified as an Oleh Chadash (New Immigrant). For eight years I’ve worn that label with pride. It reflects a decision I made to pack up my whole life and follow a dream. But now it’s time for me to drop the Chadash (New) from Oleh Chadash. Until the day I die I’ll be an Oleh/Immigrant to Israel, but I no longer feel like a new one. I’ve come too far, and learned and accomplished too much to feel that way any longer.
DANIEL STIEGLITZ (firstname.lastname@example.org), a Providence native, made aliyah in 2007. He holds a master’s degree in creative writing from Bar Ilan University; is the director of Staffing and Recruitment at Sachlav/Israelonthehouse, a Birthright Israel trip organizer; is a certified Life Coach; does freelance content writing; and lives in Jerusalem.