Moving to a new country in your 20’s is pretty sweet. You’re still young enough to be naïve, have plenty of enthusiasm for change and also have a healthy stock of idealism. Which will be quickly ushered away at the start of graduate school, but that’s fine.
The thing about moving away from your beloved family is that, well, nobody else is gonna be your mom and bug you to go to the dentist. Or if your a/c catches fire, you can’t just go hang out at mom and dad’s until the smell of smoke is clear from the building and the lawsuit from your landlord is settled. Yes, a landlord sued my roommates and I for the a/c going up in smoke. Guys, you gotta look over the contract before you sign.
That first step as a new olah was renting an apartment with My Own Money (provided by the Israeli government for the first six months of living here) and it was such a cool feeling, but also it was such a harsh start to my new life. We had all the terrible things: 5 roommates living in a 3-bedroom apartment, a terrible contract, a vindictive landlord, and damn, even the elevator was cursed or something, because one time I was coming home and I was going upstairs (I always take the stairs) and I heard some lady in the elevator scream her head off because the elevator suddenly stopped working and I just quietly went inside my apartment and pretended I couldn’t hear her.
What are neighbors for, right?
I was a terrible roommate as well those first two years, because something they don’t tell you when you move to a new country is it’s not an easy transition while you are also balancing school and work and learning a new language. No, this is the Middle East where your gynecologist yells at you for crying because you are “ruining her good reputation” and “just because you’re most likely pregnant even though I have done 0 tests and asked 1 question doesn’t mean you should start crying, oh my god Americans are so weak.” (Don’t worry mom, I wasn’t pregnant). Everything is different. The medical system, (yay free healthcare!) the culture (yay not waiting in lines!) and especially the food (yay cheese!). What a relief that I don’t have to pack a pb&j if I’m going out on a long day trip. Things are kosher here!
Anyway, so I was like, dealing with Adulting the first time while also having this existential crisis of what I wanted to Do with My Life (as you do in grad school). So, I was naturally miserable. When my roommates would like, have friends over, I would scowl and go hide in my room, hating them for having time for a social life. I also had this weird thing about the trash, because one roommate always ordered pizza and never threw out the box! She just put it in the trash. She never took out the trash. So I took the box out of the trash and left it there for her to throw out, which obviously she didn’t.
God what a tragedy, I know.
The effort of learning Hebrew after classes and work was also exhausting, but ultimately rewarding. I never got diagnosed with dyslexia but it makes a lot of sense that I have it as I struggled to read out loud. Reading words had the added challenge of my brain helpfully switching letters around, like, sure that yud should be before the chet, thanks brain! A dyslexic brain is truly trying its best but also it isn’t paying attention to the finer details, like where letters are situated. I didn’t worry much about my mistakes because I am not a perfectionist and language is weird. My lack of vocabulary and struggle with reading has led me to many issues, like that one time I threw away the electric bill (the story to that is https://alanaschwartz-19067.medium.com/how-i-accidentally-threw-away-the-electric-bill-704ec21fc3ae). But hey, that was just one time.
Dating wasn’t easy then, either. I had a devoted, lovely boyfriend who one time bought me flowers and I literally said, “Oh, no, what am I going to do with these?” like, it was a terrible mistake and such a burden on me to now have a bouquet of flowers in my home.
Adjusting to new Israeli life took some time, and now that I’ve been here for 10 years, I am in that fun liminal place where I don’t feel 100% Israeli and I definitely do not feel American when I visit, because I have my Israeli mannerisms ingrained in me and I no longer say sorry for inconveniencing people. I don’t know if all America is like that, but as a proud Coloradan, we are all like that. Probably every time I fly back to Denver I offend many people, but like it’s fine because they’ll never say.
Anyway, Hebrew is still such a struggle for me. There’s this beautiful song I learned in Ulpan about a French immigrant who goes about his day in Hebrew. He orders breakfast, he speaks with his co-workers, he asks for directions, and navigates his world in Hebrew. But at night, he dreams in French. Now, having dreams where you hear your second language being spoken is fun, and maybe a sign you’re becoming fluent (I’m sure I read a ton of research about that) but I feel that song in my heart. I “dream” in English because I still relate so much to American English culture. The books, the TV, the movies, and especially the Anglos that made Aliyah. I haven’t really fully integrated into Israeli society, with tons of Israeli friends and whatever, but that’s ok. I plan that if I have kids, they can be the Israelis and make fun of their funny olah mom who has an accent.
I still got some frustrating times when it is so obvious that I am an immigrant, like when an old washing machine broke and we had to buy a new one, and I realized that I had no idea how to purchase a washing machine. It’s okay, my Israeli roommate helped. It’s so hard to realize these limitations!
I recently was confronted with this issue when the ceiling in the building I live in started leaking. Before, I had a fun ceiling leak that was coming from an electrical outlet in the ceiling and I panicked and called my landlord and she was like, “put a bucket under it, this happened before” (cool, thanks landlord) but luckily my landlord speaks English and it was the apartment above me that was causing the leak so I didn’t have to delve into my vocabulary and find the word for leak and it was fixed pretty quickly. But recently, the leak happened again, but this time it was the hallway, so when I called my super about it, the only way I knew how to express what was happening was telling him, “It’s raining in the hallway.” Also, the Hebrew word for leak is very similar to the word for boogers so I wasn’t sure if I should try that word. (Also, boogers in the hallway, although a tragic inconvenience, are not a reason to call your super). It was such a David Sedaris moment for me, and I recalled in one of my favorite chapters of his book Me Talk Pretty One Day when his class had to explain to a classmate what Easter was (she had never heard of it) and in their broken French they described some kind of nice man who is also a lamb and also died.
I’m sure I’ll have a lot more “raining in the hallway” moments where my Hebrew won’t be perfect, but I’ll be understood. I am so grateful to have called this country home for so long, and I definitely could not have done it without the everlasting support from my family, especially my parents, and my chosen family here in Israel. Here’s to many more years!