Not so "chadasha" anymore...

Disclaimer: this post is really long. Sorry! I wanted to get all my thoughts about a year after aliyah out, even though in reality I could have written another 1000 words... read if you wish.

As predicted, I didn't have time to post before Pesach-- preparing WAY too much food for our seder kept me busy. But that's our seder table above. Pretty, isn't it? :) This was my first time hosting a seder since a little second seder for a few of my friends in college, and I'm happy to say that I actually pulled off not only sweet gefilte fish from scratch and matzo ball soup, but also compote for desert... in other words, all the components of a good Polish seder. :)

April 8th, the day of the seder, marked the one year anniversary of my aliyah. In a way, the one year anniversary is a little bittersweet. I mentally gave myself a year to be an "olah chadasha"-- i.e., a squeaky clean new immigrant, allowed to take time to get her feet wet. A year seemed like such a long time, and during that first year it was fine for me to still not be able to figure out which cut of meat in the grocery store is brisket (our cuts are numbered, and for the record-- number eight appears to be really tough shoulder meat) and to watch Fox News on cable TV more than Arutz 2. Because I was so new-- in Israel for less than a year-- I could still impress people with my fledgling Hebrew and use "just off the boat" (er, plane) as my excuse.

My legal status was also different during the first year: I received my "sal klita" payments from the absorption ministry, I was supposed to tell someone before traveling outside the country, and I was allowed to drive on my American license... at least in theory. (I realized in January that my American license had expired in August. Oops.)

Now, I'm not such a new immigrant anymore. Am I where I thought I'd be in a year? In some ways, further along. I've read my first full-length book in Hebrew, something I told myself I would do after one year. I feel very comfortable here. My husband has a good job, I get around, we have some friends. We have a good life here that feels natural and happy. I caught myself wondering the other day why Americans go out on Saturday night because Sunday is a work day... forgetting for a second that Fri-Sat is not the American weekend. (In Israel, the work week runs Sun-Thurs.) I truly love life in Israel and have not had a moment of actual regret at moving here.

At the same time, if I'm to be totally honest, I also feel frustrated with myself. I think I've been a bit too easy on myself this year. I actually came here with quite good Hebrew, partially thanks to four semesters of college Hebrew, but mostly thanks to the half hour of study that I did every single morning during the year before our aliyah. When I got here, I didn't really find an ulpan at my level, and after a few months of an informal class with some "olim vatikim" from Argentina, I stopped going altogether. And unfortunately Hebrew doesn't come automatically just from living here, much as I kind of let myself believe it would... and stopped studying every day.

There are days when I kind of feel surprised that I live in Israel... it's too easy to hole myself up at home and create a little America inside our apartment. It's too easy for my husband and I to speak English together at home. It's too easy to watch American TV (which airs on cable without ad breaks!) than Israeli. It's too easy to choose to stay home and interact with Americans online than push myself out into the Israeli streets or into the homes of Israeli friends. (I still don't like inviting myself over, despite the fact that that's a pretty Israeli habit.) So while my Hebrew has definitely improved this year, I am frustrated by the knowledge that it probably could have improved more, that I still struggle for words and quite possibly asked the fishmonger (on Tuesday) to grind up bones along with my carpion (for gefilte fish) instead of bones on the side. In my ulpan class, many Argentinians with worse Hebrew than me had lived here seven, eight years-- a reminder that it takes more than geographic relocation to learn a language and shift a mindset.

So what should I do this next year? I want to keep my online job interacting with American students, so I don't plan to get a job in Israel-- even though that's the best way to fully adapt to Israeli life. Instead, I want to make these "new aliyah year's" resolutions so that I can grow as an Israeli this next year...

1. I will read five more full-length books in Hebrew this year (starting with Water for Elephants in a Hebrew translation, which my husband picked up for me because he knew I wanted to read it). I'll post on this blog when I finish each book!

2. I will go back to studying a half hour of Hebrew every morning... I liked the time limit because it freed me up to do whatever I wanted with that time, like figure out the meaning of Israeli song lyrics, read a newspaper, or do a crossword puzzle. Maybe I'll subscribe to some kind of fun Israeli magazine? I love that kind of reading.

3. I will find a new volunteer opportunity that will put me out in my community, speaking Hebrew. (Any suggestions? I volunteered at a veterinarians's office for a few months after I arrived, which taught me how to say "neutered" in Hebrew but also told me I don't particularly like to be around blood. I'm thinking of volunteering at an old folk's home, but any other ideas are appreciated.) I might also start tutoring part time to get a bit of Israeli work experience.

4. I'll try to watch Israeli news more often. Israelis are news fiends, and the nightly news is usually very sensationalistic and entertaining. (More stories about, say, mothers reunited with the children stolen away from them at birth and adopted into ashkenazi familes than the war.)

5. I'm going to start exercise classes so that I get out of the house and learn how to say "downward-facing dog" in Hebrew. :)

6. I'll make plans with Israeli friends (or at least, friends I speak with only in Hebrew-- two of my best friends are Brazilian!) more often, for more informal Hebrew practice. Maybe I'll even set up something formal like weekly coffees (my treat) to work on my Hebrew? Hmm. I'll actually "jump" over to visit my husband's Israeli aunt more often, as she always invites me to do.

7. My husband and I will celebrate "Hebrew-only Fridays," in which we only speak Hebrew for 24 hours to each other. We did it two weeks ago, and it was incredibly frustrating but also helpful. Today I haven't been so good about it, because we're trying to make plans for pesach (going south fell through) and deciding where to go isn't our strong point. But enough excuses! Hebrew-only Fridays it is!

8. We'll figure out which shul we actually want to join. We've visited a bunch in the area, and have been surprised to feel most at home in a masorti shul mostly full of immigrants... but we aren't completely sure we want to join that community. We'll see.

9. I'll try to remember to be kind to myself, because one year really isn't that long and I don't need to become perfectly Israeli all at once. I'm allowed to watch Friends and Oprah on our TV, but I'll also try to get sucked into a few fun Israeli shows as well. I'll listen to Israeli music that I like for fun, not education. I'm allowed to have days when I'd rather stay home or go out with Anglo friends, and I'm allowed to not want to eat salad for breakfast. I'll continue to approach this journey of aliyah as discovery rather than burden. I will be learning "how to be Israeli" all my life, and it's fine to be American too.

Do any olim "vatikim" have advice for me? I would really appreciate it. Perspective can be hard to come by sometimes.

The first Hebrew that I ever learned (aside from a few rote recitations of blessings I heard at Hanukah) were the four questions, which I taught myself when I was twelve based on the tune in the back of our reform hagadah. I did not understand a letter of Hebrew, and I remember my father sitting and squinting at the letters, glasses off, to figure out their sounds so he could write them for me on paper. When I made my first Jewish friend, in college, we kind of bonded over both knowing "ma nishtana." This year at seder I could not only say the four questions but understand them (I was the youngest again, darn it), and most of the rest of the seder to boot. So I've come pretty far.

Two years ago, I remember saying "next year in Jerusalem" at seder and feeling special meaning resonate (next year in the Krayot!). This year, I really feel that, with our own seder, we're on our way. Even though maybe I'm still in the desert.


  1. You've done so much in a year. I wasn't so logical, task-oriented, intelligent about things. You are right about Hebrew being the key. I fouled up there.

    Read the Hebrew paper or news service online, and send at least one letter to the editor a week. Actually, that would be a good idea for me, too. How about nudging me on that?

    One year I took a course in Hebrew, reading articles and discussing things. I was sure I'd be the most veteran olah there. That was about 15 years ago, and there were many more veteran. I was shocked. If your Hebrew is better than that take some Hebrew lit course for Israelis. Just one course at a time. Your Hebrew will really get better.

    Good luck!!!

  2. Thank you so much!! Your response was so encouraging!! And the idea of writing letters to the editor is actually really good... we should start a group blog of "letters to the editor" in Hebrew from olim. I think a lot of Israelis might read it for the comic value. :)

  3. Great post. I know I felt a lot of these things while I was just living in Israel for the year. It was frustrating sometimes how the language doesn't just seep in without you doing anything.

    one thing that's good to remember is that you don't have to shut everything american in you out in order to be a "good" israeli. be gentle with yourself. Israelis like to show how far superior they are to the rest of the world. they aren't.

    Also, definitely a great idea to hang out with people whose only shared language is hebrew. I learned the most Hebrew from working with the Ethiopian Immigrant kids, because our only shared language was English. Plus, I felt less self-conscious about speaking Hebrew with them because they at least remembered a time when Hebrew hadn't come so naturally. I'd look into volunteering for some kinds of after-school programs. kids are great teachers, though you may learn more slang than you hoped.

    miss you!!


  4. I loved this very thoughtful post, and I'm so proud of all you've done and experienced and accomplished in this very full first year of life in Israel :-). And those are wonderful goals for the coming year-- a nice way to mark this next phase in your adventure.

    Ah, you'll inspire ME to get back to my daily half-hour of Hebrew study, Maya :-). I just today read through several articles over dinner in my latest edition of 'Bereishit' (nice newspaper for Hebrew beginners...), and I'm going to download more podcast lessons from www.learnhebrewpod.com .... I'm looking forward to speaking and understanding more Hebrew during our next visit over to Israel-- and definitely want to have a 'full repertoire' of easy Hebrew kids book that I can read to future Israeli grandkids :-).

    We had wonderful Passover Seders here-- and I shared at both that this marked exactly one year of your new life in Israel. Very special timing :-).

    Glad to hear that you plan to make a decision on a shul to really join-- I personally vote for the Masorti one with all the immigrants :-). Wonderful folks there-- with lots of chances to speak Hebrew :-). I loved it that I could understand about 80% of the drash there :-).

    Lots of love, and I'm so proud of you!

    Your American Ima :-)

  5. Great post and thanks for the cross-list. I think your goals are more than admirable. Makes me wonder what the world would be like if all immigrants took to their new countries with that same level of zeal. Not to say that people should be forced into any level of assimilation wherein they don't feel comfortable, BUT it would make for an intriguing place.

    Best of luck with all your goals!

  6. Thank you all so much for your thoughts. I really feel encouraged. Muse, your idea inspired my new blog above-- wanna participate? Hannah, I love you and miss you, and I really like the idea of working with Ethiopian kids. I definitely find myself more comfortable speaking Hebrew to my Brazilian friends, because they (a) understand what it's like to be a new olah and (b) speak easier Hebrew to begin with. My American ima (mommy!), thank you so much for your encouragement... I love you and miss you too. :) Your complete support has made this whole process SO much easier. And Shtetl Fab, thanks for the words of encouragement and the link! Israel was built by olim who made an unbelievable effort to assimilate to a culture that didn't even exist, really... can you imagine those early kibbutzniks speaking Hebrew to each other when it was a first language for NONE of them? So I guess I feel that attempting to assimilate now is the least I can do!

  7. Maya, I am studying Hebrew and found your blog while studying (like you, I set aside 30 minutes each day to study, though sometimes I forget to stop and end up spending too much time, to the detriment of other things on my to-do list).

    I wonder what, if any, volunteer work you decided to do. I think volunteering to help old folks would be a wonderful choice. I understand that Israel has community organizations for volunteers to help elderly people stay in their own homes. When I am trying to improve my fluency in a language, I love talking to elderly people. They are often delighted to have a conversation with someone who is fascinated by everything they say, and they are usually very patient and do not mind repeating things and speaking slowly.

    Thanks for the great blog!

  8. Barb, I'm actually about to post about this soon. I just looked back at this post a few days ago and realized that I've done about half the things on the list without consciously following the list, and I still have to do the other half. I'll post about this soon!

  9. If you had greater than average intelligence (which you evidently don't), your natural ability to immerse yourself in the culture, civilization and language of another country would be significant. If.


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