Our aliyah to Israel has been nothing short of spectacularly successful so far. We’ve made friends, we love our community and its location, my husband loves his job, we’re healthy, and life is good.
My ego is hurting.
I consider myself to be a reasonably intelligent person. I love learning just about anything and everything. I love to read, and I have a strong, curious nature that wants to know what makes things tick. I also consider myself a great resource person, and love to help the constant stream of people who come to me for advice on where to buy whatever at a good price, how to build or design something, where to travel, what remedy to use.
Perhaps the most challenging thing about our journey here is feeling stupid.
Our Hebrew is good – – we can mostly negotiate the day-to-day stuff. It takes a painfully long time, but I can now read much of the daily news in Hebrew. Conversational Hebrew is fine, too – – I have made Israeli friends and regularly host people at my home for meals. Our Hebrew may be good, and yes, we can get by. But will we ever attain a level of proficiency that enables us to sound truly intelligent, instead of like sixth graders?
So no, we cannot contribute to a deep philosophical or academic conversation with our brilliant Israeli friends. We just sit there absorbing the information, but looking kind of dumb as we nod furiously. Our discussions rarely get past the superficial if they are going to be two-way conversations.
Recently I joined a committee in my village to help plan and execute cultural events. I thought it would be a great way to meet people on a deeper level. I know I’m a great resource person, and I’ve planned many major events. But I found that as the “whatsapp” messages starting flying back and forth to the committee members about suggestions, and what needed to be done, I was overwhelmed and lost. By the time I tediously and laboriously typed in my input in Hebrew on my smart phone, they were already 20 whatsapps ahead of me and onto a different topic entirely. Meeting in person didn’t help either. They thought my suggestions for events were dumb. Probably some were dumb, but others, I can assure you, were not. I had two things going against myself: I was not young and cool, and I did not know where the cheapest/best/fastest etc could be found. I admit it. They intimidated me, and I retreated into silence. I was irrelevant, and consequently unhelpful. I tried, but I was invisible. When I told them that the combination of my Hebrew difficulties and lack of input made it impossible for me to continue being on the committee, despite my sincere desire to assist, the response was the Hebrew equivalent of “don’t slam the door on your way out.”
These are not mean or evil people. I simply didn’t make the grade. And I don’t honestly know that five years from now, despite my striving to improve, it will be any better.
I know that every immigrant anywhere in the world will relate to this, especially those that are older (I’m 61 and my husband is 70). I also know that we could have made life easier for ourselves by moving to a city in Israel that is more heavily populated with English speakers, so we wouldn’t have to struggle with language and culture.
But we chose to live in a very Israeli village, and I’m still truly glad we did. We didn’t come to Israel to live in “little America.” We chose to immerse ourselves in Israeli culture, all the while knowing that we will always be “the Americans” despite our Israeli citizenship. And we have been accepted here with genuine love and friendship. I love Israeli energy, optimism, and achievement. I love the big hearts of Israelis, and their naturally giving – – and forgiving – – natures. I love that every single Israeli is a “character”, and has a story and family history that is astounding. I respect that every Israeli has been touched by tragedy, but that he looks to the future. I am proud that every Israeli yearns not for the destruction of our enemies, but through doing good and doing it with love, Israelis hope that our enemies will recognize Truth, accept us and want to live in peace.
Israel is filled with immigrants who work at minimum wage because their age or language impedes them from moving forward. (I once met a woman janitor who used to be a judge in Russia.) It’s so humiliating to feel stupid, and so frustrating not to be able to express ourselves, or contribute in the way we might wish. (My husband, who is blessed to have a great job in the hi-tech industry as a high-level programmer, can communicate and perform brilliantly in the international language of Java or C++. He feels fine until he opens his mouth.) Despite our outward confidence, who are we kidding? We feel inadequate on a constant basis.
I think of my grandparents, who were smart yet limited by their immigrant burdens. It’s ironic that I now find myself in a similar place, even if the country is different.
Many of us swallow our pride, because we are building a future and fulfilling a greater destiny in a bigger picture. We are not only experiencing history in Israel – – we are part of it.