Immigrant Blues

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.

But.

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?

It’s doubtful.

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.

 

 

 

 

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What’s App, Doc?

Six years ago, when I visited Israel, I wrote several blogposts on the sea changes that Israel had undergone in the many years since my previous visit.   One such post, “Young and Not Restless,” which you can read here, lamented the silencing of Israeli youth on buses and trains with the advent of social media:  everyone is plugged in and no one talks to anyone anymore.

But I was partly wrong:  Israelis are as chatty as ever – – they just communicate differently.

It’s called WhatsApp.

In case you are, like, a dinosaur or Rip van Winkle or something, WhatsApp is an application that sends instant messages via your computer or cellphone.  You can also send photos, and if your typing is slow, you can transmit voice messages.

WhatsApp is an invaluable tool for anyone living in Israel who has family abroad.  It means you can connect without charge.  It’s also great for someone on the cusp of aliyah.

We are building a home in Israel, and I needed to interview and choose an architect in Israel from my then-home base in the US.  When one architect suggested I contacted his references in Israel, I did – –  all twenty-five of them!!! – – using WhatsApp.  From rural Maine I spoke to twenty-five Israelis in Israel over a course of one week, asking them if they were happy with the architect, as well as detailed questions about construction, materials, etc.  Leave it to Israelis.  Not only did they answer my questions, they proudly gave me extensive and instant video tours of their homes via WhatsApp and some invited me to their homes for coffee when I’d get to Israel. In the process I made some valuable contacts  (yes, we hired that architect).  And it was all free (albeit time-consuming, but that’s not the fault of WhatsApp).

In the yishuv (village) where we live, there are 290 families.   When I innocently asked – – via a WhatsApp group, of course – –  how many WhatsApp groups there are in Moreshet, I found the staggeringly-high number of WhatsApp groups may exceed the number of people within the local population.  They include people who formed specific neighborhood groups; people who formed groups based on residents of a single street (especially useful for borrowing sugar); each and every grade in the local school has their own WhatsApp group to keep parents informed of school activities and conferences; there’s a Women of Moreshet group; Men of Moreshet group; the Teens of Moreshet group;  a Senior Citizens of Moreshet group; a Weekly Torah Portion women’s class group; the 8 a.m minyan group; the 1:30 Mincha  group; the Social Workers group; the Armed Fighters group; the Emergency Response Team Leaders group; the Ambulance Drivers group; the Soccer group; the Baseball players group; the Basketball players groups (separate groups for men and women); the Fifth Phase Construction group (that’s for the 45 families building new homes, of which I am a part); a group for changing the building restrictions codes within the Fifth Phase (that one has only 4 members); an English Speakers of Moreshet group; a babysitters group; a Mommy Camp group;  Friday and holiday trips groups; Torah classes groups; Bnei Akiva youth movement groups according to grade/age; a Piano Lessons group; a Bikur Cholim group which organizes meals and visits for people who are unwell; the Health Nuts group; the Looking for a Ride group; the Yemenite Jews of Moreshet group; and the Office of Moreshet group.  This is only a partial list.

Even if you are a member of a fraction of the available groups, it means your phone or computer is pinging all day with announcements of upcoming meetings and events as well as requests to borrow something missng from a recipe-in-the-making; offers for used items for free; requests for orders for fish, juice, whole wheat flour, yeast cakes, flowers and felafel, by people who sell these things as home-based side businesses in Moreshet; and requests for answers to sometimes-bizarre and random questions (my own included).

People who I’ve never seen in my life greet me as if I were a long-lost best friend back from the battlefield, because they “know” me from WhatsApp (apparently I’m easily identifiable thanks to my Standard Poodle, whom I walk several times daily).  This can lead to some embarrassing moments on my part since I’m new here, and  if someone speaks to me face-to-face out of context, I can only fake my way through a live conversation while trying to figure out who the heck they are.

What I want to know is, what happens if you are invited to a group and decide not to join?  Are you considered a frum freak or a snob?  Are there twelve-step Whats App Anonymous groups for those who want to delete themselves from their dependence on various WhatsApp social circles?  Is it possible to Just Say No to WhatsApp and still be part of the gang?

Meanwhile I’m trying to get a T’ai Chi class started in Moreshet.  I’m forming a group for anyone interested . . . via WhatsApp.