Op-Ed: Only in Israel: Stories from Daily Life as an Oleh
Dr. Harold GoldmeierThe writer is a former Research and Teaching Fellow at Harvard University where he received his doctorate. He served in the administrations of three U. S. Governors, is a business management consultant with a personal interest in education and NGOs.
I recently provided consultation to The Partnership For A New American Economy And The Partnership for New York City.
In a report to the Mayor and corporate executives, it recommends America adopt the best immigration practices of other nations: see NOT COMING TO AMERICA: WHY THE U.S. IS FALLING BEHIND IN THE GLOBAL RACE FOR TALENT, May 2012 (www.pfnyc.org).
They asked me to describe the history of our aliyah (immigration) to Israel, and government support programs that make aliyah profluent and ultimately, we all hope, a successful transition from America. You can read some of my thoughts under the Personal Focus section, and on blogs like Life in Israel and Arutz Shev
Israel funds a NGO whose staff addresses the special needs of immigrants. They claim a 97% success rate for over 30,000 immigrants they have helped since 2002. Immigrants get financial support underpinning the lifestyle change, education that bridges the social, language, and cultural barriers, and more. Just two recent incidents:
Immigration is facilitated by the government-sponsored group, Nefesh B’Nefesh (One Soul at a Time) that is responsible from beginning and for years after an immigrant’s arrival. After three-months in Israel, we received an email from them reminding us to apply for our temporary passport travel document that allows us to leave the country (and return) without interrupting our government benefits; we might have missed this on their 14-point bucket list without the email reminder. At five months, we got a phone call from a staff member just wanting to know how things are going, do we need any help with anything, and giving us their hot line number again to cal
The call jogged me to think about events in our new lives. Boycotts, settlements, two-state solutions—all way beyond me, not that I don’t have an opinion on all that stuff. But following are some of the smaller events we encounter that might be of more interest and revealing about life in Israel only in Israel:
1.My wife lost her camera—an old story. We never found out where it was found, but a young man called on Saturday night to say he found it. He insisted on bringing it to us, which meant he had to take two buses. He arrived near midnight, handed me the camera, and was about to leave for the two-bus ride back to his school when I offered him a reward.
He absolutely refused. I offered to pay for a taxi, but he insisted he has a bus pass.
My wife asked how he found us? He told us he was at a loss what to do with the camera. He paid to develop the pictures (an old camera). Going through them, he saw one with a “welcome to Israel” plaque on the door of a family named Langer. He searched the phone book, and called Langers in the book asking if anyone lost a camera? My brother-in-law told him “No,” but my sister lost one.” He got our phone number, and only in Israel, can you believe it or not?
2. My wife, an accomplished artist, published, works on commissions, and is now making jewelry, like when we met over forty years ago. After a trek to the Tel Aviv bead center—yes there is a neighborhood for beads and beading, we stopped for a kosher breakfast. We had the most delicious meal. As great as the humus, shwarma, and the Argentine meat restaurants are, breakfasts are our favorite.
Ethel asked the young waitress for a “bencher,” a Grace After Meals booklet of prayers recited after eating a meal with bread. Religious Israelis and most Orthodox know this prayer by heart, but we still like to look at the printed word. The restaurant does not have any, because people so seldom request one. Then she says, “Rega (wait),” runs to grab her own purse, pulls one out, and hands it to Ethel. Big tip on the way, and only in Israel, believe it or not.
3. We rent an apartment, rather than buy, for reasons not important here. Our lease has a clause that only appears in an Israeli document, and not many of them. It claims we have 60 days to vacate the premises “when the Moshiach (Messiah) comes.” You think anywhere but Israel you will see that, believe it or not.
4. Traffic jams in Israel are second to none. We do not own a car. We walk, and take public transportation. That might change in the future. I have not ridden a bus, since I was ten years old. In the meantime, I am down 13 pounds and two inches from my waistline in three months from walking the hills of Bet Shemesh.
We are on a bus that comes to a halt, because a loose donkey is blocking the road. Ok, that might happen anywhere. Chicago had a panther on the loose, and once my business neighbor and I watched a tiger walk by our stores.
Our friends told us about a bus driver stopped for traffic. A taxi driver going in the opposite direction of the bus, shouts out if the bus driver can make change for him? The bus driver gives the money to a passenger on the bus who runs out, exchanges it for bills the taxi driver hands him, and scurries back to hand them to the bus driver. Horns are honking, you can believe it or not.
5. Finally, anyone who visits or lives here knows there are soldiers constantly travelling. I am waiting in the lounge area of a bus/train station seated amongst kiosks. They sell food, books, jewelry, wigs, knickknacks, make-up, and more. I watch a tough looking young soldier with a big gun slung over her shoulder resting on her backside; ribbons and pins on her chest; officer bars on the epaulets; heavy duty red combat boots, standing at a kiosk trying on different shades of nail polish.
I wish I had my camera for Life Magazine. I had my camera on the train from Tel Aviv sitting across two young female soldiers. I was reading about the Iran nuclear threat, and how the best-prepared, most sophisticated military is on stand-by to do whatever it takes protecting Israel from the existential threat. I glance over, and watch these two young women lounging in their seats texting on their pink cell phones at break-thumb speed. Were they texting orders to their charges, to their commanders, to their girlfriends? But these are the guardians of Israel’s fate in whose hands we place our existential future, and I believe it.
Daily, it is an unforgettable journey through a Holy Land.
Editor' note: I guess the writer wasn't on the crowded Jerusalem bus I was on when a little boy, sidelocks flying below his velvet yarmulka, got on with his briefcase on his back and suddenly realized he did not have the fare or his bus ticket. "Never mind", said the bare-headed driver, "put the fare in the tzedaka (charity) box."