The Aliyah Question

It’s especially relevant at this time of year. Certainly among Anglos in Israel (and possible French-, Spanish-, Russian-, or any-foreign-tongue-speakers, but I wouldn’t know) the most popular conversation kickstarter is who is keeping one day vs. two days.

In every country but Israel, the Jewish holidays of Sukkos and Shemini Atzeres are celebrated for two days each. Situated at opposite ends of a week of “intermediate,” quasi-holiday days, this makes for quite a lot of Yom Tov. Especially when the calendar falls out, like it does this year, with each of these two days ending on Friday evening, which of course is Shabbos, extending the prohibitions against labor until Saturday evening (creating the so-called three-day Yom Tov).

Israelis, however, celebrate these holidays for just one day each, the way they were celebrated way back when we had a Temple and the majority of Jews lived in Ancient Israel. The difference between the Israel and non-Israel celebrations has to do with the way the calendar used to be set every year and ensuing concerns that those outside of Israel wouldn’t know which day the holiday really was. They began keeping two days so that either/or would count. Even though we have a set calendar, those outside Israel still keep two days for each of the major holidays. (This, of course, is an overview of the topic.)

However, what happens when a non-Israeli visits Israel for the holidays makes for an interesting question. There are many different opinions as to whether they should keep one day or two, involving a number of factors. Some common factors that would allow a non-Israeli to keep one day holidays in Israel are whether he always spends these holidays in Israel, or whether he owns property in Israel. I’ve always understood that each person should ask his rabbi concerning whether his personal circumstances allow him to keep one day. I’ve encountered families who had lived in Israel for four years who keep two days because they intend to return to their lands of origin, and I’ve encountered families who live abroad but keep one day because their parents own property in Israel, and everything in between.

In our particular Kollel program, most families are keeping one day (many of the families have made aliyah and consider themselves to be living permanently in Israel). This year, for the first time ever, so am I.

And I’m conflicted. We have not fully decided to live in Israel and have -tentative- plans to return to the States at the end of this year. But because we are considering staying, because we will be in Israel for all the major holidays this year, and because we are no longer dependent on our parents’ American salaries…we get to keep one day. And that I’m okay with, except that  heading out to the grocery store while other families are eating their festive meals in the communal sukkah makes a stronger statement than I’m comfortable making at this point in time.

It says, I’m staying.

While in truth I’m saying, not so fast.

I think Israel’s continued safety and good health is vitally important to the future of the Jewish people. I could even concede the point that the future of the Jewish people is in Israel and not any other country. Too, there is a commandment for us to settle the land of Israel. And of course, the Hebrew and the holiday messages on buses, and the strangers who help you in the street, and the way Christmas and New Year’s are completely downplayed while Sukkos and Chanukah and Purim are prevalent and palpable forces is beautiful and nothing to be taken for granted.

And yet.

Something pulls me back to America. Something inside me balks at the bureaucracy, the lines, the discomfort and inconvenience of…well, everything. The poor manufacturing quality and customer service (our Internet problem is still not solved, even after Technician Visit #5). Not to even begin entertaining the much more difficult questions of the taxes, the job system, the education system, and the language I can’t easily speak, which makes every chore that much harder to accomplish, the disdain of those natives who -still- despise English speakers that much harsher, and yet the reward of accomplishment that much sweeter.

In part I began this blog to record my experiences in Israel, good and bad, so that perhaps when it comes time for us to make the decision I will be able to use the breadth of my time here to parse out a clear answer for myself. Of course I worry that there won’t be one.

Keeping one day encompasses my ambivalence about the aliyah question. It’s been both a positive and negative experience. On one hand, after preparing for and keeping a three-day Rosh Hashana, doing the same for one day of Sukkos was giddyingly easy. On the other hand, however, I am terribly attached to the way I grew up in America. I like welcoming Yom Tov knowing that it is a two-day break from ordinary life. This makes it more than a regular Shabbos, because it’s twice as long. I like traveling a distance to visit with family for the holidays, knowing that the long trips are worth it because we will be together for two days instead of one, like a regular Shabbos. I like that if I was tired or sick or not paying attention on the first day of the holiday, I get a second chance. Here, it’s like you blink and it’s gone.

You have to focus differently here, to value time differently here, and it’s hard to let go of the values you acquired growing up, even if they are consequential and not essential to your ultimate values.

Internet Installation Saga

So we sign up for Internet with one of the big telecommunications moguls here in Israel. We select our service and pay online, scheduling installation for that Wednesday.

Come Wednesday afternoon, the guy doesn’t show up. I call the company and am told that “they couldn’t schedule the technician so we’re going to have to reschedule,” which we do, for the next afternoon.

Thursday afternoon, technician visit #2 happens. He eats a banana, sets up the modem, and says, “In four hours, call *3014 and they’ll set you up on the Internet.”

What do you mean, didn’t you just set us up?

“No no, it’s not ready yet, you call and they’ll do it.”

Okay….we roll our eyes and say it’s Israel, what else did you expect. We were invited to a wedding that night so we didn’t call to set up the Internet on Thursday night.

We make the call on Friday morning before we leave to spend Shabbos with my sister-in-law. The technician on the phone talks me through a bunch of steps (including a “surprise” hidden fee; “What do you mean, I have to choose an ISP. Aren’t you the ISP??”) and we’re just about set up when he asks me if a certain light on the modem is on. It’s not.

Well, it should be. So he says he’ll call the main company and then call me back (isn’t he with the company? Nope, he’s with the ISP division of the company and has to talk to the infrastructure division. Silly American. We do things differently in this country). Surprise! He doesn’t.
DH calls them back to yell but is received by someone who doesn’t speak English and so the yelling doesn’t really go so well (and then they terminate the call). So I call back and explain the problem to someone else, who schedules technician visit #3 for that Monday afternoon
“You don’t have anything earlier?”
“I can send someone today.”
“We’re leaving for Shabbos in 15 minutes. You can’t send someone on Sunday?” Sunday is an ordinary workday in Israel, it wouldn’t be unusual to-
“No, we have nothing on Sunday.”

So, okay, fine. Visit #3 takes place between 3 and 5 on Monday. Except that at about 3:30 DH calls me to tell me he just got a voicemail message from someone speaking Hebrew and it would probably be best for me to call the company just in case. Knowing the poor cell reception I’ve been getting with my old cell phone, I do, and they tell me that the technician tried to call me, and then they called DH, but no one answered, so he decided he couldn’t, like, do something as radical as come up to knock on our door, and so he left.

“Can you send him back?”

No, no, the call is closed. The day’s practically over, anyway. We have to reschedule.

Oh, but wait. This person spends a little longer with me on the phone and discovers that the modem we were given at visit #2 is not compatible with the Internet speed we purchased (we opted for a faster Internet speed). Yay! Problem solved. We hope that the technician scheduled for tomorrow will bring us the right modem.

Technician #4 does not bring us a new modem, but he does confirm that the modem is not correct, and he does get it to work. So now we have internet but not at the speed we purchased, but this is indeed an improvement

So I call the company again and schedule a delivery of a new modem for Wednesday morning. Of course, this delivery guy won’t install it for us.

“It’s easy, you just call 166 and they will talk you through it.”

And I’m betting we’ll need technician visit #5…and it’s still unclear whether or not they are going to bill us for having a) Internet, and b) faster Internet for all this time.

FRUSTRATION SQUID OF ANGER
“It’s Israel.”

No really, once stuff gets done i feel a lot better. It’s just getting it done that takes forever. That’s how these first few weeks have gone here. This country is not known for its customer service.

Apparently, though, that’s starting to change. Some new telecommunications companies have cropped up in the last three years or so, and the competition is keeping prices down and forcing the moguls and newcomers alike to deliver better services. So…maybe? That’s all good in my book. This ridiculousness is just too much to handle more than once.

Collective Yom Kippur

I’m still on a spiritual high from Yom Kippur, which happens to be my favorite holiday of the whole year (no joke). I love the solemnity, the songs, spending the day immersed in prayer, and the wonderful feeling of knowing (hoping?) at the end of the day that Gd has looked into each of my actions and has forgiven them.

Something hit me this year towards the end of Neilah, the final prayer in the day of prayer that is Yom Kippur. I’ve always found this to be an incredibly moving time. The congregation will plead and scream these words, aware that this is their last chance for their prayers to reach Gd.

The men in our yeshiva were passionately screaming out the final prayers and I realized that the Beis Medresh window was open and that anyone passing outside would certainly hear the tumult. Then it occurred to me that no one would think this strange, as this is Israel and the land is dotted with synagogues of all sizes that, as the sun was setting on Yom Kippur, would also be in the midst of their Neilah prayers too.

For a moment I imagined these powerful prayers ascending with passion at that moment from all the shuls in Israel and felt a palpable confidence that with an entire nation speaking to Him, pleading with Him, Gd would surely respond.

Firsts

Recently I’ve noticed many firsts in my life. I’m newly married (for the first and hopefully only time), which in itself brings a whole host of firsts aside from the obvious: my first home, first of many times cooking chicken and meat dishes, our first time experiencing a family loss together, first time taking care of DH when he’s unwell.

It is also our first time traveling internationally together. We have recently arrived in Israel to spend a year in learning. This too comes with its own concomitant list of firsts: my first encounter with Israeli government and office systems by being responsible for arranging student visas, health insurance, gas masks, city transportation cards, bank accounts, and cell phone service, my first time having groceries delivered, my first time doing sponja and line-drying laundry on a regular basis. Though we’ve only been here a month I can sense my rudimentary Hebrew language skills improving seven-fold, which is a first. And last night we celebrated our first (six-month) anniversary.

And so what better time could there be to start my first blog? I don’t often leap into making decisions, but with so much new experience re-forming me inside and and forming our baby family it’s definitely a good time to throw a new responsibility into the mix.