July 17, 2015

Tenth aliya anniversary

Words at IDF Officers' Training school
"Look on me, and then do likewise." (Judges Ch. 7. v 17)
Last week marked ten years of living in Israel. We made aliya on July 13, 2005, landing at Ben Gurion Airport with slight trepidation, crazed looks and four children aged 12, 10, 6 and 4.

What has happened since that fateful day of shoving all our belongings in one Zim shipping container, saying teary goodbyes to family and friends, then starting life all over?

How have we changed since landing in Israel with jetlagged kids sipping sticky popsicles, after losing my passports and purse at the airport (yep, I did, and the adrenaline flow that set in has not abated since) and being greeted by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon?

Lots, and then again, not so much.

My children have been the real winners in the art of adapting to life in Israel.  I often wonder how they would have been had we not moved here and am sure they are stronger, more motivated, spiritually centered, independent and confidant than they would have been if we had not left Canada.

We arrived with a pudgy (sorry, Ariel, it’s true), shy, 12-year-old who only understood Aramaic from learning Gemara at school and who repeatedly muttered “you ruined my life” over the first six months of aliya.

Ten years in Israel have sculpted and groomed him into an awesome 22-year-old officer proudly serving in the IDF. He has learned leadership skills and has an army job that requires responsibility, clear headedness and snap decision making. He just received a promotion to 1st Lieutenant, receiving a second bar that he proudly wears on his shoulder. He is confidant and self-assured. Recently vacationing in Berlin, the feedback we received from him was, “It was nice but I just wanted to be home in Israel.”
Does any other army ask the mom to place the new insignia?

Our daughter, who was 10 when we arrived, melded into Israeli life easily. She knew how to shove herself onto a crowded Israeli bus at an early age and mastered the art of screaming at people when she became a lifeguard at a public pool here.

She loves this country so much, she makes it her mission to experience every hidden natural treasure, be it an untouched ma’ayan (water pool), camping on the beach, hiking across the desert and scrambling up peaks to catch the sunrise. Even her dreams are in Hebrew.  Her Amarit, a language she picked during army service as a sergeant of  Ethiopian soldiers,  is not so bad either.

My then six-year-old was once a wide eyed, softy. When kids threw his pencil case in the garbage can on the first day of Grade 1, he sobbed. I was the one who threw a tantrum and eventually pulled him out of that school, thereby starting my addiction of changing my kids’ schools, delusional that there was a better school somewhere. (Still looking…) 

This once teary six year old is now a buff 16 year old who has so much independence, he rarely returns home until before 9 pm, biking everywhere and filling after-school hours with work outs, surfing, piano, tutoring and volunteering. His Hebrew is just fine--and if someone were to throw his pencil case in the garbage today, they would quickly regret it.

Our four year old was the lucky child to experience gan (kindergarten) here. Once when she came home from school, we asked her how to say ‘excuse me’ in Hebrew. ‘Zuz,’ she replied.  Although in Hebrew  this means ‘move,’ if you’re four years old, a fairer translation would be ‘get out of here.’ So much for being nice Canadians. 

Despite all odds, she has maintained a polite disposition. She has a policy to read all novels in Hebrew and can maintain multiple Whats App conversations simultaneously in two languages.

As for me, I still cannot speak Hebrew as well as I anticipated, even though I’ve tried every ulpan around and have accumulated piles of notebooks with vocabulary words that I cannot insert into my cobwebbed brain.

When people ask me how long I’ve been living here, I reply “since July” (which is not really a lie). My husband and I make a good team: if there is reading involved, I am called to task and if there is talking needed, he is up to bat. So between the two of us, we have semi-functional Hebrew. Ten years in Israel has rewarded us with kids who negotiate in Hebrew over the phone, saving us parents embarrassment, frustration and money.

I may not be connected to the language, but over these years, I have become connected to the land and the nation to a depth that is hard to imagine. We have hiked countless trails, from sweet pine forests in the north to the ragged peaks in the south. Every step we take is beautiful, profound and a blessing.  As for the nation and for the people here, I cannot imagine living anywhere else.

So what has changed after having lived in Israel for 10 years?

Lots, and then again, not so much.


Over the course of our decade here, we’ve also been through three heartbreaking wars and five governments (Knesset numbers 16 through 20). 

The subjects of the headlines are much the same as they were ten years ago, but the threats are now more dire and the prognosis grimmer. In August, 2005, Bush warned Iran that "All options are on the table," implying the threat of American military intervention. Until last Tuesday, that remained the same.


Despite the threats and the gloom, this remains our one and only homeland. We live life fully here in Israel and grow connected to this miraculous place with each small, dusty step that we take. Ten years later, my family would not want to live anywhere else.

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