1. Amud Anan

    Me and my friends devouring some pizza in Jerusalem while southern Israel is barraged with rockets and Gaza suffers from Israeli air strikes.

    Me and my friends devouring some pizza in Jerusalem while southern Israel is barraged with rockets and Gaza suffers from Israeli air strikes.

    I suppose I’ve been a bit lazy with this blogamajig but to be honest there just has not been anything so exciting to write about. Unfortunately now, I have found myself for the first time in Israel during a military operation and while it isn’t exciting at all, it’s scary and it sucks. 

    Ironically the operation has been named Amud Anan (pillar of cloud) - an biblical illusion to the wandering Jews in the dessert who were surrounded by a protective pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night. I assume the name was supposed to assure us that we are being protected, but since this operation has started I have felt just the opposite. 

    A Bad Situation on Both Sides

    When it began I thought I would be fine. After all, I am located in Jerusalem - a city that has not been hit since 1970 and is respected as holy by all three major religions. There is a large Muslim population and rockets with poor aim do not discriminate. However, as shabbat started this past Friday evening we heard the siren go off in Jerusalem indicating a rocket was headed our way. It landed in open space in the Gush (south of Jerusalem) and no one was hurt, but it was a sign that Hamas is willing to take this to a much further level than expected.

    For the past four days, the Tel Aviv area has heard warning sirens. Luckily the Israeli government deployed the fifth Iron dome battery there on Saturday and it has been successfully intercepting the rockets. Most of the Israelis feeling the impact of this are the same ones that have been dealing with it for years - the residents of the south. These people deal with hundreds of rockets daily and cannot go to school or work. So far only three deaths on the Israeli side (also with thanks to the Iron Dome, and poor aim) but the impact it takes on their daily lives and emotions is certainly not easy. 

    And then there is Gaza, a tiny strip of land densely populated with 1.7 million people in 140 sq. miles who’s lives have not been easy for years. There is an unemployment rate of 28% (58% among young people) and 50% of the population is under 18 years of age. 1 in 5 of these children suffers from PTSD. 39% of inhabitants live below the poverty line. Meanwhile, Israel controls everything going in an out of Gaza - airspace, borders, and territorial waters. While Israel used to have its own citizens residing in the strip, it unilaterally disengaged in 2005. The governing body is Gaza since 2006 is Hamas, an organization considered as terrorist by most of the Western world. They have been responsible for many terrorist attacks on Israel and most recently all of the rocket attacks that the south has been facing. The Palestinians view it as resistance due to the illegal siege on Gaza’s borders. The Israeli’s view it as continued terrorism and a further reason to maintain the siege. Already in this operation their have been a lot more civilian casualties on the Palestinian side, bringing back the devastating memories of Operation Cast Lead, but the Israeli government will note that unlike Hamas, they never actually target the civilians. However, the Israeli army must remember that their capabilities far outweigh Hamas’s and unlike Israeli civilians, these people do not benefit from the wonders of the Iron Dome. 

    Who’s fault is it?

    As most of you know, I’m a liberal Jew often situated in the lonely peace camp here in Israel. I didn’t choose this war, but I’m not sure its wrong either. When people ask who started it, the situation is so complex and has been going on for so long its truly hard to say. But one thing I can note is that I feel like I’m one of the only people that is even trying to understand both sides of this mess and that can get very frustrating. And I know for sure is that if we are ever going to find this elusive peace, understanding each other is a must. 

    As the world is looking to put an end to this as soon as possible with a ceasefire, they seem to fail to understand that while this situation has exacerbated in the past few days, that is not where it began. And as someone who feels very caught in the middle, I unfortunately think our mistakes were made much earlier and lie far deeper than this specific skirmish. The further this conflict goes on, the more extreme we are becoming on both sides. The Palestinians elected Hamas in Gaza who do not appear to be at all interested in making peace with Israel but are rather much more interested in killing us - and not just because of the siege. But the siege is a problem for sure - I mean seriously, would you want to live under siege of a foreign enemy power? But that was a mistake since 2005 when Israel unilaterally disengaged. Didn’t they think it might of been a good idea to talk to them first so we could get something out of this? Controlling the borders is seen as necessary for security reasons which I can’t deny, but that is because we left without talking to them first. And as long as the siege goes on, we can only expect them to become more extreme and more angry at us. 

    And Israel elected a right wing coalition who claims to want peace but never acts on it. A few weeks ago Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority (governing body in the West Bank) was interviewed on Israel’s channel 2. He spoke of the state of Palestine only within 1967 borders, specifically noting that even though he was orignially from Safed (an Israeli city in the north) he does not have a right to go back and live there. His words were so moderate that Many Palestinians in Gaza were burning pictures of him in opposition. Netanyahu ignored his olive branch. 

    I don’t see these leaders as people who will be able to find common ground and that is frustrating. But the civilians need to consider these things when they elect their governing bodies. In democracies, everyone can take fault because everyone has a say. 

    The only solution I can see working

    And as this goes on, here I am sitting in my peace camp attempting to enlist in the Israeli army (As of now I’m enlisting in April but I’m trying to get them to let me in earlier). And it’s not because I like guns or think war is cool, but because I want to make a difference in this country and unfortunately that is the only way to fully integrate so that my opinion will matter.

    I know we all say we want peace but sometimes people feel like its so impossible that they forget they have to work toward it. As this bloody operation wages on I just hope that the result will be the realization of the need for peace. This is not a way for us to continue on either side and our respective electorates need to consider not just the short term, but the bigger picture. So as you sit at your computers finding meme’s to wage your one-sided nationalistic social media war that likely is preaching to the choir, take a few minutes to look at the other side’s memes just to see what they are feeling. We didn’t choose this war but maybe we can prevent it from happening again. 

  2. To My Grandmother

    About a month before I made aliyah, we found out that my Anyu had cancer. They didn’t know where it originated and she opted not to treat it, after all she was turning 87 and was very aware that no matter what, her life was close to its end. When she said goodbye to me she was crying and saying that it was going to be the last time she saw me - and she was right. I thought I would come home in the winter and see her one last time but I guess she knew better. One day before the start of Yom Kippur her condition rapidly worsened and that was it. I won’t get a chance to see her again. 

    She and I had different views of the world, which made sense because we had experienced  entirely different worlds. She was a Holocaust survivor who opted to stay in Hungary after the war, despite the Communist takeover. She, my Apu,and my uncle escaped Hungary in the height of the failed Hungarian Revolution in 1956 with my infant mother in a backpack. After some time spent in an Austrian refugee camp, they arrived to New York and restarted their lives. 

    Its obvious that the challenges my Anyu faced in her life are beyond anything I can even comprehend. And she did it all for me - which is why when I told her I was moving to Israel, a country where everything would be more difficult for me, she couldn’t understand. She had struggled so that my life could be easy and I was only making it more difficult. 

    And yes, there are challenges. 

    It’s been two and a half months since moving here but it feels like it has been much longer. I’ve easily settled into the Israeli mentality of complaining about everything that is wrong with this country - and there is plenty to complain about. It seems that in every aspect of Israeli public and private sector operations, they got it almost right, but not quite. If the whole country just hired a consultant I would feel much better about my decision to live here. 

    The bus driver catching up on some news. 

    And there’s that whole thing with the Palestinians which as much as you would think would be bothersome - isn’t. I’m more frustrated that I can live my life ignoring the fact that we are occupying people without noticing it, than fearful that these people will hurt me. And with Iran - if you really think Bibi can attack Iran without United States support than you are delusional. He’ a war mongerer because it gets him votes, as a result of Israel being founded as a war-obsessed country. Overall, these are frustrations rather than actual difficulties. 

    Things are expensive here - especially food and petrol which make the cost of living rather high. And just like my Anyu did, I am struggling to learn a foreign language which presents multiple difficulties on a daily basis. She was right - America is much better in a lot of ways. 

    But then there are other things, like the way that the public transportation system at this time of year wishes me a שנה טובה (Happy new year) and how the entire country shuts down completely on Yom Kippur creating a “Kippurtopia" so strong that it rids the air almost completely of the normally high levels of pollution. I like living in a place where I have off of school for my holidays automatically rather than having to take off days and worry about making up the work I missed. I like that every shop keeper wishes me a "שנה טובה". I like that an old woman on the bus tells me to take off my backpack lest it will injure my back because she, and all other women in this country think they are my mother. And I like that when I get on a bus and the only available seat is next to a religious man everyone moves around to ensure that I can comfortably sit next to a woman rather than make that man uncomfortable. 

    And for my uber-liberal friends who feel that having off for these holidays and shopkeepers wishing everyone a happy new year is somehow a breech of democracy, just think about Christmas in the U.S. It never bothered me when the shopkeepers wished me a “Merry Christmas!” but simply put, I’d rather it be a “Shana Tova”. And yes, the whole balagan on the bus may seem crazy because it would have been a whole lot easier if I could just sit down in the one unoccupied seat, but we made it work in a way that makes everyone comfortable because thats how things work here - when they do actually work (its not always the case). Living amongst ultra-orthodox Jews and Arabs means everyone is a little out of their comfort zone (some more than others). But if I don’t think that the chareidim should isolate themselves, than I can’t isolate myself either. Being uncomfortable is the key to making things better. 

    So I’m sorry Anyu, that you think you worked hard only for me to make my life harder but I promise you I like it here and more importantly I want to make things better here just like you wanted to make things better for me. 

    Tomorrow is my צו ראשון - literally meaning my first command (with the army). So far I’ve sent a request asking to serve (since I’m too old to be obligated) and I was granted that request. Then last week I went to the enlistment office asking to move up the date of my צו ראשון and they decided to give it to me a week later! Sometimes things are actually surprisingly efficient here - but it’s always a surprise. So this means that tomorrow will be a day of testing, both physical and mental, which will help them determine my placement. 

    And I guess my Anyu had to die before this first interaction with the Army because there is no way she would have wanted me to serve. It certainly won’t make my life easier and I don’t really anticipate enjoying my service but living easy isn’t always the best way to live. 

    And so far the actual hardest thing about being here was not getting to say goodbye to my Anyu and not being with my family during this time, especially since I was already lamenting being away from them during the חגים. But with all of the times I’ve been wished a “Shana Tova” here (either from a bus or a human being) I am hopeful that it actually will be a good year. 

  3. What I got at the Mall Today

    Apparently they have been distributing them since the Persian Gulf War, but recently Israel’s complimentary gas masks have been on high demand. The army has increased distribution centers to include malls and urged its citizens every morning on the radio to ensure that we pick them up as soon as possible. 

    I’ve been here for about five weeks and so far I held off on picking up this new accessory of mine. Coming from the United States it was a bit hard to accept that I actually might need this thannng. But after hearing about the urgency on the news every morning, it seemed as though they were trying to tell me something. 

    The Israeli Postal Service seems to be the center of all important business here. Most forms or payments to social security, taxes, or health care funds go through the post office. [If we followed this model in the U.S. we might not be experiencing the postal service crisis we are currently in.] Apparently the army has also commissioned these extremely important public servants to distribute the complimentary gas masks. It used to be that you would have to go to a post office to receive one or pay to get it in the mail, but now that there has been some intense war mongering going on in these parts (ie. with Syria and Iran), they have decided to increase distribution to the mall. So right in the middle of the mall are a few postal service employees doing their duty of doing nothing that has to do with anything mail related by giving out gas masks. 

    The distribution area was pretty easy to find given the enormous crowd that surrounded it. We had to take a number and wait our turn but after an hour of watching what seemed to be an infomercial-like-video explaining how to feed your baby while adorns its mask, we handed over our I.D. cards and were given our free masks. Unfortunately they come in a box that you are not supposed to open until their use so we don’t even get to play with them but at least the box came with a long strap so that we can wear them comfortably around town. I’m sure most people just keep them at home but if you really consider the fact that we might need them, I suppose we are supposed to carry them around wherever we go. Tonight I’m going to a club so am I supposed to bring my new accessory with me? That’s why it has an easy carrying strap, right?

    As a pacifist, its not so easy to move to this war-obsessed country. And even though I’m trying right now to enlist in the army, for some reason it hit home a bit harder today when I found it necessary to pick up a gas mask from the local mall (where I also bought a pair of shorts, by the way). 

    What I hate most is that I don’t have enough information to actually have an informed opinion about all of this war mongering. Should we attack Iran? What do I know? I don’t have the same intelligence that the army and the government has. I don’t want them to do it but I’m not about to go protest with Meretz (left-wing political party) because I have no idea what is actually necessary. I have some idea of what the repercussions of attacking Iran are though, and it’s not looking pretty. So I just hope that if we do it, its because it is truly necessary and not a byproduct of our military-obsessed culture. 

    But for now, thankfully, the gas mask still seems unnecessary and a bit absurd and I’m hoping it stays that way. And between both of the new objects I acquired at the mall today, I’m seriously hoping I get more use out of the shorts. 

  4. Pride & Hope

    As of yet, I’m not very busy here and at times I miss the maniac schedule I had grown accustomed to. However, I feel that I owe myself a bit of time to try and learn a bit about life here before jumping into it. Especially now that it is summer here and universities are finishing, Jerusalem is full of festivals, concerts, and life. Not only are these experiences fun, but every experience here tends to provide clues on how to engage with my new life. 

    Balabasta - Art and Music Festival in Machane Yehuda (the open market)

    So far one of the most poignant experiences was the tenth annual Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade. It is no secret that Israel suffers from the tension of attempting to be both a Jewish and Democratic state and that sentiment is loudest in Jerusalem - a city known as our spiritual center and inhabited by a religious majority. The buses do not run on shabbat and the majority of stores are closed. To be not religious in Jerusalem places one into the minority. 

    Along with other Abrahamic Faiths, observant Judaism seemingly rejects homosexuality. Therefore, in a city dominated by religion and observance, this parade has at times become rather tense. In 2005 an Ultra-Orthodox man stabbed three participants of the Gay Pride Parade. Since then, they have greatly increased security but the tension is still just as thick. 

    But as 1,500 supporters marched from גן העצמאות (Independence Park) to  גן הפעמון (Bell Park), some wearing כיפות (yarmulkas) and some dressed in drag, there was something dramatically unifying about the experience that seems to have escaped the State since the ישוב (Pre-State) period through Ben Gurion’s ממלחתיות (Statism) ideology and entirely lost with the Begin’s מהפח (Upheaval). Traditional Jewish songs were played alongside Cher and some marchers wore garb reflecting their political affiliations with an equally wide array. 

    I don’t believe there has been or would be any parade like this in the world. The inclusion of religion in the fight for equality that was present during this march was unique to the situation of Jerusalem and the desire to truly exemplify the Jewish Democratic State our founders envisioned.

    There were, however, some blaring reminders that this instance was not as utopian as it seemed. Seeing participants hold signs from an organization fighting for the allowance of same-sex marriages seemed so far-fetched in a country where many Jews cannot even get married under the Ultra-Orthodox monopoly because they are not considered Jewish enough. The term “marriage equality” takes on an entirely different meaning here. But nonetheless, this parade provided a unique insight into the hope that Israeli society might have. Amongst the dangerous cleavages in today’s Israel, there are sometimes moments of greatness that alleviate my fears of what Israel’s future might look like. 

  5. Camp Ulpan

    New friends - Yitchak from Toronto, Lance from Philly, Yael from Sweden and Mikhael from Brazil

    About three weeks ago I moved into Ulpan Etziyon remotely located in a neighborhood called Armon HaNatziv. A map of my location can be found below. I live in a very modest dormitory style apartment with two roommates. We have a bathroom and a kitchenette and  luckily we are getting along quite well. Lisa is from New Jersey and graduated from NYU. Yael is from Sweden but speaks perfect English and almost perfect Hebrew. 

    We got lucky. We like each other a lot but that is not the case for everyone here. There are about 150 people living here from 30 different countries between the ages of 22-33. All of us are new immigrants and everyone came here for a different reason. If I had any fears that moving to the Jewish State would leave me missing diversity, they have been entirely alleviated by coming here. But with that comes a struggle of finding those people I am comfortable with and have something in common with. Some people’s decision to move seems like it was just another step in their confusing journey of finding themselves. Some don’t plan on staying. Some plan on staying but don’t seem like they will make it. Few are as young as I am. Many don’t speak English. 

    I have some people I would call my friends but for the most part I feel as though I’m living in a strange reality television show. When i leave for the weekend to go to friends, I feel so comforted by the familiarity that I really miss during the week.

    Thank you Frank for taking care of me! (Us at the Jerusalem Wine Festival)

    People ask me how I am doing with the recognition that being an olah chadasha is a challenge and I say I’m fine. And I really am. Ulpan Etziyon is a program and they take care of us. Ask me again in four and a half months when I actually have to figure this out on my own. My apartment may not be so homey and the food here isn’t so great, but just like living in smelly freshman year dorms in college, these experiences give us all a commonality. Through this I can become friends with the guy from India who came here most likely because there are only 30 Jews in his town. Or the 32 year old from the U.S. who has moved around a lot, had various occupations ranging from a medical marijuana dispensary manager to a glass blower, lived in Southeast Asia for 3 years and came here because it was just the next stop on his adventure. 

    You might think our commonality is that we chose to move here, but our reasons are so different that it becomes difficult to even build a relationship off of that. But now we have the shared experience of trying to make this work together in a place which seems like sleep away camp for 30-year-olds. I know that over time I will find so many more commonalities with these people but for now this is what we have to work with. 

  6. This is where I live. It’s called East Talpiyot or Armon Hanatziv but basically its as far East as Jews live in Jersualem. It takes about a half hour by bus to get to town and a 15 minutes to walk to anything useful (post office, makolet, etc). This is my home for 5 months. 

    This is where I live. It’s called East Talpiyot or Armon Hanatziv but basically its as far East as Jews live in Jersualem. It takes about a half hour by bus to get to town and a 15 minutes to walk to anything useful (post office, makolet, etc). This is my home for 5 months. 

  7. Heat Wave

    I’ve been here for a week and so far my biggest complaint is that its hot. I know you are probably expecting to hear about all of the ridiculous Israeli bureaucracy that I’ve dealt with or struggles with the language, but honestly the heat trumps all. And the bureaucracy hasn’t been that bad. On my third day here I successfully opened a bank account and got a cell phone. The next day I received my teudat zehut (ID card) and temporary health insurance card and today I got my Israeli credit card. So basically, I’ve been making moves. 

    But what makes this all a challenge is not that people are hard to work with or that my hebrew isn’t perfect. It’s hard because its too hot. The mercaz klita (absorption center) I live in doesn’t have air conditioning so I wake up every morning feeling dehydrated. I then go downstairs to have four hours of hebrew class also without air conditioning which makes paying attention quite a challenge. Every afternoon I venture into the city center via bus to try and find my way but can only accomplish so many things before I get too tired from the heat and it is time to retreat back home to sit in front of my fan. I knew I would miss having a car and that sentiment has certainly been reinforced. 

    Other Challenges - 

    1. There is no Target here. Remember when you started college? Or moved to a new apartment? All of the basic items you needed just required one quick trip to Target. Well, since I was only permitted to bring two suitcases, I came with only one towel, one set of sheets, one pillow, and no kitchen appliances or utensils. It would be wonderful if I knew the best place to get all of those things but I don’t. If you live in Israel and have any advice, I will gladly accept. 
    2. I don’t have much family or friends here. Luckily I am living in a place that has about 200 people between the ages of 22-33 for me to become friends with, but building real friendships takes time. I luckily have a few other friends in the country who are helping me out, but not everyone is close by and they are obviously busy taking care of their own lives. I know I can make friends so I just have to wait this one out. 
    3. In case you didn’t know, I’m liberal. If you were a liberal would you move to a country with a significant religious minority which is overrepresented in the government? It might not be the best idea. But religion is only part of it. Politically I differ from many people here and its somewhat uncomfortable for me. In order to make friends for now it seems I just have to keep my mouth shut (which I’m not very good at). This is especially true at Ulpan where most people have moved here for very idealistic reasons and haven’t yet settled into the reality that this country isn’t quite the best thing since sliced bread (although I firmly believe that it could be if we work on it). 

    Now I don’t want you to think its all difficulties and complaints. I’m really doing quite fine. It’s only been a week though so who knows what’s in store for the rest of my life here. And please keep me posted on your interesting lives as well! I know this is a public blog, but it is very likely that if you are reading this I miss you dearly. 

  8. They Gave me a Tree

    I should have rehearsed it. Most people on my flight had succinct one liners to answer the question but all I had was a blank stare. Why did I make aliyah? The real question is why would I make aliyah if it’s so difficult for me to answer that question? 

    You know how you have relatives that you love but you dont like very much - that’s how I feel about Israel. She’s mine and I will unconditionally love her but that doesn’t mean she is perfect. But nonetheless, there are some things that make this feel like it was the right decision. As expected I got off the plane and was immediately surrounded by a million religious girls who started simcha dancing around me. 

    Not to mention that the Mayor of Beit Shemesh was there to greet all the 9-children families from my flight that would likely be joining his community. Also as expected, we waited for a very long time before being processed and getting our free cab rides to our new residences. None of this was surprising. 

    Then, right before I got into a cab, a man from the Jewish National Fund gave me (and everyone else from my flight) a potted tree. As you may know, JNF is famous for planting trees in Israel; you may have gotten one for your bat mitzvah. Who knew you would get an actual tree upon becoming a citizen of this country. Oddly, this was a sign to me that I had made the right decision. 

    That relative that you love but you don’t like - she has those quirks that remind you that you love her like when she gives you a potted tree as you are standing in Ben Gurion Aiprot with all of your belongings ready to start your new life. 

    So for now when people ask me why I made Aliyah the only answer I have is because they gave me a tree. Maybe after a few months I’ll have a better one. 

  9. גם זה יעבור

    My plane leaves in 12 hours and so far I’ve only had one freak out moment. It was 6 weeks ago when I was moving out of my college apartment. I took down everything from my well-decorated walls and realized the next place I would be living was going to be Israel. My previous life was over and I had to work hard to build my new one. To calm myself down I left, went to a friend’s apartment, and had a few beers. Since then I haven’t freaked out once. 

    As most experience in their childhood, I used to get upset about a lot of things - a bad hair day, a bad grade, or because the boy I had a crush on but didn’t want him to know it, figured it out. But every time I was upset my father would repeat this mantra - ”גם זה יעבור” which means “This too shall pass”. I suppose after hearing it enough times i subconsciously adopted it as a life-view. I rarely get nervous or anxious not because I’m over-confident but because I know that there will be problems and I will work them out. 

    To put it simply life will be hard in Israel but I’ll figure it out and then it won’t be. I’m not fluent in hebrew but I will be. I don’t have very many friends so I’ll make some. I think their government functions in a terrible way that undermines democracy and creates policy grid block so I’ll fix it. Maybe I’ll need some help with that last one. 

    But so far my biggest struggle is that I have too much stuff to fit into the two suitcase allowance I am permitted to transport my life in (#firstworldproblems). So if my biggest problem is that I have too much stuff, then I really can’t complain. 

About me

23-year-old University of Maryland graduate trying to figure out life as an עולה חדשה