I remember the look. It was given to me by my teachers all through primary and secondary school whenever i would go to them for help.
One time my eleventh grade math teacher, in whose class I finished the year with a 99% unweighted grade point average, articulated that look.
“You, go away, what are you, trying to turn your 99 into an 100? Let me help people who need it!”
Almost ten years later and I’m sitting in a boardroom facing a Nefesh B’Nefesh representative.
“So you’re telling me you have Israeli friends, your Hebrew seems pretty solid for a new olah, two MKs said they would vouch for you, you have a master’s degree from an ivy league school, journalism and advocacy experience, were voted Best Young Defender of Israel by one of the most respected blogs in the movement, and have dabbled in tech startups and medical research? And you’re worried you won’t get a job?”
Nothing this man would say afterwards could assuage my worry. I’m still worried, lying prone on my comfy double bed in my spacious New York City apartment that I found for next to nothing (for NYC standards) through the Jewish grapevine.
I’m worried I’ll end up on the street, just like that New York guy bum tried to pickpocket me today before I went all krav maga on him as he stumbled backward and flinched, even though my parents are relatively well-off and could probably rescue me if I absolutely needed it. Nobody messes with this (potential) future IDF soldier and gets away with it.
I’m worried my Hebrew will never be good enough even though I can speak without an accent because I was immersed in it throughout my childhood up until my preteen years. Even though I speak three other languages in addition to Hebrew, two as fluent as a mother tongue.
I’m worried I would never make enough money to afford rent for an apartment that isn’t falling apart with mould and cockroaches and rotting wood, in a neighborhood where I’m afraid to walk home at night, that smells of trash, sewage, and motor oil.
I’m worried if I do the army, that I’ll be wasting two years of my life, and a master’s degree, doing a mundane job that puts my entire life and career on hold while everyone is finding the love of their lives, getting married and having kids, and then I will become a spinster with fifteen cats, even though I don’t particularly like pets, because there are just so many of them in Israel who need a home, those poor innocent little creatures.
Then I realized I would worry about these exact same things if I stayed in New York. Except the army of course. But the rent and job issue would probably be ten times worse because I’m not a US citizen or even a Permanent Resident.
I shared these fears, in a less dumb-sounding way, with the Aliyah counselor. He laughed at me. Yes, really, but in a nice, kind, encouraging way.
“You, you are the last person I’m worried about. I’m worried about the twenty-nine year-old single mother who can’t speak a word of Hebrew and who is running away from an abusive family situation with no money. I’m worried about the 80% of olim who can’t find a job right away. I’m worried about the Russian or Yemenite guy who only has a high school education or less, who can’t even read and write in English, let alone Hebrew. You, look at you, you will have jobs thrown at you.”
I had been interviewed two weeks earlier, in the cozy office of Zohar, the Jewish Agency representative who was assigned to help me. He asked me the usual questions: are you Jewish? Yes. But really, are you? As Jewish as I could possibly be. Where were you born? Montreal, Canada, in the third most Jewish neighborhood in the diaspora. What Jewish education did you have? K-6 at a yeshiva run by Israelis plus private lessons in 7 and 8. How is your Hebrew? Kacha-kacha, but I can get around okay. About fourth grade level in Israel I would say. Have you been to Israel? Yes, a few times. A couple days later I got a letter saying I was approved. All I had to do was give them my passport for two weeks, at least a month before my aliyah, so I could get a special stamp.
I had a problem. Well, it wasn’t really a problem, but a happy complicating situation. For the next two months I wouldn’t be spending a two-week period without traveling by air and therefore needing my passport as I am not a U.S. citizen. Washington DC, Los Angeles, Montreal, Montreal again, then Houston, then Montreal again.
I did not hand in my passport and in retrospect I’m glad I didn’t, because two weeks later I found out about an awesome program that would be the best segue into Israeli life. Called Onward Israel, it is intended to be a second, extended birthright, for people who have already done the free trip offered to young adults. Open for adults aged 18-31, the goal of this particular host, IAC Mishelanu, is to connect high-achieving Israeli-Americans who grew up in Israeli, Hebrew-speaking homes, to their homeland. Based in Haifa, the unique aspect of this particular program is that participants are expected to have been raised in a Hebrew-speaking environment. So it’s like Onward Israel Hebrew Immersion Level Hard. Luckily, I was raised in a Hebrew-speaking environment, so I was good to go. I passed my Hebrew-only half-hour interview with flying colors (albeit a couple vocab corrections). I received my acceptance letter the next day.
The IAC Mishelanu program costs 400$ and includes room (with aircon and a shower with a WORKING water heater, probably ruling out about 80% of the neighborhoods in Haifa), board, a food stipend, and a transit pass. The best part is that they pair you up with an employer in your field for eight weeks, and offer tons of resume-building workshops and opportunities specific to Israel. They also have trips and even a weekend-retreat. So I’ll be rooming with Israeli-Americans who know both cultures and can therefore, as hybrids, help me understand the differences and help me acclimatize.
The program will allow me to get used to Israel, ease into it without worrying about supporting myself, and allow me time to network so that maybe I could have a job offer waiting for me at the end of the rainbow, or could continue to work the part-time job I work now to save up, or even maybe do night ulpan. It lets me learn to ride the bike with training wheels.
So my plan is Onward Israel, followed by three possibilities:
- Get a job + ulpan.
- Volunteer to join the army (possibly after #1 as it will take awhile for them to process me, but there is a possibility they won’t want me at all because I’m old and expensive).
- Day Ulpan + Part time job(s) – this is my last resort.
The catch was that I had to sign a form that certified that I didn’t have an aliyah visa at the time of signing. That wasn’t a lie. I didn’t, and I still don’t. I might even postpone getting one until I’m done the program, if I have to. But I have all my ducks in a row, and literally the only thing I need to do to be a full-fledged olah is give the Jewish Agency my passport, get it back two weeks later, and hop on an airplane.
June 20th, 2016. YYZ>TLV.
So close yet so far.
It feels almost like I’m approaching the closet door that will take me into Narnia, or opening a new box of chocolates.
You never know which ones you’re gonna get.
I really don’t know which ones I’m going to get and frankly I’m petrified I’m doing the stupidest, scariest, most dangerous thing ever.
But if I don’t take that crazy leap of faith, I’ll probably hate myself forever for never giving it a try.
So off I go…