How to Have a Successful Aliyah: Part Three – Fish Out Of Water
After seeing countless olim come and go during my nine months in Israel, I felt I had to do something. I’ve always been a planner, and making aliyah (immigrating to Israel, for the uninitiated) is the craziest thing I have done to date and also the best thing. Out of all my friends who are recent olim I feel like I’m among the happiest and most well-adjusted, and as I speak to many of them I am beginning to see a pattern of common mistakes new olim make. None of the solutions I am about to propose are mandatory and they might vary from person to person, but these are the things that worked for me.
Problem #3: I feel like such a fish out of water culturally!
Israel is surprisingly diverse, and culturally very distinct. Jews who come from Western countries tend to find Israel less civilized with a residual “third world mentality” to some extent, and those who come from Eastern backgrounds tend to find Israel to be too orderly and Westernized. Israel is, in essence, a meeting of the East and the West, a microcosm of the diaspora as a whole, which I personally find fascinating and beautiful.
People don’t wait in line much here. Many are rude drivers. If you want something, you must have a little more chutzpah than you would in the West. Sometimes, if you don’t assert yourself you will not be taken seriously. People are more blunt in Israel and speak their mind, which can be annoying but also extremely helpful. Children roam free here. People you barely know invite you over for Shabbat – but you have to bring something or else you look like a jerk (and yes, I’ve made this mistake a few times at the beginning and was never invited back by those people – whoops!) In Israel, it’s common to have a vicious political debate only to grab a beer afterwards (compared to America where political debates are avoided because they tend to lead to broken friendships). But don’t talk politics at work – that will land you in hot water no matter what side your boss is on. There are a lot of nuances in Israel you’ll need to pick up on to have the most successful aliyah, and bridging the gap before taking the plunge will help you immensely.
Solution: Learn the culture: attend Israeli cultural events for at least a year prior to making aliyah.
First and foremost, join your local chapter of Israel American Council if you’re American or living in the U.S. Most countries have similar Israel Associations. Attend as many events as you can and mention you’re making aliyah. The Israelis there would be more than happy to help you out, whether it means practicing your Hebrew, finding connections in your field for job prospects (in Israel, who you know is everything), discussing cultural differences, and, once you make aliyah, a sounding-board for advice on issues ranging from contract negotiation to house-hunting. They might even set you up with their single cousin in Ra’anana who just finished his service as an officer in the IDF.
Meeting Israelis who live in your country is so important because they have their feet in both worlds and be able to warn you about certain differences in how things operate between your two countries, which is super important. Surrounding yourself with Israelis at Israel-related events also helps you practice what it’s like being surrounded by Israelis in Israel, albeit on “Easy Mode,” making the culture shock a lot less shocking when you land at Ben Gurion (or NATBAG (נתב׳׳ג), as we Israelis like to call it).