Elazar Larry Freifeld looks at the aliyah process from a personal perspective - and what we find is an emotional, and often amusing roller-coaster ride, following the trials and tribulations of his family's immigration and absorption into Israel.
If you are planning to make Aliyah, you deserve the truth, nothing but the truth. Some things never change, only the method by which the object in question is accomplished or thwarted. It's been 20 years since first moving to Israel with my family, and I can tell you it's never 'the right time' to come. Your friends, your lover, your family will say, 'are you crazy?' 'are you sure this is the right time to go…?' If you succumb to this, it will become a kind of neurotic 'coitus interruptus', like a soap opera when the telephone rings and the door forgot to close every time you're ready to make love. Israel is eternal and exists beyond the limits of time and place, as a state of mind, of wholeness and well-being. You have a heart, a mind and a soul, and if for any reason they do not act in unison when coming to Israel, then it's better to stay where you are. Israel is both a symbol and reality of what it means to be a Jew. It's like Ravel's 'Bolero' - it will continue with you or without you - but have no doubt, it will be better and stronger if you throw in your lot with your own people. My mother, may she rest in peace taught me, 'Blapt a yid [lives a Jew]. Like it or not, that's what you are. Believe me, it's not so easy…even if you try to be something else, they will remind you what you are.'
All the philosophy, Zionist ideology or Judaism in the world will not help you if you simply don't have the guts and stamina - especially as it is certainly not, under the present circumstances, 'the right time' to come. How often had I struggled against the ethnicity of it all and would have been content to rest within an aesthetic, universalist conception of what it means to be just a human being, not especially any kind of human being. But experience and culture found me most content being the Jew I am rather than the non- or un-Jew I might have become - had not my authentic lazy Jewish soul insisted on its rightful place in the heaven created by an especially Jewish G-d, for a particular Jewish head like my own.
Such is this thing called Aliyah that Jews can only come to Israel through choice or by default. Some are running away, and some are running to. Both, according to Herzl and Rav Kook are welcome in Israel because essentially, Israel is for Jews who cannot live anywhere else but in Israel. This is a positive rather than negative expectation because to live in Israel is an achievement 'a rising up!' not a failure, and requires at first a strict economy of means.
When we first arrived in the summer of 1982 at the Mercaz Klita in Mevaserret Zion, 9 kms from Jerusalem, we were given precisely one spoon, one fork, one cup, one plate for each member of the family, and advised to hurry to the Macaulet (grocery) before it closed for Shabbat. Viewing the lights of Jerusalem at night from the nearby Castel fortress was a constant source of inspiration and assurance that we were really home, and had done the right thing by making Aliyah. The support provided by the absorption center is invaluable, as it contains within its close boundaries all that is necessary to smooth the transition and lighten the culture shock. Within this compound is an Ulpan for the study of Hebrew, an office of the Jewish agency, an employment office and all facilities for the distribution of food and housing. The variety of Jews from all over the world with their many languages, customs and traditions is positively astounding. From scientists to clerks and technicians, poets, artists, artisans, engineers, doctors, dentists, entrepreneurs of all sorts and variety fall within the precincts of the absorption center. Though many of you will prefer to make it alone and move directly to the cities, I highly recommend the absorption center as it provides a minimum of 6 months of learning and assimilation without the worry of financial stress and support. While at Ulpan you will receive what is comparable to unemployment insurance, while you adjust to your new society. The friends you make will last, and if you have children, the center provides day care and financial assistance.
Israel, unlike most western capitalist democracies is a combination of democracy and socialism. Though capitalism is encouraged there is a limit to its unbridled expansion within Israel. Ninety percent of the land of Israel is owned by Keren Kayemit, and is held by the Jewish State in trust for the whole of the Jewish people, ad infinitum.
Israel is a country of countless intellectuals and enlightened Jews. You've never seen so many chiefs without Indians. Every Jew is a universe within himself, and together we are a nation of prophets, scientists and poets. Nowhere in the world can you be respected precisely because you are a Jew, strong, united and independent. Some days you will wake up hating it, other days loving it, but never will someone come knocking at your door and be astonished you are still sleeping at 12:00 o'clock in the afternoon. For it is written in the Talmud that if you steal a man's money you can always pay him back, but if you steal a man's sleep it can never be repaid.
One day, on returning late from Jerusalem, my wife asked me to pick up a bag of milk on the way home. Who ever heard of bags of milk? Stopping in a Macaulet near the bus stop, my Hebrew being freshly minted I asked the man for Kelev. In Hebrew the word for Chalav [milk] and Kelev [dog] are similar. He laughed and said, 'No, we have no dogs here. All our dogs are in the Knesset.' Turning now to our system of government which is based largely on English parliamentary and Turkish mandate models, it must be said, that all things considered, though there is free speech and opposition, and little if any censorship, there is remarkably little corruption to protest among our politicians.
One Israeli professor told me once; 'In Israel, you can say whatever you want, but you can't do whatever you want.' There is correspondingly less crime and drug trafficking than in most western democracies. You can walk all hours of the night and never be accosted or mugged or molested. Everyone abroad thinks we are living in bunkers. Perhaps this is because we are a civilian-based army with literally 6 lines of defense extending from the outer limits of our territories to the heart of our inner cities. In this sense we live in a police State where each of us is a policeman, since most Israelis are armed and in the army. Oddly enough, there is little violence of the senseless kind, but rather internecine [familial] or political. Intrinsically, we are not a violent people, and most crimes in Israel are of the 'white collar' kind, or of the occasional 'passion' sort. Our level of society is extremely high and alert. All opportunities and institutions are readily available and you will find an open mind and heart for any ideas you might have for improvement and advancement. Whether in technology, business, science or the arts, you will find an ear to listen and a pocket to invest. But be forewarned, this country is a first rate power for its size and there are great sharks in this little pond. It used to be said, 'you need three things to succeed in Israel; a doctor, a lawyer and a bank account.'
Some people tend to overstay their time at the absorption center, but after 7 months I moved with my family to Tel Aviv and opened a bookstore on Ben Yehuda Street. Israel, as you might already know has a 6 day work week beginning Sunday, ending Friday afternoon for Shabbat. The work day, however varies between 6 to 8 hours with 80% of the workforce in service industry, the remaining 20% in consumer, agricultural and industrial production. Usually, those working 8 hour days work a 5 day week, with Friday and Saturday off. There was some talk some years ago about switching totally to a 5 day week, and the chief rabbi of Jerusalem was interviewed concerning his opinion of the proposal being handed down to the Knesset; 'Well,' he replied after a moments' thought, 'I think it's a good idea, but let's start from 1 day a week and work up from there.' Israel consists of an incredible variety of occidental and oriental Jews, and it would be good to keep in mind that this is the Levantine, not Europe the U.S. or the Far East. The cultural mind set here is most definitely Mediterranean, with both advantages and disadvantages in terms of a production- oriented western capitalist democracy.
In my opinion it's the best of both worlds.