Part of the reason I feel so safe and secure in my decision to move to a foreign country is because my husband is not only fluent in the native language, but he lived here as both a child and, for a short time, as a young adult. Furthermore, he spent many years leading and coordinating teen tour programs through Israel. He even has an Israeli passport. In my mind, he’s Israeli.
But, as he keeps trying to tell me, there’s Israeli and then there’s Israeli.
The other day, we were driving around Tiberias on our way home from Misrad HaKlita (the most important government office for new immigrants since they are in charge of issuing us our monthly stipend) when I saw an interesting looking building.
“What’s that building? Do you know? It looks like a museum,” I asked Avi.
“I don’t know what that building is,” he responded.
“What? It says yad v’levanim. That sounds like yad vashem. Is it a museum?” I asked more emphatically.
“I really don’t know. Maybe it’s a museum,” he responded a little more impatiently.
“Well, what does yad vashem mean? Doesn’t it mean hall of rememberance or something?”
“No,” he said. “Yad means hand. Shem means name.”
“Yes, I know,” I said finally exasperated. “But maybe yad is like an official word for rememberance museum, even though it doesn’t mean museum or rememberance?!?”
“Jen! I don’t know what Yad V’levanim is,” he said. “I don’t know why they called it Yad Vashem. I don’t know everything! I can tell you what it’s like to swim in the Dead Sea, or what time of day you should climb Masada, or where to find kosher pizza on Ben Yehuda street. I know the Israel experience! I don’t know Israel LIFE!”
And suddenly I got it. Avi is a newbie, just like me.
Neither of us are freshmen, thank goodness, which is why we had the courage to make this move. I’d probably place myself with the sophmores: I know enough Hebrew to read road signs and enough Arabic to know that the billboards in this village are not in Hebrew.
Avi is easily a rising senior, with his fluency and ability to seemlessly switch from an American to Israeli accent. He can order a double espresso and flirt with the Israeli barista; he can explain our son’s nut allergies to the waitress; and he can talk his way out of a speeding ticket. But he still has a bit to learn: There are words he needs to know now that he never learned as a kid, like “income tax” or “down payment.” Though an experienced professional for many years, most of which involved interacting with very high level professional and community leaders in both the States and Israel, Avi now needs to learn how to be an Israeli businessperson and consumer.
This isn’t the JCC Israel Experience, where we get a driver, a tour guide, and an air-conditioned bus, not to mention thousand of shekelim to keep in our fanny packs “just in case.” This is no vacation. This is no three-hour tour. This is our life.
And we’re not counselors looking after a bunch of teenagers from Syosset for five weeks — we’re parents of three young kids, who happen to have a few challenging needs to navigate in Israel. In particular, a sesame allergy for one and a nut allergy for the other. But, that’s a rant of a different color.
I’m lucky. I know this. I don’t need to clutch my Hebrew-English dictionary. I have a husband who, for the most part, serves that purpose. I’m also fortunate to have a few friends here, who have already crossed the bridges I need to cross, and can advise me as to which is the smoother trail.
But, for sure, my husband and I are now seeing Israel through new pairs of eyes. Not as eager young tourists or upbeat, energetic counselors who know that a hot shower, a soft bed, and a familiar home-cooked meal are only weeks and a plane ride away.
This is our home now. And it’s going to take both skill sets — his and mine — to make it feel that way.