‘Have you had a breakdown yet?’ I was asked on Shabbat. ‘Of course I have,’ I answered. ‘Many, many mini breakdowns.’ Notably the woman who asked me is a social worker. She runs an infertility counselling centre and has nine children, which includes a set of triplets. This is a woman who knows about breakdowns. And yet she smiles and has a wicked sense of humour. An inspiration to everyone who has breakdowns. Especially Aliyah breakdowns.
So what is an Aliyah breakdown?
It can be so many things.
It’s opening a carton of yoghurt, expecting creamy, plain yoghurt and feeling devastated after the first salty, leben bite. In context this is after many, many attempts at buying full cream, plain yoghurt. You wouldn’t think it was rocket science to buy a normal carton of yoghurt, but it is.
It’s banging a gate in frustration after walking with heavy grocery bags from the shops, realising that I’ve locked myself out of our home.
It’s shouting more than I would, fighting more than I would. We are all more on edge. More ratty than normal, especially at the end of the day.
It’s failed driving tests (My husbands not mine. I haven’t had the guts to try yet).
Burnt chicken wings, a cup of pink lemonade spilt over the table onto the chair and floors. A frustrating sticky mess.
Of course the breakdowns could be because of the scorching sun that cooks my eggplant that I put on my patio table to dry out.
It’s ignoring mail that’s piling up, school Hebrew doesn’t prepare you for bureaucratic correspondence.
It’s slinking out of a trial Ulpan class, as I realise that my Hebrew grammar is from upside down land and I’m going to have to build my Hebrew foundation from scratch.
It’s not automatically reading in Hebrew the way I do in English. (The reason for the yoghurt fiasco, the diet pineapple ice lollies that I thought were mango, the cookies that I thought were parve but were milchik, that I gave as a Shabbat gift for a meat lunch. We all wondered why they were so delicious.)
It’s everything that goes wrong in normal life but it’s taken much more personally. It highlights my humanness and vulnerability. It shows me that we are all fallible as much as I’d like to pretend to myself that I’m not.
The truth is that breakdowns are happening all around me. I am not alone. Jerusalem is grappling with her own shadows. Every shop on Emek Refaim bears the sign ‘׳ירושלים אומרת לא! לֹאלימות ‘Jerusalem says, “NO! to violence”’.
When terrible things happen we all pause. We forget about yoghurt and leben and diet pineapple ice lollies. We reconsider who we are, what values we have, what we teach our children.
As we break down we grow up.
Of course with Aliyah we break down just a bit more often than usual as every day brings something new.