Like life, Jerusalem is full of surprises. Walking down the street with my four year old, on the way to Gan, I breathe in the tantalising aroma of Belgian waffles and American pancakes with maple syrup. On the way back just by our home I’m arrested by the scent of Halva and a minute later with Jo Malone Plum Blossom heady in the Summer morning air. It’s these daily idiosyncrasies that make living in Jerusalem one year later worth it.
A year later – our Hebrew is A LOT better. To the extent that we enjoyed, and moreover participated in an Israeli, Hebrew speaking, Shavuot lunch, without too much brain freeze.
It’s a misnomer to believe that you don’t have to work for a new language. It’s a commitment learning to speak and live a new language. More often than not I feel thick as a brick, as my tongue trips over the grammar and I speak of how yoga ‘kills’, instead of ‘cleanses’, as I mix up letters and words in a wonderfully dyslexic way.
A year later – I’m learning what it is to be an Israeli.
Firstly I have to be honest with myself and admit that I will never be one, but my children will and are becoming Israeli before my eyes. (They’re beginning to roll their r’s with guttural Middle Eastern ease – ‘I want a rrreally big trrruck’.)
To be an Israeli is to love life, be direct, not beat around any bushes waiting for Lady Luck to visit but rather to make life happen; such as ensuring space for their family Yom Haatzmaut BBQ by camping out all night with mattresses on the grass, plastic tables and chairs all set up (I kid you not.) I love the way Israelis celebrate birthdays with colourful, helium balloons, festive birthday signs and large, bountiful bouquets of red roses; loudly singing Happy Birthday every time anyone pops around to their two table party at the neighbourhood deli.
You don’t have to walk far to experience joy on the thoroughfares of Jerusalem. There are street festivals every week, from the Light Festival in the Old City to the Summer, sports evenings, every Wednesday on Emek Refaim. With children doing yoga on purple mats held down with rocks outside a French Pattiserie, and a woman salsaing for hours to trendy, beaty, Israeli music in front of a wine store. Whilst we live we may as well enjoy, is the ambience emanating from the brimming sidewalks, cafes and restaurants.
A year later we’ve experienced a full year of Jewish Festivals in Israel.
It’s a tremendous feeling to experience all the Chagim in Israel as national holidays. On Pesach all the Jewish petrol stations are full of matzot and kosher for Pesach snacks. On Shavuot everyone wears white and for weeks beforehand discuss their cheesecake recipes. The streets are tranquil and mellow, as stylish (or not so stylish, anything goes in Israeli fashion) pedestrians make their way to prayers, meals and Shavuot night classes. At 4 am, enacting the pilgrimage of old, thousands afoot, ascend to the Western wall for early morning prayers. It’s such a dramatic difference to outside of Israel where I was always part of a minority group walking to synagogue in our festive best, whilst everyone else drove to work.
The ups and downs of the year have been as constant as our heartbeats. Up and down, down and up.
A year later I’ve learnt that we, as Jews and Israelis, cry together.
I have never felt what it is to be a Jew with a national identity as intensely as I did on Yom HaShoah and even more so on Yom HaZikaron. These are days of national mourning that model what Tisha Bav should feel like. I have never felt sadder, experiencing a grief and solemnity which I was unprepared for. It was an emotional dust storm that sunk into our pores. I joined all the mothers and fathers who stood at their children’s Yom Hazikaron ceremony in the burning heat, tears pouring down our faces (hidden behind big sunglasses) as the future stood commemorating the past, waving blue and white flags of our present. And we all knew and felt, Olim and native Israelis alike, what a national cost we have paid for this land. And we tried as best as we could to banish the thought of these children in their summer sandals and white school shirts, one day wearing green.
A year later – I love Jerusalem and I love how much I still need to learn and experience her streets, stone abodes and hidden corners. I love Israelis (ignoring the ones I don’t love so much), with their open hearts and quirky humour. I love my fellow Olim, whether they’ve been here a year or many years, who understand what it is to crack your teeth open on Hebrew grammar, and find your feet in the ever shifting Jerusalem desert sands.
And as romantic and fairy taleish as I’d like to make our Aliyah I also have to be nakedly honest.
One year later the children still want to (if given the choice) return back to South Africa. I give them another year or two to settle. Life was beautiful in Johannesburg. Easy, comfortable without their mother losing her ice cubes over spilt soft drinks (which are now officially banned from our Jerusalem abode, as is popcorn). They could shout outside in the garden, banging their chests like the wild, cave men they can be, without neighbours sticking their heads out of their windows, shouting, ‘Qiuet!’. Most of all they miss their family and friends….
Nothing can prepare anyone for what immigration is, a ripping of your heart from the soil of your birth and replanting it in a foreign land, which no matter how Jewish, does not always feel like home.
So one year later – We’re still settling. We’ve grown as a family. We have a deeper appreciation of life, that living in Israel inevitably teaches. The children are buying hot, cheese burekas on their way to school for lunch (does anything else matter? They do all agree, despite their complaints, the food in Israel is heavenly.) I’m far more reliant on God than I’ve ever been before as I navigate the newness of every Jerusalem day, from the bureaucracy of applying for an Aliyah ID (that I lost), to what number meat I should buy to make biltong.
One year later I’m still breathing in the Jerusalem air, with it’s surprising smells and one year memories. Wondering with disbelief at the fact that we are blessed to be living our Jewish ideals and dreams a year on from when our journey, with it’s two steps forward and one step back, began.
Stocking Up For the Second Year