Friday, September 03, 2010

There Is Joy

This was our first week as Israelis.  Well, not in the most literal sense, since Jewish immigrants to Israel become citizens from their very first moments in the country.  But this week, 8 weeks since we arrived on aliyah, we really lived like Israelis.  My husband earned his first shekel paycheck this week.  Our older daughter started her year-long Sherut Leumi (National Service) position.  Our younger daughter started 10th grade at a new school for English-speaking teens.

And I started ulpan at Beit Ha'am (which literally means, "the people's house" or, due to the art form that is translation, "house of the people") in Jerusalem.

A word about ulpan.  It's a 5-month commitment of intensive Hebrew study for new immigrants.  Five hours a day, five days a week.  Ulpan is a national institution in Israel, not quite as ubiquitous as the army, but every bit as much a part of most immigrant's experience as the army is for typical Israeli families.

There are 12 people in my ulpan class.  There are three Americans including me and a married couple, a woman from Ireland, a woman from England, a man from South Africa, a woman from Russia, a woman from Italy, two women and one man from France, a woman from Switzerland and our Israeli teacher.  That's kibbutz galyuot - the ingathering of the exiles, right there in my classroom.

Getting to ulpan means leaving the house in time to catch a 6:45 AM bus into Jerusalem, followed by a second bus which takes me to within a 5-minute walk of my classroom building.  In all, it's an hour and 15 minute commute.  But, at least at this early stage, despite the insanely early hour, it's a commute that makes me feel like I am part of the country in a way that nothing else has.

The 6:45 AM bus is packed with Jews.  Men and women on their way to work.  Kids on their way to school.  College students on their way to Hebrew University.  New immigrants like me on their way to ulpan.  Women praying or reciting chapters of Tehillim (the Book of Psalms).  Teens flirting with one another. Old people on their way to shop or visit with friends.  It's a massive, beating heart of Jews from all over the world and it delights me so much to be a part of it.

There is genuine pleasure in knowing exactly which bus to take, when it will arrive, at which stop to get off and how long it will take to walk to my destination.  In the first weeks here, when nearly everything was new, there was a low hum of anxiety each time we had to locate a new place to transact business.  But now, with the week just passed, we have begun our routine and, in that, there is joy.

Last night, as we promised one another before we left America but hadn't really done regularly, we spent Thursday night at the Machane Yehuda shuk, buying provisions for Shabbat. Thursday night in Israel after a week of routine has a very different feel than our Thursday nights here to date.  With a shock of recognition, I realized that Thursday nights in Israel, the beginning of the weekend, are like Friday nights used to be before I started keeping Shabbat. We have no school and no work on Friday.  The day is about preparing for Shabbat.  This morning, we were all able to sleep in a little later.  No Saturday morning cartoons, but a day of relative leisure. And, a short time from now, our well-earned Shabbat descends.  Lots of great meals and our first sleep-over Shabbat guests, one of my nephews from Baltimore and his yeshiva friend from Manchester, England.

I don't know by what merit we have been granted such a relatively smooth and comfortable transition, but I am grateful to Hashem every day for the privilege of living in His Holy Land and for the joy that accompanies the feeling of settling in.

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