Wednesday, March 14, 2012
In America, I Drove a Camry
Sometimes it hits me how utterly upside down I turned my own life by making aliyah. I was thinking of a family vacation we took, years ago. There were overlapping circles of family - us, my sister and her family, my husband's parents, his siblings, etc. One afternoon, my sister and I jumped into the car and drove on unfamiliar roads to have lunch together, apart from the rest of the crowd.
The confidence to jump in the car and engage in spontaneous travel alone does not exist for me at this stage. Here, unless my husband is behind the wheel, I travel with a certain, now familiar low-level anxiety, at least the first time I go somewhere new.
In America I drove a late-model Camry and my husband drove a van. Here, we share a very old Hyundai with well over 200,000 Km and feel grateful each day that the car functions as it should. And that we have a car at all.
In America, I balanced our accounts to the penny every month. In Israel, I have the vaguest sense of what we spend and what our bank balance is.
In America, I stocked up on household and non-perishable products when they were on sale. In Israel, living in much smaller quarters, I think carefully before buying too much of anything because we don't have much storage room.
It took me awhile in the grocery store to understand that Hebrew, being read right-to-left means buy 2 packages of spaghetti and get 1 free, not buy 1 and get 2 free. In America, I understood the sale flyers and the details of any consumer service we signed on for. In Israel, I make my best guess and pray that I'm not getting rooked too badly.
By now, I probably could order a pizza by phone, but it would be a bit stressful, so I still let others do it for us. In America, I nearly always felt confident about my ability to figure things out. In Israel, I am much more dependent on others for help.
The other night, riding a very crowded bus home, a frantic mother tried several times to tell me something involving my feet and her baby's stroller. I thought she was asking if the stroller was in my way and I kept reassuring her that it was fine, but the penny finally dropped and I realized she was trying to tell me that something fell from her stroller and landed near my feet. This is one of the hardest changes to accept. I can't just speak casually with strangers and assume I'll be understood. Sometimes, a telephone solicitor calls and speaks in rapid-fire Hebrew. When I stop them to explain that I can't understand, they usually just hang up.
Okay, so maybe there's a positive side to being linguistically challenged.
In Hebrew, I am an error-prone, bumbling immigrant. Although I stumble through a weekly hour-long Hebrew conversation with my tutor, the truth is, I am who I am only in English. When the topic of hair-covering came up a few weeks ago, I lent my bi-lingual tutor a book on the topic in which my essay was published some years ago. After she read it, she expressed delighted astonishment at having met the real me through my essay.
Having said all this, Israel still, hands-down, wins the "Where Would I Rather Live" contest. I get panicky if I imagine being forced to go back to America to live. I consider it a privilege every day that Hashem makes it possible for me to stay here, in Israel, where my soul rests more comfortably, where my prayers feel more sincere, where my heart recognizes its home.
It's not effortless to live here. But it's Home.
Posted by Rivkah Lambert Adler at 12:13 PM