The Person Behind The Posts

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Earning the Right to Kvetch About Israel: Guest Post by Alison Stern Perez

Alison Stern Perez

Aliyah, Redux: The end of my ‘Dark Age of Aliyah’
Blessed to bitch about the Holy Land
“[Living in Israel] is both such a gift and such an amazing accomplishment.”
This has been an intense month for Israel and her citizens, as we celebrated Yom Ha-Zikaron, Memorial Day, and Yom Ha-Atzma’ut, Independence Day, two weeks ago, and the week before that we commemorated Yom Ha-Shoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. It’s always an emotional and contemplative period and, as it does every year, it got me thinking.

I remember feeling elated upon first arriving in Israel, enthralled by the sights and sounds and fascinated by this people I had never encountered before and couldn’t begin to understand – linguistically, culturally or emotionally.  I was excited about the challenge and eagerly dug into the task of learning about my new country and integrating myself as best and as quickly as possible.  And I remember the feeling that the honeymoon was over, around the time that I was contemplating my own honeymoon – but I was being thwarted at every turn in my attempts to prove that I was Jewish “enough” to get married in an Orthodox ceremony in my new homeland.

And thus began a rather extended period that I am beginning to view as “the dark years” of my aliyah, in which I have felt disconnected, disenchanted, often discombobulated, and even more often profoundly disturbed by this people who I still barely understand. 

Yes, my life was going along relatively well, and I have never (yet) regretted making aliyah.  But my relationship with my first love, Israel, has taken some punches and become a bit worse for wear, a bit less idealistic. Over the past few years, the more I have come into direct contact and confrontation with Israelis, the more conflicts and clashes I have experienced, and the more I have come to dislike them.  These days, as you all may have noticed, I find myself complaining to no end, deeply ensconced in my own egotistical sense of injustice, lack of comprehension and utter frustration.

And then, two weeks ago, I came across one of those sappy Yom HaAtzma’ut Facebook posts, the ones that used to make me sigh affectionately and wax poetic about my love for Israel and yes, for the past few years, have only made me snort in derision and comment bitterly, “Just you wait until you’ve been here for longer than a minute!”  This post, titled, “65 Things I Love About Israel,” was written by Keren Hajioff, who had immigrated three years ago.

At first, I considered not even reading it.  I had been cut off not once, but four times that morning on my 10-minute commute to the university campus and I couldn’t even imagine coming up with one thing I loved about Israel, much less 65.  But I decided to click on the post anyway, hoping somewhere deep down that I could find something to restore my faith in Israeli humanity.

I definitely snorted through the first few items – “#1: I love that there are Israeli flags absolutely everywhere.” Yeah, yeah, so what. Waving a flag doesn’t mean the person is going to be nice to you – but then something in me began to shift.  “#7: I love that under a week of knowing someone, he invited me to his wedding.”  That’s true, Israelis really are like that.  And #6 really is true, and wonderful – we do stop what we’re doing at the sound of the Yom Ha-Zikaron siren, stand stock-still and come together as a people for those two glorious and exquisitely painful minutes.

And then #24 hit me like a ton of Israeli-made bricks:  “I strangely love that people here complain so much about Israel. For people to complain so much about this country, means that they have forgotten about how great of a miracle it is that we have it. Why do I love the fact that people have forgotten how great it is that Israel is ours? Because it means we are used to it. Why are people used to it? Because it has been ours for 65 years. That is something that I am very happy about. So, the more people complain, the more I am reminded that Israel is ours.”

And this, I do believe and tentatively declare, heralds the end of my “Dark Age of Aliyah.”  Because it is so, so true.  Because every bitter and whining complaint, no matter how completely justified or painful, that seeps out of my mouth really does both totally reflect and totally take for granted one immutable fact:  I live in Israel.  No, I feel I must say it again:  I live in Israel.

And I can say, without any hint of sappiness, this is both such a gift and such an amazing accomplishment.  Some days I still cannot believe it, and other days I am steeped in gratitude for my decision to make aliyah, my fortitude in pursuing this dream and my persistence in continuing to at least attempt to make my dream match my reality.

I live in Israel.  How many people in the world can actually say that?  And how amazing is it that Israel exists at all?  Yes, she may not be perfect, and yes, she may still have some growing (and growing pains) ahead of her, but she is ours – warts and all.  And those of us lucky, audacious and irrepressibly resilient enough to live within and love her must never forget how truly blessed we are to be able to bitch and moan every day of our lives here.

ALISON STERN PEREZ ( or, a native of Seattle, is a 2000 Brown University graduate.


Anonymous said...

You are either Jewish or not. What's not Jewish enough? And if you are, In Israel you need to have an Orthodox ceremony to get married.

Unknown said...

I get the point about her being happy that we can complain and we do get to take the miracle for granted, that does not make it right. We are akin to spoiled rotten children who do not appreciate the good and take for granted the thousands of bitter homeless years we have endured as a people. Shame on us!!! You know what happens when one takes things for granted? many a time we lose it (and I can imagine even worse consequences after years of tanach learning) Before we complain next time I hope people would seriously contemplate the alternatives.Instead of whining, fix what you dont like. If you are wise, cultured,or so well mannered and know better it is your obligation to fix it. So stop whining and get working!

Antigonos said...

By the time you've earned the right to bitch about Israel, you will be so used to the country that you won't want to, any more. Or won't have the energy to do so.

Kvetch away. Israel is, after all, a work in progress, not utopia.

Comparisons are inevitable. I remember, when it was nearly impossible to leave the USSR [as it was then], and you'd think those who managed it would be happy to be here, that a recent Soviet immigrant complained, during a Histadrut general strike: "This would NEVER be permitted back home!" That struck me as very funny. One assumed one of the reasons he made aliyah was to get to a place where strikes WERE permitted!

Seriously, what drives old-timers bonkers is the automatic assumption that some US olim have that they have a Divine Mission to turn the country into a mini-US. That the US isn't utopia either seems not to have occurred to them. In the 35 years I've been here the changes have been enormous, and I'm sure they will continue to be so.

Rozanne P said...

I just got back to Israel after spending 5 weeks in NY. I sold my house and my car and now am fully rooted here. We all have things to kvetch about living here, but we can kvetch because we do live here. However, here are some feel-good stories.
Erev every chag, from Tu B'Shvat to Succot to Pesach to Yom Haatsmaut, we know what chag is approaching because the supermarkets tell us what to eat: dried fruit, matzo, bbq. or blintses.
You get on the bus. Every person needs one seat for himself and one or more for his packages. However, enter a senior citizen and a seat magically appears. Should it not, someone will poke a young person and yell at him to get up.
I was on the bus opposite a lady eating an orange. She hands me the orange, I take a few sections, make a bracha. She says amen and we both smile.
During Pesach, a woman was behind a customer who had reached behind the chametz curtain to buy chametz. The cashier tried to scan the item...unsuccessfully. Because the store had sold the chometz, it could not be sold.
It's Chanukah In chul, you need permission to put up a chanukiah in many places. Here, anywhere and everywhere. Ditto succot. This is our homeland, for kvetching and for kvelling in the achievements of our wonderful country and its special people.
Rozanne Polansky

Tsivya said...

Baruch HaShem, I made aliya on the first nefesh b nefesh flight nearly 11 years ago. I have visited family in the states regularly. For anyone who may want to kvetch about here, it is certainly no worse than there and more often, much better-as the below stories illustrate. America is an extremely struggling country-economically, culturally, socially. Things do not run "smoothly" there as we like to think they do.

I think often the frustrations here come from not understanding the language and it is the obligation of olim to at least master a functional level of Hebrew. The language can sound harsh and expressions or tone can sound aggressive when actually people are joking with you and trying to help.

The other day I was waiting in a store while the worker was on speaker phone trying to settle a bill. The woman he was speaking with was a tough cookie. He said to her (in Hebrew), "Oy, you are so chuzpadik" and she said, "Yes, they pay me for that" and they both laughed. Humor like that may not fly with anglos.

I thank G-d every second that he chose me among the millions to live here. Enjoy every moment and never look back. You'll be happier for it.

Good luck,