Understanding that this is a process enables us to cope with all the stress and confusion that reigns in the first few years of life in our new country. With the passage of time, we begin to feel as if we are "settled in" old-timers, with an understanding of how most things work and how to get things done. This is the process of absorption.
Each family has its own unique process of absorption, which is really just the sum of their experiences. As a result, one family may become expert in special-ed. issues, another in building and construction or purchase of a new home, and a third in the workings of the health-care system (I chose these examples because these are three different areas which many new olim will most likely have to deal with at some point and are vastly different from anything they had been used to in their former countries).
With all the challenges that we face in adjusting, there is a natural tendency to look to others for advice, in the hope that we can avoid some of the more difficult lessons. The Bet Shemesh e-mail list has hundreds of postings each day. A vast number of them are "How do I...?" questions, "Here is how to..." answers, or "Does anyone know anything about..." inquiries.
Eventually, after a couple of years, we have even learned some of the answers. So we know how to maneuver through the health-care system and what to expect from the teachers in school. We sometimes even offer advice to the "newbies" in town, sharing some of our experience with them. And we forget that in our fourth year of living here, we are also newbies.
This week, Chaya's school had a parents' (with student) meeting to discuss next year's national service (sherut leumi) and the process of application and acceptance for the various institutions. We knew this was coming and were excited to be starting this next stage together with Chaya. Sherut leumi would be yet another first for us.
We realized that we were no longer behind the curve for this meeting. After all, many of the other girls are the oldest in their families, and thus their parents had also not gone through the process as parents; everything would be new to them as well. And we realized that, now that we understand most of what is happening (in Hebrew) during these (incredibly long) meetings, we are pretty much adjusted and can participate fully in all activities.
Yet, the information was so overwhelming. Having never done any form of national service here, we had no idea how extensive the programs are and how varied the structure and supervision provided. Should she live at home, or with a bunch of strangers in an apartment? Should she be in a large program or a small program? What are her career interests? Does she want career-related experience, or a program that is rich in helping others as more of a one-time experience? There are so many things for her to consider.
There are even strategies designed to optimize one's chances of getting into the program of one's choice, or at least in a chosen field. There was so much information to grasp and assimilate, and it comes during a year of great transition and experience for the girls.
Three days after the meeting, Chaya went to Poland with about 35 other eleventh and twelfth-grade girls in her school for a week of discovery. Thousands of other students from Israel (and the rest of the world) will undertake similar journeys to learn about the thriving Jewish communities of Eastern Europe and their destruction in WWII. They had prepared for the trip for months, and we could clearly see the anticipation building for her.
The day of departure was full of excitement in our house. The night before, I had gone with Mordechai to an Israeli professional-league basketball game in Tel Aviv with four of his friends. He attends an after-school basketball program twice a week. The program is run under the auspices of the Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv team, so Mordechai is considered a youth member of the club and has a photo ID card from them.
Each year, the youth members are invited to come (along with an adult of their choice) to 12 or 13 select games and attend for free. Mordechai went to a game last year, but the timing never worked out for me to participate. This week, the schedule worked out and we took a whole crew to the Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv (another first for me).
We had a nice time. Having seen Michael Jordan play in Chicago Stadium and Patrick Ewing in Madison Square Garden, I can assure you that these teams did not come close to the talent level I expected for professionals, nor was the stadium anything to get excited about. Yet the atmosphere was exciting and the kids really enjoyed it. We sat just above a set of fans who apparently attend every game, come with a drum, and sing team songs throughout the game. (They stop only for halftime.)
Maccabi won, so the kids went home happy. I went home tired, having to chase five 8-year-old boys for three hours. That night, I was up till 1 a.m. making phone calls to the U.S. for work, and I had planned on sleeping through 7:15 and going to the office a little late that day.
But at 6:00 a.m., Aliza woke me to tell me that Chaya was on the phone at the airport, crying hysterically. The school staff had told her to bring only her Israeli travel papers and not her U.S. passport. Unfortunately, that was bad advice. The travel papers only allow exit and entrance from Israel, and are free for the first five years after aliyah. The theory is that immigrants will still have their passports from their country of origin. Amazingly, the system saves us money by not requiring us to get a passport until year six of aliyah.
In order to get into Poland, she needed her U.S. passport. So I quickly ran to the car and flew to the airport to get her the passport on time (39 minutes from phone call to delivery). She made her flight and is now somewhere in Poland. We will not be able to speak with her until she returns, but they were kind enough to give us the fax numbers of the hotels she will be in, and we are trying to fax her a daily letter. It will be interesting to see her reaction to the trip.
We are beginning to ramp up for the holidays here. No, we don't have turkeys, dried corn, elves, soldiers, or some big fat guy in a red suit displayed everywhere. We do have chanukiyot, chocolate coins, and sufganiot wherever we go. I guess it is a cultural thing, but I am reminded each year that we live in the land of the Jews and for the Jews.