Welcome to Chelm!

Moving to Chelm

Making aliyah is supposed to be the fulfillment of my of your Jewish identity, so why does Israel make it so difficult? Wasn’t it bad enough in America being the only one who did not hunt for Easter Eggs or bring presents to exchange for the “holiday” party. Now the shoe is on the other foot, and suddenly I have the funny accent, and my skills “are not specific enough”. Laugh and cry with a recent olah as she navigates Israeli bureaucracy.

In NY, our shlicha (femine for shaliach, or aliyah counselor) was actually pretty helpful—when I could actually reach her. In America, this person is, for the purposes of my moving to Israel on aliyah, THE representative of the State of Israel. If she says I can’t do it, then it can’t be done. I tried. I even tried calling to Israel once. They had no idea who I was, could not find my file, & asked who my shaliach was. But I DID hear from my shlicha that week!

So I found out that there was an ulpan for engineers in Ra’anana, a small city with a large Anglo (read American) population. Surprise, surprise, there is not room available in the Merkaz Klita  (Absorption Center) in Ra’anana  for the next  year and I don’t want to wait. So the rep says, “Well, there is room in Kfar Saba, just a bus ride away, you could commute.” Ok, I figure, I’ve been a NY subway commuter for the past who knows how many years, and this is actually a short bus ride (20 min). I go for it. This worked out just fine, I told my husband, “I’m psyched”.

I get to Israel & all is fine, except for one thing. The ulpan for engineers has been closed for years (it had been for Russian olim). No problem, I said. It turns out that there is an ulpan right in my Absorption Center. So I go to apply in the office. The first lady I spoke to says, “Lo Matim Lach, Rak Letze’erim” (not right for you, only for young people). So I try to speak to the Eim Bayit (the lady who said come to me if you have any problems.) She also told me “that the ulpan here is Rak L’TZe’erim, lo matim lach”.

By this time I am getting a little concerned. OK, so I know from my research that a couple of private ulpanim did generally try to cut off students at age 35, I also knew from that same research that the local ulpanim did NOT have any such restrictions, and I even had found one Kibbutz ulpan that was willing to let me in at my advance age of 41 based on my promise that I worked as hard there as I had in NY (which was plenty hard, but that for another story.)

Finally, I get my “official welcoming” interview with the social worker at the center. She asks me what my plans are and I said that I came to learn Hebrew while my husband stayed in NY to work. She was sympathetic, but repeated  the same mantra that I was by now stiffening before I even heard the words “rak l’Tze’erim”.  She at least explained that the students there were all 20 or less, from mostly from Eastern Europe, had no idea where there were going from there and the real kicker: “you Hebrew is already better than what they are finishing this ulpan”.

Now let me tell you, this conversation was by no means in high level Hebrew. The only Hebrew I had spoken in years was the words I read in a siddur. 20 years earlier I took one year of college Hebrew and the University of Denver, so I could count, and I knew right from left (usually, but not always) and karov and aroch (near or far). I know that nouns and verbs are somehow supposed to agree, but I never really comprehended how that was really supposed to work.

My husband grew up in Israel, but had been in the US for 20+ years, and when ever we visited family in Israel, they usually spoke English to accommodate me, so there was no Hebrew head start program in my life. Quite the opposite was the case, which of course, I regret now that I really am older (but only a teeny, tiny bit wiser.) and still barely able to speak Hebrew after finally finding someplace to let me study.

The moral of this story: Every word of Hebrew you learn before moving here is worth its weight in gold, even if it’s not grammatically correct.

Add your comments and come back Feb. 22 for: "You have to be out of here with in two weeks or your stuff will be out on the sidewalk by next Friday.”