Sunday, July 19, 2009

First Few Days

Sorry, I know it’s been a while. I’m writing this from my room at the Merkaz Klita Calanit in Ashquelon . I lucked out and got my own room because the place is closing in August so they aren’t accepting any more people. My first few days in my new home have been relatively uneventful. I can’t get anything useful done because I don’t receive my ID card until Monday. And I don’t think I could accomplish anything anyways because I haven’t been able to stay awake for more than 4 hours at a time until today. The trip here was pretty good; another stroke of luck gave me a particularly roomy exit row seat far away from screaming children. And I met about 5 or 6 people that I want to stay in contact with. Everybody here at the Absorption Center has been extraordinarily helpful and friendly, from my floormates to the girls that volunteer here.

In fact, I so far have only one serious criticism of the people here (I hope this reprehensible character flaw does not pervade the whole country). They seem to have no regard for their environment. And I’m not just talking about the ecology; they don’t exhibit even the slightest compulsion to preserve the aesthetics of their surroundings. I live about a 15 minute walk from a national park and the beach beyond, and I have never seen a place so trashed. Cigarette buds litter every inch of ground, every inch of ground that is not adorned with broken glass, beer cans, and soda bottles. And don’t even get me started on the state of their public bathrooms, suffice it to say they are worse than any I’ve been to in China. It pains me to see the beauty of our homeland vandalized in such vulgar fashion; I thought we were better than that.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

All I could do was laugh

So a few weeks ago Nefesh B'Nefesh told me that I had a seat reserved for the July 6th chartered Aliyah flight; all I had to do was meet with a shaliach and get my Aliyah visa. Naturally I immediately called the Jewish agency to set up my appointment. This is how our conversation went.

Me - "Hello, my name is Rachel, I just got confirmed for the July 6th chartered Aliyah flight, and I was instructed to make an appointment with a shaliach so I can get my visa"
C - "Well was just had a this months meetings in Houston, why didn't you come?"
Me - "I was studying abroad this year, and I just got home. But I can come to Chicago if you think that would help me get my visa on time. (apparently Houston is now being served by the Chicago office, so periodically a shaliach will fly down here and make appointments)
C - "No, no won't be necessary, I'll try and set up a second meeting in Houston this month. I'll get back to you when I have a date."

3 days later... This is the one that really gets me. Keep in mind that I am not talking to someone from NBN here, this is someone who works in the Aliyah office at the Jewish Agency.'

C - "Ok, I was able to set up a meeting for the 17th."
Me - "The 17th? Are you sure that will give me enough time to receive Jewish Agency approval and get my visa? My flight is on July 6th. I can still come to Chicago"
C - "You'll have plenty of time don't worry about it."
Me - "Thanks so much for your help."

A week and a half later, and a week before the 17th - someone new picked up the phone...

Me - "Hello I'm supposed to meet with a shaliach in Houston on the 17th, I just wanted to know what time I should plan on being there?"
T - "Hmm it looks like we have you down for 1pm."
Me - "Great. Thanks. I just have one more thing to ask you. I have a seat on the July 6th flight. Is there anything I have to do to expedite my visa processing, like bring a global express envelope to my appointment, or something?
T - "JULY 6th! Don't you think you're cutting it kind of close? I don't even know if it will be possible to get you your visa by then. It takes about a week to get approved by the Jewish Agency, and then several more to get your visa application processed. You really should have to this a couple weeks ago. We will do what we can to get it done on time."
Me - "Thank you so much for all of your help."

I hang up, utterly distraught. "What do I do? I already have my non refundable one-way tickets to New York." I called NBN and told them the story. They said they would keep the seat for me and that I could just bring the visa with me if I got it on time, and that if I didn't they would put me on a flight later in the month.

When I met the shaliach, He gave me the same story that T did.

So as it stands now, I'm still hoping to leave on July 6th but there's a good possibility that I'll be stuck in New York, dragging all my possessions to a different friend's house every 2 or 3 days for 2 or 3 weeks.

And then there's the whole matter of where I will go when I get to Israel. I wanted to do Kibbutz Ulpan, but for some reason, if you are applying as an Oleh you need to do that through the Jewish Agency as well. And of course the shaliach informed me that the Jewish Agency won't let you apply until they approve you. So now when I do finally get to Israel I might have to find a short term rental for a couple months while I wait for a kibbutz that has some openings.

When I got home from that interview I just sat there for a while feeling simultaneously sorry for myself, and pissed off because of the disorganization and conflicting information I had received.

And then I had a sudden realization. This was my first introduction into the infamous Israeli bureaucracy. This is just how they roll, and I better get used to it. In my opinion there are only two good ways to deal with a society that operates in this maddening way. Either chill out, and get used to everything taking a month or two longer than it should, or be super efficient on your part, and handle your business as soon as it arises (early in the morning, and never on Fridays)

I have to let go of that quintessentially American assumption - That everything, from the DMV to the Passport Authority, must run like a well-oiled machine, and that you can always have the option to pay extra and get expedited processing.

In the end, I really have no idea when I'm actually going to leave, where I'm going to stay in New York if I'm stuck there for a few weeks, or even where exactly I'll go when I get to Israel. Yet I'm strangely optimistic. I just have this inexplicable feeling that I'll be settled in before August rolls around and that everything will be fine.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

So why am I doing it?

This is of course the first question that comes up whenever I tell anybody about my plan. Though I boarded various thought trains over the years to arrive at my current destination, for simplicity's sake I will detail only the most recent and powerful.

First I suppose I should introduce myself. My name is Rachel. I just turned 20, and have taken a hiatus from my formal undergraduate education. I spent I large part of this past year traveling around Australia and Asia. And I completed an accelerated massage program in the hopes that when I finished my travels I could earn more than 6.50 an hr back in the states. At some point in my adventuring I decided to make Aliyah. This possibility has long been present as an amorphous idea, but evolved inexplicably over a few months into an urgent, wildly exciting reality.

And what, pray tell, sparked this momentous decision? Before I answer this, your burning query, I must first explain that my desires, as far as lifestyle goes, are rather unusual. I live for travel and excitement and I love a challenge, so the aspects of Aliyah that might deter some individuals, especially those with families, are part of the attraction for me. The main impetus though was my recently inflamed Zionistic passion. I think it was the Gaza offensive that finally did it for me. The backlash Jews experienced globally and the terrible press that Israel was suffering were so ridiculous, utterly hypocritical, and largely disseminated from a standpoint of complete ignorance of the region’s history. I could write pages. Suddenly, there was this disturbing legitimacy given to views and actions of flagrant anti-Semitism. I watched this all unfold, and feelings of fierce pride and righteous indignation grew inside me. I realized that Israel is the single most important thing in this world to every Jew, everywhere around the world, regardless of their religious observance (or lack thereof as the case may be). For thousands of years we have been at the mercy of various empires, and seldom has that arrangement ended well for us. And now we have our own land, our own money (well we’ve always had that ;) ), and our own military (a damn good one at that). Israel is our true home. And by extension of my realizations I resolved that I would move to Israel and do my part in defending what is mine.