I used to jokingly tell my husband over the years that one summer we should rent a house in Israel and give our family a genuine experience of living in Israel. I mean it’s true that we made aliyah and we have our Israeli identity cards, which we were able to procure through our blood, sweat, and tears in the days before Nefesh B’Nefesh streamlined all the bureaucracy. But the Anglo ghetto of Ramat Beit Shemesh has such a comfortable and familiar American atmosphere, that sometimes it feels like we don’t actually live in Israel.
When we arrived in Israel, we deliberately spoke English at home and enrolled some of our kids in English chugim (enrichment groups) to ensure they would hold on to the language of their forefathers. Little did we know that a Hebrew chug may have been more advantageous. Besides the residents, many workers in schools, hospitals, and kupot cholim have at least a rudimentary command of the English language. I do speak Hebrew with my unapologetic American accent all day at work, but it is possible to walk around the neighborhood and barely utter a word of Hebrew. There are half a handful of true Israeli families in our immediate neighborhood. I actually spotted one a few months back walking to shul.
We, too, have stores open until late hours. Whereas when we first got here, we had to travel to another city in order to buy the products we missed from the alte heim, these days the local supermarket carries just about every American product, including my all-time favorite, Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, which can be found even in the local supermarkets that cater to an Israeli crowd. I still measure in inches and feet and check the weather in Fahrenheit. Besides all of this, my family has visited the United States enough times so that my kids can appreciate a Coke-flavored Slurpee from 7-Eleven and a Bavarian Cream Dunkin’ Donut. So, I can’t honestly state that we have fully integrated into our beloved Israeli society which we call home.
All of this changed to a degree when my son entered the IDF (Israel Defense Forces). We were exposed to a whole new part of Israeli society, which included meeting and depending on people nowhere near our comfort zone. Although my son’s comrades were not drastically different from many residents of Beit Shemesh, until that point our contact with them had been much more limited. They live on the other side of town. But when our son enlisted, our cozy bubble was infiltrated. In a good way. The experience was intense and enlightening, and overall a positive one.
But we have now officially become Israeli. Our aliyah is complete. We are no longer foreigners in our own land, viewed by some as positive additions to Israeli society, by others as peculiar and interesting yet harmless individuals, and yet by others as misguided and silly folks. We are seen as a curious breed that has fancy taste, and outsources basic housekeeping activities by hiring cleaners and buying take-out, having not mastered the art of spilling water all over our homes to clean the floors, and whipping up pastries in a jiffy. (Personally, I neither buy take-out nor have I had a cleaner since the beginning of corona.) They think we Yankees buy everything big and in bulk, including homes and cars. All they need to do is walk down the aisles in Osher Ad to see the gigantic size of imported items like paper towels and garbage bags.
Whether or not these stereotypes are true, my family is now fully Israeli because our son just got engaged to one of them. We’re not talking about someone who was born here but has Anglo parents. We’re not talking about someone whose family lived in the US for many years and eventually returned. We’re talking about a native Israeli. We’re talking about the real deal. My son is marrying into a family that doesn’t worry about passport expiration dates because they don’t own passports. They’ve never left the country nor do they aspire to. (On one side, the girl is 8th generation Israeli.) We’re talking about the kind of people who think Maalot (a city in the North) is on the other side of the world. People who make their own techina (which I do, incidentally, just sayin’) and spill water all over their homes when they wash their floor.
We are entering a whole new universe. My mother tongue and my mother-in-law tongue are no longer one and the same. Table talk will take on a whole different character now. When our daughter-in-law-to-be joined us for dinner, we had to make a very conscious effort to speak Hebrew, which we all do but not with each other. We now have to find that balance of helping everyone stay in the loop while keeping the conversation natural.
We recently went to meet the parents of the girl in their home. When we arrived, Mr. Clean had obviously just discreetly slipped out the back door. The house was clean as a whistle. Immaculate. Not one thing out of place. It’s not that we live in a pigsty or anything, but I believe if the girl’s parents would visit our home and then write an article about their experience, they would very likely use other adjectives to describe the condition of our home. They served us a beautiful selection of perfectly uniform mouthwatering cookies and pastries as well as a platter of fruit cut to perfection. The food I generally serve may be tasty; however, my presentation is not nearly as beautiful.
I believe that joining this family will be a new and exciting adventure for all of us. After close to 23 years, we will be exposed intimately to the people and culture of the land firsthand and finally experience what it is really like to live in Israel. And maybe I will even learn to properly wash my floor.
Suzie (nee Schapiro) Steinberg grew up in Kew Gardens Hills. She works as a social worker and lives with her husband and children in Ramat Beit Shemesh.