Stranger in a strange land…

The only feeling stranger than being a new immigrant here, is being a “new” immigrant  the second time around.

The Israeli term for a citizen that has returned from living abroad is a toshav hozer. Because my husband and I both made aliyah, we are toshavim chozrim, or returning citizens now. However the term usually suggests those born and raised in Israel who choose to live elsewhere for some extended amount of time.

We were olim, we are olim, and in many ways I still feel like an immigrant. Other times this does not feel like aliyah at all, it feels like returning home. How strange to be chetzi chetzi - half and half, right in the middle.

Interestingly, our apartment here in our blissful corner of the Judean Hills is also chetzi chetzi; halfway between the top and the bottom of our apartment complex, and just about halfway between the top and bottom of the whole yishuv.

Yesterday I conquered many minor tasks on my aliyah to do list. I was able to (finally) secure kupat cholim, national health coverage, for my family. This has been my number one priority and has taken many office visits in Jerusalem, lots of paperwork, lots of money and many forms and conversations  – all in Hebrew. I also was able to get a doctor’s exam taken care of as a prerequisite for renewing my Israeli license. Once at the licensing office, I pushed my way past two agressive Israeli Arabs in order to maintain my rightful place in line, and was able to negotiate renewing my my license without having to be retested!  I made my way home from Jerusalem without a car and successful navigated a “tremp” along with the rest of the natives.

So while feeling quite triumphant and Israeli, I returned home to children who were distraught and dumbfounded by being left out and treated aggressively in school. I went to help my son with his homework, encountering expressions I have never heard, and then read my daughter’s note from school that explains that her class will be going on a field trip next week – from 7:30 pm to 2:30 in the morning! What???? After getting over the culture shock of this, I realized that we don’t even have a flashlight, or any of the other equipment listed on the school note.

Most of my children were out of the house at a special program just for new olim that is sponsored completely by the municipality here. They are getting help as new immigrants to adjust and feel welcome and supported. (Hence my ability to blog!) At the same time, my youngest is riding a bike outside with a friend who only speaks Hebrew. They have gotten to know each other well enough in Gan (preschool) that he begged to come over.

We went out to Back To School Night at my 2nd grader’s school in the evening. I understood every word the teachers said, but couldn’t tell what the subject were on the weekly class schedule. I took offense at something a teacher said, but after discussing it with her, I realized that I likely simply misunderstood her meaning because of my immigrant Hebrew. While other parents scribbled in the forms they were asked to fill out, I brought ours home. I won’t need a translator, but I will have to sit with them and figure out what they are asking me.

And of course the parents knew each other, caught up on their summer and talked about their kids with the ease of returning families. We, on the other hand, made an emergency meeting with the teacher who is concerned with my daughter’s angst and struggles with adjusting.

So which are we? I didn’t expect to feel any more Israeli than I do, nor did I expect to feel any less of a new immigrant than I do. Yet despite my trying to maintain realistic expectations, it feels so very, very odd and disconcerting to be neither one or the other. This gives me a new appreciation for people who write of being from two races, or two religions. Does one fit in both worlds, or neither? At times it feels like the former, at times, the latter.

In the end, of course, it doesn’t matter. Not only will my self-definition continually change, but others will always perceive me and my identity as olah/toshav hozer/American/Israeli through their own lenses.

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But this does make me mindful of the transition that is the teshuvah of Elul. Our month is not supposed to merely be one of “being on our best behavior”, but rather it is supposed to be a month of house-cleaning our hearts, minds and souls in a transformative manner. We ask to be forgiven our transgressions because we have striven to be different people than the ones who committed the sins in the first place. We return to the land of our soul, returning home, but different.

And this is the story of this strange phase we are in, in this Land – we have returned home….. but different.