Time flies. And fast. My family just celebrated the 22nd anniversary of our aliyah. On one hand, it’s hard to believe we are here for over two decades. On the other hand, it does feel like we’ve been here for quite some time since the country which we call home is vastly different in so many ways from the country we moved to. In what seems to be mutually exclusive achievements, Israel has become much more westernized and progressive while simultaneously hanging on to the small and intimate family feel. It’s the advancement of many small changes which in combination have substantially improved the quality of life here.
Prior to our making aliyah, we opened our file at the Jewish Agency. Other than presenting us with the necessary paperwork, we did not receive much guidance from our shaliach. As a matter of fact, when we called our shaliach with a question a few days before our departure, he asked us the name of our shaliach. You get the picture. When we landed at the airport, we had to wait on a very long line at passport control along with our young children, one who had spent most of the flight exercising his lungs quite loudly and only settled down for the last hour of the flight, only to be awoken shortly after. Our volunteer from the popular aliyah organization at the time was kind enough to greet us just as we left the building and escorted us for the two minutes it took for us to bring our luggage from the terminal to our cab. That was the support we received, in a nutshell. The following week, we spent hours in the various offices getting our identity cards, setting up our medical coverage, clearing our lift, etc. Aliyah today is a drastically different experience from those days. Nefesh B’Nefesh holds the hands of the olim and provides systemic support for them before, during, and after the event. They also process much of the paperwork during the flight itself. That alone is a major improvement. It’s another world.
You probably won’t believe me when I tell you what gan registration was like when we first moved here. Parents needed to show up at a municipal office super early, something like 6 or 7 in the morning. That was just to get a head start by writing our names down on a paper taped to the door so that we when we would return a bit later in the morning to actually register, we would only have to wait a few hours until our names were called. Parents in the know (not us newbies) would get on their marks, get ready, and get set, in order to best position themselves for this bureaucratic nightmare (oops - I mean bureaucratic process). Gan registration day was not the highlight of anyone’s year. But since then, things have also progressed. Now parents can register their kids online - hassle-free! There is even someone in the municipality assigned to helping new olim with the registration process. It’s a different ballgame.
When my family made aliyah, we were fortunate enough to have a cousin who literally walked us through the entire absorption process. She procured everything we needed until our lift arrived, showed us where to shop, what to buy, and miraculously even showed up just as my 5-year-old son cut his forehead open after meeting up with a lizard in our bathroom sink - something he wasn’t accustomed to seeing in our old hood. My cousin mentioned that a new gan was opening up, modeling itself after a school in Yerushalayim. However, as it was a new gan, the opening was contingent on there being enough registrants. We strongly considered the option but, in the end, we decided not to send there. We figured that aliyah had enough challenges in store for us. We preferred to stick with the established gan rather than deal with the uncertainties a new gan would present. Early in the morning of the first day of school, my phone rang. When I answered, the woman did not identify herself and immediately informed me that there would be no gan today. I did not recognize her voice because she spoke in a very low, serious tone. My heart sank. I imagined that this woman was upset with me because we didn’t register our son for the new gan. Because of me, they did not meet the threshold number of students necessary to open it. I felt absolutely awful and began to brace myself as I assumed this was the first of a barrage of parents that would be calling to “thank” me for my selfishness. Luckily, the woman on the phone did not allow me to wallow in my misery for long. Thankfully, it was none other than my cousin who explained that there was no gan because there was a strike! Unbeknownst to me, in those days, this was an extremely common - practically expected - occurrence, at the beginning of the school year. I was relieved to know that I was not to blame for all those children not having a gan to go to. There are strikes today as well, but not nearly as frequently as there were back then. No comparison.
Another big change is the process of signing up to give birth at a hospital. Back in the day, we had to travel to the hospital to sign up in person. They asked you all kinds of questions but didn’t bother to enter them into the computer. I asked them to please document my answers because when I would come to give birth, I would probably be much less in the mood to answer such questions. I was told that they couldn’t enter my answers in the computer due to the fact that they didn’t know which day I would be coming in to give birth. Despite what you may think, they were not kidding when they told me this. So, of course, when I came to give birth, they began asking me the same questions all over again. And, of course, I was in no mood to tell them the history of my previous births, or anything else, for that matter. When they asked me if I smoke, I asked them to take note of the smoke coming out of my ears at that moment and then decide for themselves how to answer the question. Today, the whole process has been streamlined. Women can register to give birth online. And they don’t even have to commit to giving birth at that particular hospital. With so much competition, women are wooed by the hospitals with all sorts of enticing bait: mother and baby workshops, prenatal hotlines, pampering reception, delicious food with top hechsherim, free parking, acupuncture during delivery, yoga coaches, natural environment, underwater births, free extra night in the hospital or convalescent home, etc. You name it, they offer it. Another world.
With all this positive restructuring and modernization, Israel still manages to hang on to its charm. I can only imagine and look forward to many wonderful and progressive changes which will certainly take place over the next 22 years, B’Ezrat Hashem.
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.