When my rental car began to sputter, jerking forward and back as I moved into the left lane, I didn't have to do any troubleshooting. Only moments before, I mumbled to my two kids strapped into the back seat, "Should we get gas or get Avigyle at her kindergarten? We're already so late…" And then the car came to a complete stop in the middle of the left turn signal lane of a major Israeli highway, just minutes from the gas station.
This was a terrifying moment for a new immigrant with minimal Hebrew language skills. I had no triple A, no idea what number to call for the police, and no clue what road I was on. A car speeding at 90 kilometers per hour could have hit my car at any moment.
But I was not surprised to be in this situation. I had been in Israel too long (three weeks) without any contact with the Israeli police, a passionate Israeli screaming at me in Hebrew, and Israelis who thought I was an irresponsible American. (I thought once the tank hit empty, you still had 30 miles worth of gas left? Maybe not in Israel.)
"What you need? Gaz oh Gazoline?!" The man helping me was yelling, flailing his arms in the air, frustrated by my inability to comprehend his question. I gestured with all my pantomime training behind me the action of putting a gas hose into a car. What's the difference between gaz and gazoline? Wasn't it obvious that I was out of gas? Did he think I needed propane gas for my barbeque at a moment like this?
The police came, the gasoline attendants busied themselves filling up water bottles with gasoline, and I stood dumbfounded at the side of the road with my two-year-old in one arm and my six-year-old next to me, digging for shekels in my empty wallet.
All the preparation I did in America could not prepare me for the strenuous transition of moving to a foreign county seven months pregnant with three kids.
And this has nothing to do with Israel, its bureaucracy, long lines, and odd work hours. Waiting in line for a social security card in America is also no walk in the park.
It's living in a tiny one-bedroom apartment jet lagged for two weeks with no space to unpack, mattresses on the kitchen floor and few toys to entertain the kids with. It's opening a bank account with three kids in tow and not enough lollipops with which to bribe them for an hour. And supermarket shopping and not understanding what half the products are, which are kosher, not kosher, and how much my wagon of food costs. Eating a lot of white pasta and pizza. Missing a turn off the highway, finding no other exit and heading toward the Palestinian Territories. Waiting three weeks to receive our shipment of stuff and our life's comforts -- a couch, an armchair, the baby's crib, my dishes, a washing machine and dryer. My oatmeal packets. Having no internet or phone connection for nearly three weeks.
I would never blame Israel for all of my stress. In fact, Israel has been very kind to us.
And then, of course, the grand question -- who am I in Israel? Am I Tara or Miriam, my Hebrew name at birth? But it goes deeper than the name. It's my whole Jewish identity.
So what if aliyah (moving to Israel) was much more challenging 30 years ago? Our reality was still difficult.
I would never blame Israel for all of my stress. In fact, Israel has been very kind to us. We were welcomed with open arms at the airport. Complete strangers have introduced themselves to us in the park or in the street and wished us good luck. They have waited patiently while I have tried to communicate in broken Hebrew and hand gestures. They have corrected me with love and encouragement. Offered toys and playdates for my children.
Before I boarded the plane at JFK airport, I thought, "We are about to embark on the biggest adventure of our lives. We have no idea what the challenges will be, but they are waiting for us. We have no idea what kind of successes we will have, but surely they await us as well." The excitement of the unknown fueled and motivated us.
When I sat with my son at his orientation for Kitah Aleph (first grade), not understanding a single word of the teacher's presentation, my eyes got wet. I watched as my son carefully lined up his pencil case, notebook and pen on his desk, and saw how he studied the other kids in the classroom, the low desks and the old-fashion chalkboard.
"Mi zeh?" (Who's this?) the morah (teacher) at the front of the room called out to my son. With the little Hebrew I knew, I proudly introduced him, and immediately added that we are new immigrants and speak little Hebrew.
I watched my son smile as he was called first to the teacher's desk to receive a sticker on his shirt that said, "Welcome to Kitah Aleph." She said a few other words to him, and he looked at me helplessly for a translation.
The tears dripped down my face. "If I don't understand a word, he's definitely in the dark. How will he ever manage? Why am I subjecting him to this?" I reminded myself of what others had told me. Kids struggle for the first few months, and then one day it clicks -- they understand Hebrew and they begin to speak.
And I comforted myself -- we can only prepare our children and ourselves so much for life. And then, when the car runs out of gas or we feel lost in school or at the supermarket, and the challenges increase -- that's when the real growth begins.
After all, I came to Israel to grow, didn't I?
My cleaning help, Mazal, always has lots to say. When she left the house today, she noticed our empty doorposts. "Ma zeh? (What's this?) No mezuzah? Zeh lo tov! (This is not good!)" As if she wanted to say, you need God's protection! Right away!
Here in Israel my secular cleaning help notices an empty doorpost. The salesperson at the furniture store wishes us a Shabbat Shalom. The teenager at the gas station spends ten minutes explaining how to get gas at the gas station. The mayor of my settlement visits my Ulpan to wish us good luck and to respond to our questions. The owner of the vegetable store extends a mazal tov to me on making Aliyah and compliments me on my Hebrew language skills and my bravery. There are no cars here on Shabbat. It's a quiet and peaceful time.
What can I say?
Despite the challenges and worries, we have been sufficiently welcomed to our homeland.
And fortunately, I did not receive a 700-shekel ticket for running out of gas on the highway.
Thank God, all is well here in Israel.
Thank God, all is well here in Israel.