And so it is for our family. Changes abound that are already impacting our immigrant experience…and more so mine than anyone else’s.
I blogged recently (in my regular Patch.com column, “That Mindful Mama”) about our family’s “team trade.” More specifically, how I recently accepted a full-time position as a marcom specialist for a hi-tech incubator here in Israel, and will be leaving my position of the last five years: part-time primary caretaker and work-at-home freelancer. In addition, my husband will consult part-time (he’s a grant-writer and fundraiser, work that may be done from home), but will take over responsibility of caring for our kids and maintaining our home needs.
This is a huge shift for us as a family, and for me as a new olah.
First of all, it means I need to leave my bubble. My safe little kibbutz cocoon. It means I need to get in my new car, figure out the different mechanisms (like how to work the windshield wipers), and brave Israel’s roads. Worse than navigating the hilly, foggy roads in the morning is navigating psychotic Israeli drivers who are either constantly riding up my rear or trying to run me off the road as they pass me.
Most of all, getting a job means I need to interact with a lot more people who might want to speak Hebrew with me. However, I have a feeling, that just like an enema, this decision might make me momentarily uncomfortable, but is likely exactly what I need to get things moving in the right direction.
My new job is at a mainly English-speaking company with many Anglos on staff. It’s also primarily an English-speaking position. While a high level of Hebrew is not required for the position, the office is not a Hebrew-free zone. Mostly everyone except for me speaks a fluent Hebrew and when an Israeli is in the conversation, the language quickly converts over to Hebrew. Therefore, I’m required to listen and understand or, at the very least, nod as if I do.
Most of my new colleagues have been told that my Hebrew is still “a work in progress,” but that hasn’t kept all of them from trying. Which they should and which I reluctantly encourage. Reluctantly because it usually leads to some level of humiliation and discomfort for me.
At least twice during my first week here, I thought someone was speaking to me — they were looking straight at me, after all– but it turned out they weren’t. I’ve also been spoken to without realizing it was me who was being spoken to. In those cases, I learned, a smile and nod only get you so far. If the statement ends in a period, there’s a 50-50 chance I can get away with a simple smile. If the statement ends with a question mark, however, I might be in trouble. “Ken” or “lo” only get you so far in the workplace.
Thankfully, I haven’t yet been made fun of or chided for my lack of Hebrew. So far, most people here seem to think my broken Hebrew is cute and endearing. However, I am fully aware the “olah hadasha” tag will only work its magic for so long.
The big question is: How long?
When are you no longer considered an new immigrant? When do you make the transition over to just plain old immigrant? Or “olah vatika?” (“Seasoned oleh”) How is my status measured? In “daylight, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee?” Is it when the sal klita ends? When my kids are fluent in Hebrew? When I make five Israeli friends?
I certainly hope getting a full-time job doesn’t prevent me from milking this status for as long as I can.
I need all the help…and breaks…I can get.
Jen Maidenberg is is a writer, editor, activist and former assistant editor at the Arizona Jewish Post. Visit her website at http://jenmaidenberg.com/.