Just over a week ago, I left my home and job in London, and moved to set up a new life in Jerusalem, Israel.
I haven’t had a chance to call or write to all the people back home that I would like to, so in the meantime thought I’d try to keep a blog to update people occasionally on how things are going. Please do call/e-mail/snail-mail/text/FB/etc with any comments and just to say ‘hi’!
Kite Festival at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem
So to the news:
On August 13th I flew out with 71 other new immigrants to make aliyah on a chartered “Red Carpet” flight from Luton.
For those who haven’t been through this process, it is an incredible service offered by the Israeli government to new immigrants. You meet a few times with representatives in London where they start the immigration paperwork. They then give you a one-way ticket for £30 with an extended baggage allowance of 60kg. You fly out with a group of other new immigrants, and they put us all up in a hotel in Jerusalem. For the people who have never had Israeli citizenship (i.e. not me), they gave an envelope with some cash on arrival to get through the first week, and a telephone simcard, pre-charged with 200 shekels (NIS). Then at the hotel comes the best part of the entire deal – they filled a hall with all the organisations you need to get in touch with: banks, phone companies, health insurance companies, shipping companies etc. They each have a stall, and you simply go from place to place, signing up for all the services you need. Then they give you a lift to wherever you want in the country to start your new life.
Of course there were some things that still needed doing and I have been spending these first two weeks going from office to office, filling our forms for HR, Occupational Health, the army, etc. Each time I start the conversation with a slightly apologetic explanation that I am a new immigrant to the country, and so don’t really understand the system. The response I received from everyone were perhaps surprising: “Thank you”, “Mazel Tov”, “Well done”, “Besha’ah Tovah” (“in a good time”, a sort of blessing that the timing of my arrival will be good for me), “we need people like you”.
It just got me thinking. I know that there is always a place to be cynical about any country’s motivation for anything it does, but it does suggest a certain attitude towards immigration. I just remembered all the comments I heard in England about immigrants: “taking our jobs”, “changing the culture of Britain”, “burden on social services”, etc. Does Israel, with its lower rate of inflation, higher interest rates, and I believe higher rate of economic growth at the moment, have the right idea?
Now, you can’t come to Israel without being somehow affected by Middle East politics, but this time it seems to be happening quicker than I expected.
I was discussing with Ron, (my sister’s Israeli fiancé) about bringing over my savings from England, and he said in all seriousness that he expects the security situation with Iran to deteriorate soon and that now many not be the best time.
The following evening around the Friday night dinner table, Sue (a close family friend) asked me if I had picked up my gas mask yet, and told me where I can get one.
I also have a friend in the army who told me, without my giving away any details, that they too are preparing in case the worst should happen.
There is no panic, and not even much fear. Just a sense from people that things are heading in a certain direction and that we mould our lives around this reality. For my part, I feel that I have come at a time when perhaps Israel needs help, and may be able to play my small part.
In the meantime I will collect my gas mask next week, and hope that I won’t be needing it and that I did indeed make aliyah “Besha’ah Tovah”.