Seven Years in Israel: Raise Your Glass (of Hafuch)

I don’t blog much anymore.  Not like I used to.  I’ve written and talked about this 100 times.  Once upon a time, Some Dumb Oleh started a blog, called it “What War Zone???”, and wrote as much as three time a day about his experiences as a new immigrant.  Live-blogging his iriya adventures, photographing inappropriate (or just flat-out weird) t-shirts, and just having a good ol’ time entertaining his friends (and himself) with whatever bizarre thoughts happened to pass through his mind in his life as an immigrant  (I’ve probably even written this exact paragraph before although ayn li koach to go back and read.)

Again, it’s already been documented numerous times why people don’t blog as much as they used to but if there’s one occasion I just can’t bring myself to miss, it’s my aliyah anniversary.  Last year (and again yesterday), my friend Ari said you know you’re Israeli when the date passes and you completely forget about it (I don’t agree).  Then again, Ari admittedly doesn’t pay that stuff much attention and I still remember the exact date of when the Cowboys won the Super Bowl 20+ years ago so some of us are just better at dates than others.  Last year, I didn’t feel terribly compelled to write but did it anyway.  2012 marked six years in Israel-what more was there to say?  By that time, it was clear that I was no longer chadash and what once was called aliyah just felt like “life”.  And besides, as I’ve said before, as far as I’m concerned, aliyah is easy.  It’s the klitah part that’s tough.  (I mean, really, how hard is it to fill out papers?)  So I’m going to write mostly about my life.  Mostly.

Yesterday marked seven years for me in this country as a citizen.  SEVEN YEARS!  To borrow from one my last Yom Haatzmaut list (because clearly after this many years of writing, I can’t do so without plagiarizing myself), I love that whereas I used to say “WHOA!” when olim vatikim would tell me how long they’d been in Israel, I now elicit “WHOA!”s from others.


I’m smiling here, mostly because I have no idea what I’m getting myself into.

I haven’t been here long enough to sound like the old-timers:  “When I made aliyah, it took three months to get a phone line.  THREE MONTHS!  And when we wanted peanut butter, our friends had to bring it over in their suitcase because you couldn’t find it here.  And when we wanted to move banks, we had to present a vial of blood and receiving one hundred lashings.  ONE HUNDRED!!!”  But Sweet Falafel Jones, I know I’ve been here a while when I think about the times before smartphones and Google Maps’ public transportation function.  Where do I even begin to convey how horribly lost, stressed, and frustrated I would regularly find myself?  I remember my first year walking at least thirty minutes in the cold Jerusalem winter from the tachana merkazit to the OU Center near the Inbal Hotel on a Saturday night comedy show because I couldn’t figure out the buses, the Egged service center was closed, and presumably because there were moments where I just didn’t have the energy to ask for help.  DID I REALLY DO THAT???? REALLY??????  (It was not a fun, scenic walk.  It sucked.)

All the time, I pick up signs that I am so not chadash.

Have you seen the Secret Tel Aviv group on Facebook?  Good Lord.  If you’re bored on the job and want to feel better about your life, check it out.  Anti-social behavior aside (manifested by obnoxious and judgmental responses to often innocent questions), the average question or status posted makes me realize I am just not in the same place as them, much in the same way that a college student looks at high school kids and thinks, “wow, I am so not that age anymore.”  (If you’ve seen that group, are reading this, and are not a sociopath, you know what I’m talking about.  If you are reading this and are sociopathic (סוסיופטי), I’m just the messenger.)

Every time I see someone post there or on Facebook, selling all their possessions because they’re returning home, I think, “there goes another one.  But I’m still here.”

Sometimes I also come across blog posts on the Times of Israel where people write about aliyah, respond to people who write about aliyah, give tips to people who have made aliyah, or write sociopathic talkbacks below because they apparently are insecure about their decisions and must berate others to feel better about their lives (GOOOOO, INTERNET!)  I find it fascinating to reflect back and remember the years when I dreamed, pined, yearned, and ached for a forum like this to share my thoughts to a wider audience, aside from the occasional and infrequent article in the Jerusalem Post.  The fact that this site now exists is just another evolution in life here in Israel.  But when a friend of mine tells me I should write some kind of response or my own version of the latest aliyah article, I just can’t bring myself to do it.  Less “been there, done that”, more “that’s just not where I am anymore.”

I don’t even know how much longer I can write my Yom Haatzmaut list, the thing I’m most proud of the entire year.  Look no further for proof of my evolution as an immigrant (and writer).  The older lists?  Some of it is just so oleh chadash-y (and not so well written in my humble opinion).  (Really?  I loved arsim?  Am I sure about that?)  Around year number four, I think something changed and they felt more Israeli/insider/in-the-know.  But how much longer can I keep coming up with brand-new things while not having the quality compromised?  Part of it is probably the evolution of an oleh and part is creative (get out at your peak).

I really needed to try some new creative things this past year, such as reacting to current events or things going on in the Jewish world, a la The Onion or Andy Borowitz.  Some were better received than others; I enjoyed writing them all.  Bottom line, I don’t know exactly what I’ll do next.

Does the torch just naturally get passed from one oleh to another?  Is some new oleh going to come along and write about his perspective on washing the floors while the rest of us think “been there, done that.”  Be honest, did anyone read this blog seven years ago and think “shut up, oleh chadash, we’re heard it before?”


Another way I know I’ve been here a while.  I’m now afraid to steal irreverent and silly images from Google.
So you’re stuck with pictures of me.

I guess what I’m getting at is that when I started thinking about this blog post a few weeks ago, I realized that I don’t need to write an “aliyah anniversary” post.  As I wrote above, what more is there to say?  A few years ago, I patted myself on the back at the things I had achieved, even while being frustrated at what I hadn’t.  I felt the need to celebrate the landmark as an accomplishment, a “holy sh*t” moment to say “WOW.  I HAVE SURVIVED ___ YEARS IN THIS COUNTRY.”

Now?  While I’m still proud, again, I’m past the survival stage.  Because I do enjoy using this milestone to look back, reflect, and assess where I am, I’ve decided to view this as a “State of the Klitah” post (you know, like the State of the Union speech.)  Will this continue even one more year?  Who knows.

I realized only a couple of years ago why I have found this journey so challenging and worthy of reflection.  I once (and still) described aliyah (or klitah) to be incredibly tough.  And it’s not easy.  But while some things are universal, everybody’s experience is different.  And my experience has been fairly challenging at times.  Immigrating is one thing…..choosing to be self-employed is another.  Immigrating and choosing to be self-employed (or at least partially self-employed) while working as an artist where your career path is ambiguous has been really hard.  Many of the challenges I have attributed to aliyah over the years I only realized later were probably related more to my own decisions.  Paying the bills, struggling to learn Hebrew while working in an English world surrounded by no co-workers (much less Hebrew-speaking co-workers), creating a routine and building a social life with irregular hours….none of it easy.  But this is the path I’ve chosen.

And it took at least three years in my current work situation to figure out me neged me (“who is against who”, or, “what the deal is”), what tolls this has taken on me, where I need to focus more, what I need to accept, and what I need to do going forward.  Whereas I started to figure this out a year ago, it’s been at least another year of thinking about it before I was ready to actually make any changes.

A few months ago, I decided to end my time with Young Judaea where I have worked on and off since approximately the Ben-Gurion Administratzia.  Mostly because I felt stuck and needed to shake things up to make some breakthroughs in life.  After sharing apartments with roommates since I graduated college, just weeks ago I moved into my own apartment in the Old North of Tel Aviv.  Typically people don’t quit a job, giving up half their salary, at the same time that they choose to take on the added expense of living alone.  But then again, typically people don’t make aliyah in the first place.  (“Geeving ahp your cahr?  Your dry-ehr?  Your Ahmerikahn salah-ree?  Waht ahr you, cray-zee????”)

I’m taking steps to increase my comedy opportunities in the States.  Slowly slowly, things are happening here in Israel with new potential partners.  And I am really thrilled that I recently, for the first time, led a workshop on cultural differences in the workplace for the organization PresenTense.  It was great.  (Having communication breakdowns between your American/Anglo and Israeli staffs?  Or misunderstandings between your Israeli employees and international customers?  Talk to me.)

In less than a month, I’m traveling to Ethiopia for a two-plus week vacation.  Last week, my friend Marni gave me a bike-riding lesson until I was doing circles around Kikar Rabin (I learned for the first time ten years ago but have biked only a couple of times since then for a few minutes.  I don’t really know what the hell I’m doing.  Soon I hope to be Tel-O-Fun’s newest green bike customer.  For the next few months, I might advise you to walk in the streets to be safe.)  I’ve started walking in the beautiful Park HaYarkon just minutes away from my place, our version of Central Park.  New apartment, new work opportunities, and we’ll see what happens from there.  There’s a lot of stuff I want to do.  If I can get a quarter of it done this year, I’ll be on cloud nine.  If it’s true that once you put your dreams and intentions out the world, people hold you accountable to them, consider me held accountable.  Move over, Snake, I deem this Year of the Benji.


Before and after. Expect to see more of this during Year of the Benji.

Some people say it takes three years to acclimate to life here.  Some say five.  And some say love, it is a river.  I don’t know what the truth is, I just know I have been absolutely blessed to have lived in this country seven years, that life (at least from the path I’ve traveled) as an immigrant is never ever EVER boring, and that while it may be a human trait to wonder, question, and imagine if I had made some different choices, I will never ever EVER regret my decision to move here and choose the path I’m on right now.  Because if I still lived in the States, I question whether benjilovitt.com would even exist and I wonder what the hell I’d even be writing about right now.

I don’t know who I’m supposed to thank for this, but thank someone that I have had these opportunities to write for you and meet this incredible community of olim who have chosen to do the absolutely insane, to uproot their lives and move to the Middle East for something more meaningful than we could ever find back at home.

Happy seven years to me.

I’m now booking shows for my North American fall tour.  Spread the word!

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