Sunday, July 27, 2008

5 Stages in 5 Years: Checking in on my Aliyah Anniversary

This post is in honor of Leah G.

A couple of weeks ago was the 5th anniversary of my Aliyah. This is an important milestone because, according to popular wisdom, an American who manages to make their immigration to Israel work for 5 years is likely to stay for good, as they intended to.

Back when I first filed an application for immigration with the Jewish Agency in New York, I attended a seminar there in which they described the "Five Stages of Aliyah." They predicted that it would take a few years to get through all the stages, and indeed they were correct: I have definitely experienced at least four of them, and am working on the fifth. They also said that many of the stages will overlap, wax and wane, which has been true as well. The stages are:

1- Euphoria. This is the feeling of utter joy and fulfillment one experiences when realizing that one is living one's dream in the Holy Land. The Jewish Agency rep quipped, "This stage lasts for one . . . maybe two . . . minutes." I still feel it sometimes, especially when I'm walking somewhere in Jerusalem with a beautiful view, and I feel very alive and free and rooted in my new home. I also feel it at holiday times, and when I pick up hot kosher food in the middle of "nowhere," and when I see mezuzot on government buildings.

A friend of mine said "I'm upset because I don't feel the holiness as much as I used to." I answered: "You don't notice it as much because you've become part of it." Yet, once in a while, one still can step back and appreciate it. I live in Israel.

2- Panic. I actually don't remember what the second stage is, officially, but I think it was something like panic because I remember them giving the example -- so true -- that you will experience this the first time you go to the supermarket and start crying in the cheese section because you don't recognize any of the food items. Panic is what happens when you realize that you don't know what you are supposed to do to solve a problem, how to solve it, whom to speak to, or why Israelis act the way they do. Furthermore, you couldn't ask even if you did know where to go, because you don't speak the national language. You are deeply screwed, and you know it.

Panic happens less and less as time goes on, but will crop up now and again when one goes into a new situation, such as moving or buying an apartment. Urgh.

3- Depression. I think this is what my friend was feeling when she complained that she didn't notice the holiness anymore. "If it's all so hard, and I don't feel much euphoria, then why am I here? Why isn't it turning out like I thought?" . . . I personally never really got depressed about my aliyah, or ever doubted the decision. I've been depressed about other things though, and being in an unfamiliar culture doesn't help.

4- Adaptation is what occurs slowly over time, as one figures out, for example, what all the different cheeses are, and who at the bank speaks English, and how to read one's electricity bill. It's the feeling of "I don't really fit in with the natives much, but I can manage my life and do what needs to be done. There is no more panic happening." Thank God, I got into this stage pretty fast, probably because my Hebrew was already pretty good when I arrived and I live in an area with a lot of English-speakers. It's where most immigrants spend most of their lives, I understand.

But the pot of gold at the end of the absorption rainbow is . . .

5- Acculturation. The Jewish Agency person said "This is when you go to America for a visit and wonder why the Americans act that way."

I have a hard time believing I'll ever get there, but who knows? It's only been five years.

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