I have some fond memories of my aliya process twenty years ago – and, of course, more turbulent memories as well.
I remember, as I was leaving, standing in the airport with my mother. She had accompanied me as far as security would let her. She gave me a hug, and through her tears told me how proud of me she was. We stood there together hugging and sniffling until she stepped back reached into her pocket and said to me, “Don’t forget to floss!” and handed me a package of dental floss.
In case the country needed any proof that my mother and I are Jewish – well there you go!
I remember my first Shabbos in Israel. I had arrived Friday afternoon at Ben Gurion and travelled to my older sister’s nearby moshav for my first Shabbos. I remember walking through the fresh smelling greenery and noticing that my mind was totally blank. My pre-aliya life was gone. My post-aliya life had not yet begun. It was a truly pivotal moment.
Making aliya is one of the most courageous choices that can be made. The whole backdrop of your life changes completely. Your previous language, support system, family situation, and professional accomplishments may not be able to help you in your new life. Navigating the new healthcare system can range from being a nuisance to being very frightening.
When families make aliya together the issues may become even more complicated. Finding the right educational framework for the kids, adjusting to different religious standards from the community back home, managing the changes in finances and finding your niche in the community can challenge the best of marriages.
What do you do when you find that the coping skills that were strong enough to help you manage your pre-aliya life are just not enough to handle the new stresses you are facing? Sometimes emotional issues like anxiety and depression that may have been under control before aliya are triggered by all the life changes. If you are married, you may find that the communication skills that served you well in the past are not sufficient to deal with the new challenges that you are facing. Without the support system of family, friends and community that you had back home you need to find new resources to manage the stress.
Everyone has a threshold of how much they can handle at one time. Consider a juggler who can easily juggle 4 balls at a time. If he’s very good maybe he can handle to seven or eight. The world juggling record is 13 balls, and that can’t be maintained for very long.
What about a Jewish mother? She may be a world class multitasker, but even she has her limits. When she makes aliya she needs to continue juggling all of the balls that she juggled before, and add the new ‘balls’ of the new challenges that she faces: bureaucracy, a new language, new schools, new friends for her kids, and even little things like not being able to find ingredients for her favorite standby recipes. Some of these challenges may be small, but when there are too many balls up in the air, the multitasking gets overwhelming.
When you find yourself overwhelmed by challenges you have two options. One option is to walk away from some of the issues that are challenging you. This can be either liberating or catastrophic, depending on the issues. Taking a temporary break from an online degree program, for example, could be a way to let go of one challenge to free yourself up to face other more immediate challenges. Deciding to just ignore some of the kids for a year or two until things calm down would be… well… catastrophic.
Another option is to build more resources to deal with the challenges you are facing. A tutor, babysitter or cleaning lady a couple of afternoons a week could be great resources for a struggling family. Reaching out and building new relationships with other olim and with locals takes time but can also be a tremendous resource.
Therapy can also be a resource for new olim. Taking the time to map out the issues you are facing together with a supportive professional can help you get perspective and prioritize. Therapeutic emotional regulation techniques can be very helpful in facing the myriad challenges. And good ‘ole couples therapy can turn the rough patches into a greenhouse for growing, deepening and strengthening the marital connection. Therapy can be the key to successful aliya by helping individuals and couples find their new equilibrium so that years later they will be able to look back with satisfaction at all they have accomplished.
I wish you a smooth and meaningful adjustment into a wonderful new life, and hope that you will have the resources that you need to live your aliya dream. If there is any way that I can be of help during this adjustment period please feel free to contact me.
What are the key resources that you are using for sucessful aliya? Please share your ideas in the comments box below: