Friday, 30 May 2014

Parcels and Primark

If there are two pieces of advice I could give to olim (plural noun: new immigrants) to be, they would be eBay and Primark.

Over the past few months, I have been steadily shedding every little (and big) thing which could be of use to someone else by either donating or selling it. Items which may be worth a bit more (such as my cross trainer, or an expensive, rarely worn dress) go on eBay; most other stuff goes to the charity shops.

Consequently, every weekday (for some reason, usually a Thursday) I end up with a pile like this:

Pictured: Mr Wallace of the Post Office. Note all of the plastic and bubble wrap just itching to be used.

...which I then take to the Post Office for sending. As a result, over the past 3 or so months I have struck up a friendship of sorts with the lady who works there.  

Apparently I missed a week last week and the lady had assumed I'd taken a holiday. She is very nice, and always asks how my 'business' is going. Every Thursday. 

The thing is, life as an oleh (noun: newbie) will be hard enough financially and linguistically - try to save every penny you have by saving and selling; try to cushion the language blow by, perhaps, LEARNING SOME DAMN HEBREW. 

You know who you are. Did you really think you could get around the country by smiling sweetly and alternately answering 'ken' (yes) and 'lo' (no), for an extended period of time? 

Actually, while we're on the subject: inspired by the episode of 'Father Ted' (link here) where Ted trains Father Jack to respond, with intent and varied diction, either 'yes' or 'That would be an ecumenical matter', a friend once succeeded in speaking 'fluent' Hebrew by using open body language, direct eye contact and allowing the person in conversation to discuss their thoughts and opinions at length. Once the converser came up for breath, my friend would say, 'ken, aval...' ('yes, but...'), prompting the converser to go off again on their (in-depth) train of thought. Apparently it worked a treat for an extended period of time.

Only in Israel..! 

The second piece of advice would be to 'stock up' at Primark. Note, not 'shop'. 

The Primark experience (despite what seems to have been a massive redesign) is still, at best, a smash and grab mission, something along the lines of Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty, where you have a mission and must defeat the obstacles in your way to achieve it. Unfortunately, most people in there have the same objectives: Cotton t-shirts for 3 quid? Flip flops for 1? 'I'LL TAKE SEVEN!'.

I went asmashing and agrabbing in order to 'stock up' for Ulpan - two sets of bed sheets, t-shirts, some skirts and other useful items. For 50 quid, I got most of the items I needed (apart from suncream, but then again they also sell that), as demonstrated below, after Corny has made what is either an artistic expression of his emotions OR a comfy snuggle bed all over my new stuff: 

'These are MY things now.'

I still haven't heard a lot about what I need for Ulpan - or received a formal welcome from them. Hopefully it is on the way, otherwise, upon arrival in Israel, I will be left to my own devices (and that's usually the point where I decide I'm off to seminary/a kibbutz/Tel Aviv). Not informing your attendees of the regulations and items needed before a 5 month stay until the very last minute is classic Israeli-style, so I'm not too worried.

Over the weekend, the 'heavy packing' will commence: I will first tackle this beast:

...if there are any suggestions for the best method to pack and store books (I don't want them ruined when I return to reclaim them), then please let me know!

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Leaving England gradually part 2: renting out my flat and the final meeting with the Jewish Agency

It hit me more tangibly that - in just a matter of weeks - I am actually leaving.

This morning I had the estate agents (solid blokes, these ones) in to take pictures in order to advertise my flat for rent. It is rather strange to think that the one thing I've worked so incredibly hard for will soon be inhabited by someone else. I suppose it's a necessary sacrifice, and one that wouldn't be an issue had I made aliya earlier, as planned. But, as my favourite saying goes - gum zo le tovah - this too is for the best. the flat will always be there if I ever (gulp) decide to return.

Otherwise, off I trotted to my final meeting at the Jewish Agency. Others who have been through the process have grumbled about the 'Israeliness' of the Jewish Agency. It's probably better, if that were the case, to get a taste of the true Israeli experience before winding up in Israel completely unaware. People have grumbled that the JA personnel are difficult to get hold of; the process is slow and they're not very helpful once you do actually reach them.

However I entirely disagree with the above. The first time around, the JA coordinated the entire process for me in two working weeks, start to finish - even with the looong festival of Succot (Tabernacles? Pentecost? The booth feast) slap bang in the middle.

This time, they've done it in similar timely fashion, and kept me informed most of the way. But then I started the process early this time, pretty much straight after my last visa was cancelled.

Today's meeting was to hand over my aliya file, including step by step details of where and when I go when I arrive (with pictures, in case I can't follow simple, English directions). What's great is that, upon arrival in Israel, I don't have to rot in that g-d awful Passport Control queue. It's possibly one of the worst things about going to Israel, knowing what's awaiting you - if the tiredness from the flight doesn't fell you, and you manage to avoid everyone you know, similarly irritable and blear eyed, and even if it isn't 5am and you're well rested, nourished and the world is your oyster, that queue is enough to suck the life and will out of you.

So, I'm not required to do the queue. A highlight of the process, no? After this, however, I will be whisked off to a room with other olim chadashim (newbies) to fill in the paperwork which will dictate my life for the next few years.

So, so far, so good. Now that the estate agents have taken the pictures, I can begin really packing/slinging/donating/returning. Woohoo!

Monday, 26 May 2014

Leaving England gradually: the car insurance guerrida/balagan and the first wave of packing

I'm on half term this week and therefore have a lot of organising and packing to do during this time.

Unfortunately, this coincides with the week before the last GCSE English exam, and so I am also tutoring quite heavily. I have 30 top set controlled assessments to mark, and I have to keep my flat clean and tidy for prospective renters to peruse at their will.

It is 7 weeks to go until I leave and I'm not panicking...yet.

I began by making a list of all the stuff I need to do, delineated by timeframe. It includes various fascinating tasks like informing my mortgage company and contents insurance that I'll be leaving and checking warranties on electrical appliances.

I've begun clearing things out, sorting through stuff into several piles: to throw, to donate, to give to family/friends, to return to my parents' house etc etc.

The initial stages looked like this:

Everything you see in this picture is to go elsewhere. In my usually tidy and clutter-free flat, that's a considerable amount. 

But even that was quite therapeutic; the real hassle came from sorting out my car and car insurance. 

I suppose we're blessed here in Blighty in that routine tasks such as organising and renewing insurance is easy to do: you go where the Russian meerkat tells you to go, or Snoop Dogg or whoever, you input your details et voila - what you will get and how much you'll pay appears. 

But but but - when you're attempting to renew your insurance while also changing the named/main driver of the car, you may as well clear your diary, because you're going to be talking to a lot of different people about a lot of different variables. Where are you now, Aleksandr Orlov? Snoop Dogg - that does NOT make me feel epic!

TPALSS, we've decided to keep my car here 'just in case' (certainly more on this later). We would transfer 'main driver status' to my mum, as we have nowhere to keep it if it was to be declared off road. My mum called her insurance company for a quote to do this. Simple, you may think. However, they refused to add another car to her existing policy. So we called my - usually very chirpy - insurance company. 

There were many dramatic incidents in the hours that followed, such as when mum tried to take the phone off speakerphone and accidentally cut us off. Todd, the Canadian voice who'd been very patiently assisting us for the past hour, was gone forevermore, never to be heard again. 

But then: after two hours of discussing how and why and when and where, we had six separate quotes. something which would have taken two minutes had we done it in two steps - changed the named driver, step one; renewed the insurance, step two - took almost the whole morning. if you're looking to make aliya and keep your car 'just in case', it might be best to aim for your car insurance renewal date. 

But onwards. By chance, a friend from my time in Israel was visiting London, and I journeyed to the centre to visit him. Boris, a German, is the sort of person I would want with me if were ever to invade a small country. In fact, I think we might have discussed this in the past. I can't remember. I highly value with opinion - he is one of the nicest, most intelligent and level headed people I know. He also thinks rationally and systematically.

We discussed my impending - and his intended - aliya  and the potential pitfalls, if we would survive etc, and he told me that he doesn't worry about me going, and that he thinks I'll make it there. 

Like I said, I trust Boris - I really hope he's right. 

As we say at Pesach, 'Leshana ha'ba b'Yerushalayim' - next year in Jerusalem! And I promised the coffee and ice cream would be on me when we met next in Israel. 

the inevitable Aliya blog... embrace and enjoy!

Making aliya is and always has been a contentious issue amongst diaspora Jewry. 

'That's so brave!'
'Are you crazy?'
'Really? Like really, really?'
'Don't leave me...'

...are just some of the reactions when I first intimated to my friends, colleagues and family that I would be possibly/probably/definitely moving to Israel in the summer of 2014. 

'Making aliya' (in Hebrew, literally, 'to ascend', as going/returning to the Holy Land, in classical Jewish thought, is seen as 'ascending' in the world and becoming closer to G-d) is something that has been at the back and front of my mind pretty much every day for the past 5 years. 

As chronicled in my just rediscovered blog here, I have previously spent two months in Israel on a kibbutz ('a hippy farm' as it is colloquially sometimes known), which was highly educational, culturally and personally. What didn't kill me (and there were many incidents of near death - infected spider bites, near drowning and  drunken French men) toughened me up. I went as a clueless, NW London born and bred university graduate and returned a slightly less clueless, toughened, fatter and darker version of myself, who took slightly less shit from people and could milk a cow. 

My stay on the kibbutz coincided with a time of natural endings and beginnings. It cemented my love of Israel and made me determined that one day I would return there permanently. 

But life had other plans. I returned home to commence the MA I had always dreamed of, before quitting it 6 days later (to my mother's horror) and announcing my return to the kibbutz, just after I had lost all of the weight I had gained. 

I returned for a further 2 months stretch, before commencing an internship in early 2010 at a well-known English daily language paper. I never looked back once. I was the happiest, most fulfilled person on the planet. 

But, shortly before graduating, I had won a place on Teach First, the global teacher-training business-leadership crapola of a graduate degree, where graduates are shoved, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed into the worst schools in the inner cities, being gradually beaten and worn down while told to get on with it and teach for two years. 

That experience in itself requires a whole encyclopaedia consisting of evidence, emails and rants, and in all honesty I've spent the subsequent 3 years attempting to forget as much of it as possible. But I digress. 

Everyday of those two years, I battled through, knowing the light at the end of the tunnel was my aliya date - summer 2012. I began the process, carefully tying up the few loose ends I would leave behind. 

But - catastrophe strikes! - A Jewish school in the good ole 'burbs were seeking - AN ENGLISH TEACHER! Encouraged by my mum to apply, to go-  for the very least - a bit of interview practise, I went. I got the job. Relenting to the niggling thought in my gut that,perhaps I hadn't given teaching a fair whack, and it would really be very different teaching my own kind, I again, became locked in for another couple of years. Parts of which are best left to rot in the very recesses of my furthest memory ducts, to be extracted kicking, raving and howling by a psychotherapist when I (probably) implode at my 40th birthday party. 

But I digress once more. I watched over the years as my friends an even some family made aliya. I was ecstatic for them, but felt jealous to my stomach. In the summer of 2013 (by which time I had acquired a flat, a beautiful little cat and other accoutrements and detritus of an adult's lifestyle), I figured I would just happily sneak off to Israel and never return. Screw my job. 

Coming to my senses and viewing the matter rationally, I began to see that, yes it was a bad time to make aliya, however desperately I wanted it. But - if I organised myself and set a time frame, tying up various loose ends as I went, it would become a viable and real event. 

I set the date for December 2013. To put a long story short (TPALSS), this didn't happen for various reasons - the time frame was too short. I had finalised my visa, started packing and then had to call it off. 

I set my sights on July 2014. I quit my job. I sorted my finances. I have a visa. 

I leave in July 2014. Finally. 

Upon researching the common pitfalls and general aliya experience, I didn't find much. Since my pre-aliya experience has (twice) been fairly stressful in itself, I thought I'd document the entire process - from the decision to the event and beyond. 

 Fingers crossed...