After aliyah from Palo Alto, plunging into new normal

They say it can take quite a while for a new immigrant to Israel to feel like a “real” Israeli. But in my case, thanks to the war that has broken out with Hamas, the initiation period has been shortened rather dramatically. There’s nothing like running for cover when the air raid siren wails to put you on equal footing with your fellow citizens, no matter how green you are.

I used to joke that I bring bad weather with me when I go places. Since my aliyah together with my youngest son on June 25 (other family members are scheduled to join us in Jerusalem in August), things have gone from bad to worse on the political and security fronts here.

All new olim (immigrants to Israel) busy themselves in their first days with running around taking care of bureaucratic business: opening a bank account, registering for benefits, registering children for school and the like. In my case, I was doing all this against a backdrop of the murder of three Jewish teenagers by Palestinian terrorists, the retaliatory murder of a Palestinian youth by Jewish extremists, rioting in my city and other parts of the country, and then incoming rocket attacks leading to the outbreak of war against Hamas in Gaza.

What can I say? It’s been a hell of a couple of weeks.

When we first arrived and I asked my landlady where the closest bomb shelter was, the question was still theoretical. (She didn’t actually know, as she couldn’t remember the last time anyone in the neighborhood had used one.)

It was no longer speculative by the time the military operation had started and one of my neighbors showed me that there is actually an old shelter right under our apartment. The only problem was that it hadn’t been used since the 1948 War of Independence. My neighbor led me down a steep, narrow set of stone steps around the back of the house to see it. What I found — once I managed to squeeze through the filthy, tiny door — was a dank, dark space with a dirt floor and no electric power. It was filled with discarded furniture and other junk. I even saw sandbags, which my neighbor confirmed dated back to ’48.

I quickly determined that our best bet would be to run around the corner to the main entrance of the adjoining apartment building and go up the stairs to the second-floor landing to take cover. So far, we’ve done this twice, which thankfully is far fewer times than people in other parts of the country who have had to seek shelter in 90 seconds or less.

In both cases, none of our nonchalant neighbors came out to the stairwell to join us. But we did meet some nice young people who came in from the street as they happened by when the siren went off. One of them was, like us, a new immigrant from California. A typical Los Angelino, he had his skateboard with him.

In an effort to blend in with the natives, we are trying our best to not let the situation interfere with our daily lives. My son is going to his camp activities and Hebrew lessons, and I am dealing with all the logistics related to our move and settling in to our new home. I’ve also gotten back to work, which has helped me to stay focused and has taken a bit of an edge off the anxiety.

And as if driving in Israel isn’t stressful enough, now I have to keep one eye on the road and the other on the side of the road.

Those who know me know I like to plan ahead. Accordingly, as I drive along, I scan the area to see where I could possibly seek shelter should the siren go off as I am in transit. I’d much prefer running in to a building’s stairwell or bomb shelter than having to hit the ground next to my car (which is what the Home Front Command instructs you to do if there is no other alternative).

This is the new normal for us — for now. The current hostilities will end eventually, and hopefully soon. We have confidence in the Israel Defense Forces and are thankful that Israel has the Iron Dome, which so far has been successful in preventing missiles from landing in major urban centers. (The booms we have heard over Jerusalem have been mainly Iron Dome intercepts.)

We did not make the decision to make aliyah blindly. Our Zionist idealism is tempered by a large dose of realism. We knew what we were getting into. We just didn’t expect to face the most daunting challenges of living here quite so immediately.

A recent Skype conversation between my 12-year-old son and a friend back in Palo Alto proved we weren’t wrong in coming here. The friend asked my son whether he wanted to go back to California, given all that is going on. “No, I want to stay here,” he answered.


Renee Ghert-Zand is a former J. correspondent. She made aliyah from Palo Alto last month and lives in Jerusalem.

Renee Ghert-Zand
Renee Ghert-Zand

Renee Ghert-Zand is a Jerusalem-based freelance journalist. She made aliyah from Palo Alto with her family in June 2014.