Our home in Ramat Beit Shemesh is finally complete, and we are fully at home in Israel.
Our household goods from Atlanta arrived in October. Our favorite pictures are now staring at us from the walls. Our favorite books are perched on our shelves, and all our Atlanta clothes are in our closets.
We are no longer living a divided life now that our possessions are all in one place. Every day in our prayers we ask to return to Zion. We have now fully returned.
Since early September we have studied Hebrew in an ulpan at the community center. The government provides five months of free ulpan to new olim (immigrants). We have been in class five hours a day, five days a week, for five months. It has been grueling work with daily homework and weekly tests. We had only Fridays and Saturdays off.
We knew some Hebrew when we arrived, so we were put in the Bet, or intermediate, class. We recently took our final oral and written exams, which are standardized nationwide, and thankfully passed.
However, for us it doesn’t matter because we are retired. Most of the students in the class are young with small children, and they need to obtain their language proficiency certificates to get jobs. Of course, there are many jobs in Israel where one does not need Hebrew, such as in the computer field, but comprehension is important for everyday life.
We plan to continue in some type of formal Hebrew language education, but not at the five-days-a-week, five-hours-a-day grind.
Looking back, our ulpan experience was enormously beneficial and aided our social absorption into Israel. The class became a family of sorts, offering camaraderie and mutual support.
We are enamored with the dedication of the teachers and staff of the ulpan program here in Beit Shemesh. They truly cared about each student and worked hard to help us through the language proficiency process.
A few months ago, we traveled from Israel to China to visit an Israeli friend who is temporarily working there. We traveled on our Israeli documents for the first time, never needing our American passports, which we brought as backups.
We were Israelis visiting China. We flew with El Al directly to Beijing. The flight attendant spoke to us in Hebrew — and, better, we responded in Hebrew.
During the Chanukah break we spent four days in Eilat with Rabbi Berel Wein’s Destiny Foundation. Rabbis Wein and Zev Leff provided lectures each day, and we participated in daily trips in the area.
There is biblical history everywhere in Israel, and Eilat is no exception: We learned that the mountains east of Eilat are the mountains of Midian, and the mountains just north of them are Edom.
When Moshe was shepherding the flocks of Jethro, he was likely near Eilat. Thus, our guide believes that the mountain to the west of Eilat may be Mount Sinai because Moshe did not go far to see the burning bush, which was at the base of Mount Horev (Mount Sinai).
The mountains in the area are made of sandstone (beige), a red stone (Edom) or a volcanic black rock. The mountain that may be Sinai is black volcanic rock.
Deuteronomy says the Jewish people circled Edom by way of Eilat. Our guide brought us to the wadi area that he believes is the only passable route the Israelites could have taken to Edom.
We also visited the Israeli security fence along the border with Egypt. It stretches for 300 kilometers (about 185 miles) along the entire border from Eilat to Gaza. It is high tech with sensors to indicate immediately if anyone tries to breach the barrier.
It is the modern “Great Wall of China.”
We drove to Eilat, and on the way, near Dimona, Mort received a traffic ticket for what the police officer said was reckless driving.
Truth be told, passing a bus in a passing zone on a two-lane road with a dotted line and significant passing distance is not reckless — unless the car approaching in the opposite direction happens to be a speeding police car. What luck!
In an “only in Israel” moment, the policeman invited Mort into his patrol car, offered him a seat next to him and carefully described in a pictorial representation what he did wrong.
Then the officer asked a series of questions. “How long have you been driving in Israel?” — a clear recognition Mort is a greener. “What do you do for a living?” “What did you do in America?”
When he learned that Mort was a research chemist, he pointed with pride to the Dimona nuclear reactor in the distance. What a nice guy!
In our second “only in Israel” moment, when we paid the ticket at the post office, our local, friendly postman smiled and said, “Now you are an Israeli.”
Speaking of “only in Israel” moments, where else can one be busy shopping at a modern, chain supermarket and be asked by a stranger to participate in a Mincha minyan? What’s more, a synagogue was conveniently located adjacent to the dairy section.
It is hard to believe that in a short time we will be celebrating our first aliyah anniversary. We hope to report back to you later this year with news about life after ulpan and new developments in this dynamic country.
Mort and Edie Barr lived in Atlanta from 2006 until they made aliyah March 30, 2016. Mort retired as director of technology at Colgate Palmolive and was the executive director of Congregation Beth Jacob. He is the founder and former CEO of Jewish Interest Free Loan of Atlanta. Edie retired from a career as an activities director in assisted living and volunteered at NORC, Berman Commons and the Carlton. She is a former president of the Mount Scopus Group of Hadassah Greater Atlanta. This is the fourth article in an occasional series about their Israel experiences as new immigrants.