I remember those heady days during the Spring of 2007, the period of time between our decision to “make Aliyah” and the moment we headed to JFK airport with our hand luggage and one old cat in a carrying case. We, at least I, would awake every morning (a good thing) and spend the day feeling virtuous. One event I remember that took place during that period of time was a Sunday breakfast hosted by the Men’s Club at Congregation Beth Aaron, our shul in Teaneck, with guest speaker Herb Keinon. Lots of people know who he is: a journalist for the Jerusalem Post who every month or so gets to write a column about his and his family’s experiences in The Land over a period of twenty-five years. So long before wannabies like yours truly began blogging about our aliyah adventures, he was doing this in print for a large audience of mostly Anglo-Israelis.
Once his talk was over, I approached Herb and, in my state of virtuousness, let him know that we too would soon be sharing the joy of living in The Land. He wished me well and offered to be of assistance if need be – although we never needed.
Still, Herb Keinon has remained on my “good guy” list and I have followed his “Out There” columns whenever possible. Earlier in the year, a collection of his columns appeared as the book, French Fries in Pita, an autographed copy of which we now possess. In a way, Herb’s title says it all. Should you be wandering the streets of Jerusalem (or a lot of other communities here in The Land) and suddenly need a bite to eat, there is always the ubiquitous falafel stand. And if you ask nicely, in addition to the diced cucumber and tomato salad, the gooey hummus and tahini, the hot sauce if you’re that foolish(no harif, no harif ), and the Israeli ersatz pickles, the server will throw on top of the falafel some soggy semi-edible French fries (no ketchup in sight), which will spill out of the top of the pita holding this mess together. And one might ask: What holds the disparate parts here in The Land, many quite messy, together – like the tomatoes and cucumbers with the deep-fried chick pea goo? Maybe it’s because all of us, in our own way, have a love for this country – even if the French fries don’t quite make it.
I started reading the book and had only gotten to page two of the Introduction, when I came upon something that stopped me in my tracks. Keinon made mention of a five stage phase of immigration, the kind of culture shock that people experience when they have been transplanted from place A to B, a paradigm developed in 1954 by an anthropologist named Kalvero Oberg.
Phase one is the “over idealized honeymoon stage,” in which everything in your new place of residence is a-m-a-z-i-n-g. Phase two seems to be the polar opposite, in which everyone and everything new is now awful. The third phase is one of “regression,” in which you try – at least in your mind – to bring every over-idealized part of your former life to where you are now. Somehow, you’re supposed to get to the fourth phase, one in which you have adjusted to life in your new home, and everything is comfortable and routine. Finally, should you have the opportunity to return to where you came from, you experience “reverse culture shock” as what you used to think of as normal now seems strange.
There is an important element of truth to this paradigm, but like a one-size-fits- all suit, in which the sleeves may be too long and the pants too short, this model is in serious need of tweaking. The whole business of adjusting to a new environment may depend in part on the circumstances in which you moved, your age at the time, your ability to return to your former home, and so forth.
As I was pondering how my own experience as a new oleh fit into Oberg’s schema, I began asking myself another question. If I plan to resume writing my own articles as I planned, where should I be going, what should I be focusing on? Keinon has been writing his columns for twenty-five years, in all seasons, and in all stages of his immigrant experience – for an audience of readers who, in one way or another, are participants in his stories. As Dr. Ben Carson put it recently, “They know.” As any football coach can tell you, it’s hard to give a “rah rah” speech to a team of grizzled veterans. And Anglo-Israelis become grizzled pretty fast, or else sooner or later they skedaddle.
That’s it! That’s what I need to focus on, a more rounded description of the integration process: the realization and acceptance of how we olim fit or misfit in Israeli society, what we have done and what we will never do, not only what we truly love but what we grudgingly accept, how we do or why we don’t maintain some of the beliefs, ideals, and values we brought over with us on the NBN flight. In other words, or to coin a new one, the “grizzlification” of at least one American ex-pat, yours truly. Anyway, that’s the plan. We’ll see how well it works. Stay tuned.