A (First) Year in the Life of an Oleh Chadash

‘Tis the season. For looking back and Top Ten lists, I mean. Especially this year, as we say good riddance bye to the aughts. I’ll spare you my thoughts on the decade, because you’ve probably read a jillion recaps already and plus, it doesn’t make sense for this column. Most of the decade, I was in New York – oblivious to the fact that I’d spend 2009 as an Oleh Chadash.

But – as I near completion as my first year as an Oleh, why not look back on my Top Ten Milestones from the year? I flirted with ranking them, but decided to love all my children equally and list them chronologically instead. And fittingly, I’m typing this list out on December 25 – while listening to Xmas music – and just remembered: Holy Crap! Last Christmas was the day I arrived in Israel for the first time! Ooh, just got chills…

So without further introduction, I offer you my list of Top Ten Milestones during my first year as an Israeli:

  1. Making the Decision – I was a middle-aged man when I first set foot in Israel one year ago today (it’s true; I just use a lot of skin products, so it’s hard to tell). One Gaza conflict, lots of hot men, Jewish DNA tingling in my bones, a crashed world economy, and an influential NY Times OP-ED later, I returned home to New York City with thoughts swirling in my head. Should I just do it – should I really move to Israel, like Now!?! Crashed out in my bed, my thoughts slowing their tumble through my mind as I faded, I said Yes. This moment of clarity insanity courage has to be first on my list.
  2. Getting my Teudat Zehut – Nothing says you’re an Israeli more than a thousand trips back and forth to the Misrad Hapanim to get that damned Hebrew emblazoned & fonted, folding wallet piece of official identification that you must not leave home without!
  3. Running in the Tel Aviv Marathon – Nevermind five years of retirement from distance running and a scant three weeks to train. One look at the giant billboard in Rabin Square and a whole lot of emotional displacement, and I knew I needed this goal to give my new life some structure, stat.
  4. Starting Ulpan – Being fortunate to arrive in Israel already with a (US-based) job, I started working full-time, afternoons-through-evening, to sync up with the US workday. Should I wait a while before adding an intensive 5 hours/day, 5 days/week, 5 month course to the mix? Eff no! And, it was a great decision. Ulpan Gordon, in it’s West Beverly High courtyard setting, surrounded by Jews from all around the world – some old, some young, but everyone with a shared story of making Aliyah – introduced me to Hebrew, Israeli customs and culture, and some of my closest friends… בא נירה
  5. Moving Into My Own Place – For my first three months, I lived in a friend’s guest room. Getting my own pad and decorating it let me take the concept of “home” a little more inward, personal and deeper. ‘Cause, sometimes, a girl just wants to shut out the Hebrew cacophony and watch Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D List in her underwear while eating Ben & Jerry’s – נכון?
  6. Getting a bicycle – It’d been twenty-five years since I’d ridden one. Once I learned to drive, that was it for me and bikes. But in Tel Aviv, um, there’s no subway. Bikes and scooters are the kings of mobility in my new city. So I got a junker, ugly enough to dissuade thieves, and regressed twenty years. Immensely practical, the unanticipated novelty of feeling I’m literally flying around the streets hasn’t worn off yet.
  7. Getting a BlackBerry – Yeah, I know the country is going Lady GaGa for the iPhone, which just debuted here this month. But I needed to instant message, Tweet, and email my peeps back in the U.S. last summer. So, after months of old school texting without a querty keyboard on a donated prototype piece of crap cellphone from the nineteenth century (Thank you, Jeannie !!!), I finally brought an unlocked CrackBerry over from the U.S. and starting making that little screen my whole life again claiming my birthright as a wired, social media lovin’, instantly gratified Gen X’er.
  8. Getting Internet at Home – Similar to #7, every 21st century Oleh should be wired (or wireless) at home. From watching US TV & Movies on TV Shack or TV Dome (or getting help from Hotspot Shield) and staying in touch with friends and family via Facebook and Skype, to reading fave blogs like PerezHilton and Mashable and going “meat shopping” on Atraf, I didn’t get HOT or YES cable this year, but I sure as hell got broadband from Bezek.
  9. Freelancing – Writing these columns, for instance. And now I’m getting involved with GayMiddleEast.com, turning some of their articles into TV news scripts and being the face for these reports we plan to put up on YouTube. Neither gig pays the rent or has supplanted my current employment yet, but both stand to further my professional connections and development, leading me to feel a palpable sense of “bubbling under” right now and excitement for 2010.
  10. Getting a Puppy – Visiting Tzar Bailecheem (SPCA) and adopting a puppy in September (who turns five months old today – Happy Birthday, Petey !!!) expanded my world ginormously. Not only by infusing my life with pure and unrelenting love from my pup, but also by making me more visible in my neighborhood and unlocking the door to many new relationships with other dog-loving Tel Avivans at places like Park Hayarkon’s dog park.

And because the thoughts and gratitude are flowing now, it’s hard to stick to only ten. Finishing kita alef in Ulpan last September freed me up to start going out to bars and clubs and start mixing it up with my other people – the gays. And now I’m partly through the beaucratic Byzantine typically Israeli multi-step process of getting my Israeli driver’s license. Even though I don’t plan on buying a car, this feels like an important step, deepening my roots here.

So, there you have it, kiddies! A (first) year in the life of an Oleh Chadash. If you’re next to experience this ride, ! בהצלחה

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