Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Looking For the Right One

              I know this post's title is misleading. It makes you think that there's going to be something juicy or emotional in here, and I apologize for that, but bear with me. Maybe one day I'll blog about my social life (unlikely), but this is not that day. This is about another stressful and pressing issue- the fact that I am currently unemployed. Now, if you were to ask me how aliyah is going, I will always be positive. The move has been great, almost seamless. I love this city, my friends, my apartment. I have never felt more at home or more sure of any major decision I've ever made. The only dark cloud hovering over my perpetually sunny, aliyah day is the fact that I am a month and a half out of ulpan, and I haven't yet found gainful full-time employment. I am still enjoying the few hours a week that I assist the best event planner in Israel, but I need a job, my friends. A real life, full-time, paying- the- bills, up at seven, home after nightfall job. See, I have been working in some capacity or another since I'm twelve. I babysat, tutored, taught Hebrew school, and balanced books. I have been a counselor, a youth leader, and a madricha for almost every Jew in the tri-state area. And all of that was before I finished my Master's in Speech Pathology and worked in various schools all over Queens for the better part of seven years! This whole "not working" thing is kind of freaking me out.
              So you must all be wondering (and by all, I mean my mother and other assorted concerned adults) "Jordana, why don't you just continue to pursue speech therapy in Israel?" The answer to that is four-fold (as you can see, I've answered this a lot.) One, you have to take a qualifying exam in Hebrew to work here in an agency/school system. At this point, I don't think I could pass this exam in English, as it's been a million years since I graduated and I'm a bit fuzzy on oral musculature and sensorineural hearing loss these days. Second, on the crazy chance that I passed said exam, I'd then have to see clients, plan lessons, do paperwork and meet with parents in Hebrew! As proud as I am with my budding Hebrew skills, that's a truly daunting thought. Third, and I'm being honest, is that the pay here for speech therapy is okay, but certainly not good. I have a friend who works for a kupa (agency) who says she basically makes enough to cover her babysitter. I think most speech therapists in the US will tell you that the pay and the hours are a strong factor in choosing a career as an SLP. This is not really as much of a factor here. But I think the biggest reason for me is that, with all these barriers, if I really loved being a speech therapist, I'd do it here too. But I never did. When you choose a career path at eighteen, you have a certain life-plan in mind, one that includes a husband and kids in the near future and requires a nicely- paid, flexible job. So you choose speech and you work in it, and you enjoy it, but then your life isn't necessarily exactly what you envisioned. You don't need that family-life flexibility and pay as a single girl.
               Making aliyah was the fulfillment of several dreams. One was to live in the Jewish homeland and hopefully raise my own family here. Another was to find a job in an area in which I am passionate and talented, to feel a sense of fulfillment in my job. This is not to say I wasn't fulfilled helping kids learn to better communicate; it was just never my passion. It's just being honest about who I am as a person, and using my skills in a different way.
               For years, I worked on a volunteer basis in the worlds of Jewish and Israeli advocacy. I love meeting and working with Jews and Israel advocates and I knew by coming to Israel, that's where I saw my path leading. Okay, great! So now that I had a direction, how do I go about getting a job? I had a two-pronged system. One was what Israelis call protekzia, or connections. This is where I'd tap into the thousand people I know in the Jewish world, add that to the two thousand people my mom and dad know, the ten thousand my synagogue friends know, and the other various people I'd randomly meet though an awkward and unnatural phenomenon known as networking. As part of this plan, I was advised to join LinkedIn, a social media platform which is essentially putting your resume in a questionnaire format and then forging a "connection" with every human who looks vaguely familiar to you on the site. Apparently, they don't have to be your friends, just someone who's name you recognize next to their picture. I joined this website, and being the absolute Jewish- geography superstar that I am, got to connecting! "But now what?" I thought. I have sent my resume to every person I've ever met who possibly knows anyone in the Jewish organizational world, my dad is basically accosting everyone in shul about a job for me, and my million amazing connections in different organizations are coming up empty! What do I do?
            That is where the second prong comes in- good old fashion job searching and applying. When I was planning my move here, Nefesh B'Nefesh helped me a lot. Then, in December, they sent me an email asking how my job search was going at the wrong time. I responded with a strongly worded email saying, basically, "Not great, you gonna help me or what?" And guess what? They did! They sent me this great little dynamo, Melissa, who revamped my intensely outdated resume (eight years in speech, remember?) and showed me all the places I should be looking. She also, bless her, started sending out my resume herself to jobs she thought might be appropriate for me. As appreciative as I am for this, it sometimes leads me to interviews where I have literally no idea about the job for which I'm applying. "Ohhh, you're looking for a part-time office assistant? Okayyyy, cool." But I put on a brave face and try and get that office assistant job! Not that I want the job, I just want to get the job, you know? But this isn't the time to get into my competitiveness issues. Moving on to interviewing in Israel.
            I know the job market here in this country. I am not in high-tech and I am not an engineer. I have not created an app, and I am not a radiologist in NYC who commutes back and forth. I am not a real-estate magnate and I do not own a sports team. I will never be wealthy in this country. That is not the goal. The goal is to make enough money to afford my rent, go out on Thursday nights with friends and maybe buy a ticket back to the States once a year. I'm a simple girl. But apparently, based on the current salary base in this country, I am aiming too high. Essentially, this is what you're dealing with (paraphrased): "Hello, Jordana! So great to meet you. Let me tell you what we're looking for here at ABC Organization. We're going to need you to direct our social media and digital marketing campaigns, take care of our English correspondence, plan our events, take care of all our logistics, produce our newsletter, maintain and grow our donor relationships, do some light office work, write and edit our website content...(10 minutes pass) and we're looking for Sunday-Thursday, 8AM to 5PM but obviously more when the need arises. Now the pay is going to be low, but it's such a great work environment and you will really get a lot out of this." Then they quote you a number so low that even if it were dollars you'd freak out for the sheer amount you need to accomplish to earn said salary, and your mouth is agape. And here is the kicker! You are one of ten applicants (at least!) for this job! There are nine other girls (I don't see many guys in the waiting areas with me) who are fine selling their lives to these organizations for peanuts. So you suddenly feel like you need this job, you must have this job! It is a stressful environment, especially for someone like me, who knows what they need to accomplish in life and how to do it, but has no way of actualizing it. Melissa from NBN said to me, "Finding a job is a full-time job," but I don't want this job! I want to make the lives of Jews better, I want to improve the lives of Israelis, I want to make a significant difference in this country I love with the people I love, and I am hitting the proverbial wall.
                   So that's where I am, currently. I appreciate you taking the time to let me vent, and I hope I made you laugh a little. It's really not that dramatic, and most of the time, it' a great learning experience. And even with all the hassle, the financial stress and the dramatics, I wouldn't go back to a cushy life in NYC for the world. Israel is the only place I want to be, warts and all. 
              To leave off on a positive note, I know this is temporary. It was a little nuts that my aliyah was going so smoothly, and I had to be aware that some bumps were bound to show up on the road. So I will keep sending out my resume, keep networking and keep interviewing. And hopefully, in the not-so-distant future, I will look back at this post and think "Wow, what a stressful time! Glad that's over!" Wish me luck, and if you want, connect with me on LinkedIn! Let's network!


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Une Famille Juive

                    There's a old saying (I'd like to think it's Jewish, but I haven't verified it) that you can't judge someone until you've walked a mile in his shoes. And since that can never happen, as you can never live all someone's experiences for yourself, it follows that you can never judge someone else. And since it says you can't ever judge someone else, you never will, right? Obviously not! Where am I going with this? Today I attended the funerals of the four holy Jewish souls who were murdered in Paris this past Friday. They were targeted and shot for the crime of buying food for shabbat, for being Jewish. After the horrors of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, there was a palpable sense amongst the people I spoke with that thought, "But what about the Jews? Is it possible that for once, they really weren't the target of the hatred and violence of the radical Islamic terrorists in France?" Of course, one day later, we were to find out that it was only a temporary reprieve, that of course the Jews would remain the primary target of violence in France, and that anti-Semitism would continue to flourish unabated in that continent of Europe, with a Jewish history so complicated it hurts one's head.
                   On Friday, the Jewish community of France was dealt yet another harsh blow, another horrific attack on a community that has seen more hatred and fear for being Jewish than nearly anyone in the last decade. These French Jews, numbering over half a million, mostly already refugees from their original homes in Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, fearing the prospect of becoming refugees again. I devoured every article and scrap of information, as I always do, wondering aloud how and why these Jews hadn't already made aliyah, or why they weren't packing their bags as fast as they could. I couldn't fathom why on earth they would stay in place that kept punishing them for being Jewish. I judged, and I never even got close to walking even a step in their shoes.
                 A little background into where my shoes have trod. I grew up going to Orthodox Jewish schools, camps, Passover programs and Sunday activities. I lived in New York City, where everyone I knew was Jewish and if they weren't, they knew all about us. I had off for every Jewish holiday through college, Spring Break was always over Passover and I never had to explain to a professor what Rosh Hashana was. My dad could wear a kippa, tzitzit hanging out, while praying on a subway and no one would say a word. I can't remember a single incidence of anti-Semitism in my general vicinity at any point in time in my life. I'm not saying these things to brag or to let myself off the hook. Quite the opposite. I am telling you this so you can understand how thoroughly I can not relate to being a Jew in Europe, and especially not France. And yet I judged, and I am so regretful.
                Today I went to the funeral, where the vast majority of mourners were French Jews. They were somber and tearful, we all were. We're all family, truly, and the loss of Jews anywhere in the world is a loss for us all. But to me, I saw them mourning the loss of the Jewish community in France. I saw the realization amongst many of those assembled that their time in France was drawing short, that the country where they had built synagogues and businesses and families would soon no longer be able keep them safe, and they felt lost. And though the Israeli dignitaries who spoke to those assembled spoke beautifully about Israel being a home for all Jews, they spoke in Hebrew, a language different from their own. And you could see the love they all had for Israel, the Zionism that burns brighter in them than in most Jews I know back home in the States, but how that love doesn't negate the fears they have in leaving France for good, in starting over here.
Thousands gather to pay their respects

               So for once, I tried to walk a few steps in their shoes. I tried to imagine my own home country becoming a place I no longer felt comfortable (G-d forbid). I tried to imagine being scared to wear a Magen David on the subway, even though I can now wear an Israeli flag on my back with no fear at all. I tried to imagine sending a child to school in Queens with four heavily armed guards at the entrance, rather than just the intercom systems we have now. I tried to imagine everyone I know being forced to sell the businesses that they worked on for years to make successful, and move to a country with a new language and a totally different economy. I tried to imagine having to uproot Bubbies and Zaidys, who already knew the pain of being a refugee, telling them they have to escape persecution again in their lifetimes. And I tried to imagine the place I grew up, loved and was so proud to call my home, suddenly no longer wanting me there.
               So while I couldn't truly step into their shoes, I was no longer judging. And while I might still sometimes lament why some of them choose to stay in France, I will welcome those who do decide to make aliyah with my arms open as wide as possible. Certainly, Israel is as much their home as it is mine, as it is the home for every Jew. I will work hard to understand that it is not always easy to leave one's home for one's Homeland, no matter how much you may love it. Most of all, I will do my part to help everyone I meet here in Israel feel like "une familly juive"- one Jewish family. Am Yisrael Chai.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Holiday Candles, Birthday Candles, Emergency Candles

                 January 1st is known as Sylvester here in Israel. It always strikes me as funny, since it's named after St. Sylvester, a pope who notoriously hated the Jews. This year, it also happened to be the six- month anniversary of the day I moved to Israel! That's why I love the fact that I moved here on the first of the month- so easy to track how long I've been here! Since last I posted, I have moved into my apartment, celebrated Hanukkah, began looking for a job in earnest, hosted my family visiting from New York, and weathered my first "snowstorm" of the year. It's been hectic, but super exciting!
                 The day after I moved out of ulpan, Hanukkah began! I know this is controversial, but I really don't like "the holiday season" as they call it back in NYC. While many Jews I know live for the songs, and the tinsel, the trees and the Santas, I personally don't. I understand the appeal, the glitz and glamour, and the fact that it is in your face 24/7 from October through January, but I never shook the feeling that none of it was for me, and that it really distracted from my own joy when it came to Hanukkah. I don't want to have to compete for "holiday supremacy", and it would be silly to try! That's why I love living in a country where there is only Hanukkah! Sure, you see a random Xmas tree walking past a bar or in the Old City Christian Quarter, but for the most part, it's menorahs and dreidels, as far as the eye can see! I can not explain to you the feeling of seeing streetlamps festooned with menorahs, buses wishing us a "Hanukkah Sameach", signs exclaiming "We have the best doughnuts in town!" and nary a jingle bell anywhere! It warmed my heart for 8 straight days and nights! Not to mention the family and friend Hanukkah parties, intense games of dreidel, and general revelry around every corner. One night, I was invited as a "special oleh" to light candles with the mayor of Jerusalem, whom I adore. That was kind of a letdown, as it was packed with a million other "special olim" and I didn't get my selfie with the mayor, but it was okay! The next day, I was again invited as a "special recent graduate of ulpan" to a candle lighting ceremony with Bibi Netanyahu himself! I was super- excited, to say the least. I think you might guess where I'm going with this. Turns out, I was one of very many "special recent graduates of ulpan" along with 300 or so other recent olim, all assuming we were going to get some face-time with the Prime Minister. 
Jerusalem's Lamposts!

                      We had to wait two hours until he arrived, the room full to overflowing (and by that I mean only overflowing), while he lit candles and we heard from 2 recent olim. Again, this may be controversial, but I have to say it. Both olim gave moving stories about how they left situations (in France and Peru) where being Jewish was difficult and came here to live as free Jews. I understand how this is an important narrative, but just once, I want to hear this story on a podium: "I left all my family and friends, a great job, a new car and a big house to move to Israel. I lived in a huge Jewish community with 3 kosher pizza shops and 5 Orthodox synagogues in my area. I never experienced a smidgen of anti-Semitism, I never had to work on a Jewish holiday and life couldn't have been easier. And yet here I am, fulfilling my dream of helping to build the Jewish state." This is the narrative of myself and so many of my friends and family, and I think it's just taken for granted sometimes. Okay, back to the event. Bibi gave an awesome speech about how moving to the country is making a huge contribution and I was pretty inspired by the end of the night. Definitely a great way to wrap up the first half of your first year here!
                     After Hanukkah, when the rest of the world was celebrating Xmas, I was making a welcome sign for 3 of my favorite people in the world- my parents and sister! They decided to visit me during their work breaks, and were coming for ten whole days! I decided to surprise them in the airport, which felt like a great idea until they were the last people from their flight to emerge at arrivals. One look at the their excited-to-see-me but anxious faces, and I could tell something was amiss. Turns out, they got all their bags except one- mine. The bag they packed with all my winter stuff and all the things I bought Cyber Monday (so sue me, not 100% Israeli yet) was gone! They put a claim in and we hoped for the best, hopping a cab back to our rented apartment in Nachlaot.
Israel just got way more Brown-y!
                  In a perfect world, I would be living in that apartment- one bedroom, great location, nice size but plain. In reality, that place is probably twice the price of my studio and so it was not meant to be. The next 10 days saw me playing tour guide, a role which I would most definitely fill in another life. We went to museums and landmarks, we saw family and friends, but mostly-we ate. As one does while on vacation, we ate out non-stop, but unlike a vacation in Italy or Brazil, everywhere you looked was kosher! I'm not going to lie, not paying for one meal in ten days has got to be one of the best feelings on earth. And, dear readers, I was allowed to get dessert! See, while my parents were here, I celebrated my birthday, so aside from my birthday cake, I demanded every dessert that whole week come with a lit sparkler and a rousing rendition of "Happy Birthday to You!" All told, I had about 8 birthday cakes (and waffles) and I'm thinking of just doing this year-round. I'll let you know.
One cake is never enough
                  While being without my family is extremely hard for me being with them in a one room apartment, 24 hours a day for ten days has it's own set of issues, as you can imagine. While it's great to get parental input on my life once a week, it's very different to hear my parents' views on all aspects of my life for over a week. In one conversation, I might hear their wisdom on: finding a mate, a job, the size of my apartment, calling distant relatives and staying safe on a city bus. In one lunch conversation. And while I was here, living life, my folks were on vacation- wanting to see, do and eat, and I was their logistics coordinator. Did I call that cousin? (Yes, they haven't picked up the last 3 times) Did I double check our reservation? (Who does that? The table is there, relax) What's the weather going to be? So cold?! Why? (Because I don't control the cold front). It was the most intense full-time, non-paying job I've ever had, and I was a Birthright counselor 12 times!
                But then when they left, I felt quite alone. And even though I had coffee with a friend right after, and fixed up my apartment, and my apartment is teeny, I felt more by myself in Israel than I have in the whole 6-months. Not to worry! Weather reports were predicting a huge snowstorm for Jerusalem, so instead of panicking about being alone, I could start panicking about being alone and frozen and stranded in the center of town! As you may have read, a snowstorm in Israel is nothing like a snowstorm in my native NYC. As they are quite common there, they are significantly more rare here in the Middle East. (Or at least, they were until last year, I guess!) Since the country had seen it's biggest storm in a century last year (I would tell you how much accumulation, but centimeters still makes no sense to me at all) everyone here was gearing up for a real doozy. The supermarkets were madhouses (pre-holiday level chaos) and road closures were announced. I'm not scared of snow (c'mon, I'm from Queens!) but I was imagining scenarios where pandemonium would break out in the Holy Land, electricity would cut out, rioting and looting would commence- I was expecting the very worst.
              I packed a bag full of sweaters and wine, and went to my friend Donna's to ride out the storm. We had a delicious dinner and discussed our game plan (We were running out of water and toilet paper and felt it might be in our best interest to replenish those.) The next day, still no snow in sight but with winds that could knock you over, my friend Yoni picked me up to ride out the rest of the storm with his family in Efrat. We had to hurry, since the roads would be closed in a veritable state of emergency. It was looking to be one for the ages. And then----
            Nothing. Well, I shouldn't say nothing. There was some freezing rain. Some scattered snowflakes. A lot of noisy wind. But the "storm of the century" turned out to be "the boy who cried wolf." And while I'm happy that it didn't shut down the whole country and cause untold damage, I am a bit disappointed that my first Israeli snowstorm was such a dud. And so I sit here in Efrat, watching the few flakes lightly fall on the porch, waiting for my hot mekupelet (like hot cocoa but 5 million times better), reflecting on the last few weeks of my first half-year as an oleh (Pretty weak milestone, I know, but I'm going with it.) Can't wait to see what the second half brings!