“So to whom exactly am I supposed to hand this form?” I asked, exasperated, as I tried to figure out who in the Israeli tax authority would take the piece of paper which I just filled in, allowing me to take on clients for freelance writing projects.
“I don’t know,” said the lady into her smartphone.
“So I’m like the first one who’s asked you this question ever in the history of Israel’s tax authority?”
“What do you want from my life?!??!” said the lady. “Ask the man in the office all the way down the hall on the left. Maybe he knows something.”
I eventually did find the man. I am not 100 percent sure if he entered in the details into his computer. I’m hoping so.
I’m coming up on my four-year Aliyah anniversary. To be honest, although Israelis are somewhat more aware of customer service than they once were, some version of what happened at the tax authority happens to me at least bi-monthly.
As a Minnesotan, bred to graciously yield the right of way at every four-way stop, to hold open the door, to smile and say good morning, and to never, ever use the car horn unless to alert of, like, a duck crossing, the Middle Eastern culture of yelling, wild hand motions, incessant honking, and, of course, almost non-existent customer service is something to which I don’t think I’ll ever adjust.
Four years ago, I was a wide-eyed, 23-year-old recent college grad ready to give everything I had to build a life here in Israel.
Four years later, I am no longer a recent college grad, no longer 23, but I am still somewhat wide-eyed, and still giving everything I have to build a life here.
And it hasn’t been easy.
I could, in descriptive detail, delineate all the hardships – the loneliness, earning a living, archaic bureaucratic procedures, and of course, war and terror. I could demand answers to “why me, G-d” type of questions.
I remember once, in the very beginning, coming home on a Saturday night and suddenly feeling ill. I threw up probably 20 times in five hours. Even while pregnant I don’t think I threw up nearly as much. I was all alone, in the middle of the night, with no one to call and hardly able to move. I remember thinking that if I were to pass out, it would probably be at least 3 days before anyone would notice. And of course, my thought was, “This, THIS is the Promised Land? This is the Land overflowing with goodness? My lofty hopes and dreams are reduced to possibly dying of food poisoning?”
There’s a famous biblical account of the spies who are instructed to scout out the Land of Israel and to report back with a description. The spies describe a land which is indeed fruitful, flowing with milk and honey. Yet, they are concerned about some troubling things – enemies, large people, and the thought that they are but measly grasshoppers in the eyes of the Land’s inhabitants. To the spies, there’s simply no way that the Hebrew people, and their history of slavery in Egypt, have what it takes to settle the Land of Israel.
The Israelites are punished and the entire generation is condemned to living and dying in the desert. It is said that all the suffering which the Jewish people have experienced have roots in the Sin of the Spies.
Many question this damning sentence. The spies were instructed to survey the land. And they did. So why the harsh punishment?
When I first got to Israel, I volunteered in a Day Center for the Elderly. The patients at this center were among some of Israel’s finest veterans, women and men, who literally drained the swamps and made the desert bloom. A good percentage of them were forced from their European and North African homes. The land at which they arrived looked nothing like the Israel of today. There were no Birthright busses with young Jews, no grocery stores overflowing with Israeli and imported products, no Western Wall. They, skinny, traumatized refugees were responsible for building Israel. And they didn’t have a choice – they weren’t exactly welcome in their home countries.
And when, on my last day of volunteering there, I asked them to sing with me Hatikvah, every one of the bent over, weakened bodied but not weakened spirited warriors stood, hands on chest and belted out Israel’s national anthem.
Those elderly patients were probably worse off than the Israelites in the desert. And yet, their inexperience with warfare, irrigation, and fertilization, didn’t prevent them from giving those things a try.
If they felt like grasshoppers, no one knew it.
Had the Israelites seen themselves as the capable people that they were, they would have been granted entry. But they lacked belief. The generation who was freed from Egypt, for whom the sea split, who received Manna from Heaven perceived themselves as nothing more than mere grasshoppers.
I’ve had so many “OMG, they think I am a grasshopper, I am a grasshopper” moments.
I’ve experienced a lot in the last four years. Some were painful and awful experiences and I never want to think about them again. Some of them have made me feel even worse than a grasshopper.
But, four years ago, I never, ever thought that I’d be where I am today. I have friends, and my wedding, held in the Judean hills, was part of the prophecy. I am building a career and I have a Master’s degree from an accredited institution and I am not stopping. My daughter will be a native Hebrew speaker. My husband, an Israeli, is literally the most amazing person I know. I live in Jerusalem and my porch overlooks this beautiful, holy city.
If I blame my failure moments on G-d, then it’s only fair that I hold Him accountable for my successes.
Because a promised land doesn’t mean “I promise that everything will be perfect and that everyone will love you and that you won’t puke all night from a bad Shawarma and that everything will be easy” land.
But it is the “if you work hard, if you believe, if you do not see yourself as a grasshopper, then you will see results and MANY of those results will make you happy you live here” land. (Ensuring that the place where you buy take-out Shawarma holds by minimal hygiene standards may be a good idea too).
Four years ago I began a journey. Along the way, I had to stop at the Israeli tax authority and be reminded that although I may look like a grasshopper, I am a grasshopper who is not afraid to jump high.
And to properly file taxes.