Wednesday, February 29, 2012

2/29/12: The One Way Trip To My New Life. This Olah Chadasha is HOME!

My Teodat Olah

First let me begin by apologizing for my lack of blogging while I was home in California. Aside from laying in the beautiful sun, seeing great friends, and spending time with my family, I didn't do much of note while I was abroad. However, while I was home I was lucky enough to be able to start and finish one of the most special and important processes of my life; a process which was finalized upon my arrival to Ben Gurion Airport this afternoon. During my stay at home in Southern California I applied for, and received, my Aliyah visa to return to Israel as a citizen under her "right of return" law. My Shaliach (delegate) informed me that she never saw an Aliyah application get approved so quickly, and at that moment I knew that it was meant to be. A week and a half before I was due home I went to the Israeli consulate and picked up my visa to come home to Israel as a citizen! 

My Aliya Visa issued by the Consulate of Israel in LA 

After another week of spending all of the time that I could with family and friends (including my Uncle who came to see me from Northern California), it was time to pack up the rest of my life and take my one-way flight back home to my new country :-). One large suitcase, one oversized duffle bag, two carry-on's, and a purse later, I was ready to go home! 

I'm sure it doesn't surprise anyone to hear that I did not have the best night sleep yesterday due to my impending trip across the world. A Combination of excitement and anxiety kept me tossing and turning for much of the night, and by the time 5:15 am rolled around I was up and making sure every last minute thing was in order. My mother and I packed up the car with all of my things and by 6am we were off to Los Angeles International Airport. 

Aside from the fact that I was so tired I could barely keep my eyes open, the most extraordinary thing happened during our drive from Palm Springs to Los Angeles, something I had never, in my 24 years of living in California, seen. As we were driving through the towns of Banning and Beaumont we noticed that the streets, trees, cars, and surrounding buildings were cover with SNOW! Snow in Southern California where, only the day before, the temperature registered at 89 degrees! For a woman who has only seen snow twice in her life I couldn't help feeling that this was some kind of sign. I have no idea what sign this was but I could only hope it meant great and unexpected things were to come my way, such as this was so great and unexpected :-) 

Snow in Banning by our favorite Baker's restaurant  

After another 5 minutes of driving the snow was nothing more than a memory, but it left me with an amazing feeling (which is quite remarkable seeing as my excitements and anxieties manifest in my stomach which left me feeling not so fantastic when my mother and I left home). Additionally, the LA traffic gods were on our side for most of the drive which put us at LAX well before my flight was to leave to take me to Philadelphia. After we went through the hassle of checking my three rather large bags, my mom walked me into the front check in where we said our final goodbyes. Though tears were shed by my mom I know she is so happy and excited for this amazing new adventure and life I am about to embark on. Check in was very smooth and a few hours later I was on my way to Philadelphia. 

Upon arrival at Philadelphia I was able to get some food, quickly organize my things, and then run over to my gate to catch my connecting flight to Israel. It was at this moment that the excitement really started to set in. I had to go through extra security (a process which no other international fliers to other countries had to go through), present my passport and visa, and then I was able to relax a bit before boarding my final plane! As if this whole process hasn't been amazing enough I was issued a seat change as I entered the plane (for reasons I don't know) which put me in  an aisle seat with no one sitting in the middle of me and the Israeli woman on the other side of the row. Aside from the fact that 2 people got sick on the flight, it was smooth sailing from Philly to Tel Aviv!

Upon my arrival in Tel Aviv one of the most lovely old men was there to meet me and the 4 other Olim on my flight, take us to passport control, walk us up to Misrad Haklita (ministry of absorption, which is in the airport), and then make sure we were put on our complementary taxis back to our homes and cities of choice. I met such amazing Olim who had fantastic stories, and I had a wonderful experience getting all of my paperwork processed and finalized. First of all I was the only one there who conducted most of the processing in Hebrew. I said two things to the woman who was processing me in Hebrew and she took that as the go ahead to conduct the rest of what we did entirely in the language. Luckily I understood everything she was saying and could respond quite well to the questions she was asking! I wanted to cry I was just so happy and felt so at home. After the lady processed all of my paper work I was issued my first round of "gifts" from the Israeli government; a cash payment, an iphone SIM card, a voucher for a free taxi ride home, free health insurance for 1 year, and, what I thought was the most exciting, my Teodat Oleh (Immigrant identification and passport card). Once this was all issued I was given the instructions I would need to open my bank account and receive my Teodat Zahut (Israeli ID and passport) within the next week. There were about five various periods I wanted to cry due to excitement during this whole process, but I kept it together pretty well! 

My Teodat Oleh cover  
It's official! I'm ISRAELI! 
Once my paperwork and processing were complete, and my benefits were collected, it was time to head off through customs and out to the taxi stand. I was the last Olim to get picked up and I didn't have a taxi... I got a whole bus all to myself :-). I had a lovely taxi driver who, of course, didn't speak a word of English, but lucky for me I know how to get home entirely in Hebrew! I hardly know directions in English but I knew exactly how to direct him to take me home. As we were driving through Tel Aviv I was overwhelmed with excitement and I have never felt more home in my life. I could see my apartment building while we were driving on the freeway and the anxiousness I felt to get home was absolutely indescribable. 

When I pulled up to my building my roommate Morgan (the only roommate home tonight) came to help me with all of my things. Thank goodness too because I was having trouble managing 2 suitcases and 2 duffles by myself. A few minutes later and I was FINALLY home. I didn't realize how much I missed my apartment until I was back in my room looking around at my beautiful home. It took me an age to unpack everything, but it is finally done and I am completely settled back into my Israeli home and life. 

This week will be filled with seeing friends, eating great food, taking care of all of my other paperwork, and then starting school come Sunday, so there will be plenty of blog updates to look forward to. Now that I am back in the Middle East you can expect a post every day or so :-) 

Well travel exhaustion has finally kicked in and I must try and get myself on a normal, Israeli sleep schedule so Lilah Tov and Tisba7 3ala khier ya habibs! 

Until we meet again,
Jordana Simone- American Israeli!

Monday, February 13, 2012

2/13/12: My Tu B'shvat Miracle

It's hard to believe that 18 years ago I was one of the few children who participated in planting this very tree. I remember my kindergarden group standing around the outside of our synagogue while our teacher put, what was then, only a little hand held stump in the ground for us to put a bit of earth around. It's amazing to see how each of us has grown in the past (almost) two decades. From the little 6 year old girl who looked like this:

 to a young woman who is getting ready to start a whole new life in a far away country.

This brings me to my life changing Tu B'shvat miracle. Almost the second I arrived in Israel, some 7 months ago, I knew that it would be almost impossible for me to ever leave, and this feeling was solidified the more time I spent in and around Israel and the Palestinian territories. By the middle of my summer Ulpan (intensive Hebrew language study) I had made the decision to make Aliyah and permanently move my life to Israel. After telling my family members (none of whom were at all surprised by this piece of news) I began the process of gaining Israeli citizenship. Things came to a bit of a standstill during the semester in terms of my citizenship, but as soon as I was done with my last paper I was on a plane back to the USA to finish the process.

4 days after my arrival in California I went with my Zayde to Los Angeles to have my final Aliyah interview at the Jewish Agency where it would be determined if I was eligible for Aliyah to Israel. The day before going to Los Angeles I gathered all of my documentation, proof of Judaism, and took it over to my Chabad Rabbi so that he could write me a letter attesting to the fact that I am Jewish and born to a Jewish mother (this documentation is needed to prove that I am eligible for my "right of return" to the Jewish homeland). I went to my Rabbi with my mom who had worked so hard with my grandmother to find amazing documentation to prove my Judaism, including my grandmother's mother's wedding Ketuba (marriage document), and we had the best time catching up and reminiscing about the good old days of my childhood! Once we had the letter it was off to LA.

When my Zayde and I arrived at the Jewish agency I could hardly sit still I was so excited. Despite the horrific traffic that almost made me late (thank you Los Angeles), I was so well prepared and ready to tackle this final step in my citizenship process. When I got up to the room where I was to be interviewed I could tell that the interviewer could sense my excitement because she jumped right into the interrogation. I gave her all of my documents, answered questions about where I lived, what I was doing in Israel, what I planned to do, why I wanted citizenship, and so on. By the end it was clear that I wanted this more than anything and she gave me the best news anyone could give me: I was approved for Aliyah, and upon proof that I lived in the USA prior to the issuance of my passport I would start the process of getting my flight back to Israel and an Olah Chadasha (new Immigrant).

I wanted to cry I was so happy and excited, and all I could think about was getting back home to Israel. As much as I love being home in the states my heart is undoubtedly over in the Middle East to the point where I'm counting the seconds until I am back home in my beautiful Tel Aviv apartment. My heart has been pining for Israel ever since I left and in the future I'm not sure I'll ever be able to be away from that region for more than 2 weeks at a time :-). I have two more weeks to enjoy my California home, and I plan on making the most of it, but I am very ready to get back to my crazy, amazing, unpredictable, and exciting life in Israel. Thanks to God and all of his gifts this time when I return home I will be doing so as a new immigrant and citizen of beautiful Israel. I am now FINALLY legally Middle Eastern :-) YAY!

Until we meet again! Stay tuned for an interesting post on a presentation I attended regarding Sephardic Jewry and Ladino music!

Tisba7 3ala kheir ya chaverim <3,
Jordana Simone

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

2/7/12: The Joys Of One Home And The Pains Of Missing The Other

There is nothing quite like being home in the place where you spent your childhood and much of pre-adult life growing up. The minute I got off the plane and saw my mother waiting for me with tears in her eyes (fairly standard for my mommy!) I knew I was home! A wave of both excitement and comfort overcame me as I got in the car with my mom and drove off towards my beloved desert home town. Despite the fact that I was severely jet lagged and suffering from one of the worst bouts with asthma that I have ever had, I could not contain my excitement at finally getting home after more than 7 months abroad. It wasn't until we passed our windmills on the 10 freeway that I really felt like I had made it; that is and has always been my landmark for "home". Once we hit the windmills and started seeing the gorgeous desert mountains in the background I knew it was only a matter of minutes before I would be walking into my mother's house where my dog was patiently awaiting my return!

Windmills mean I'm almost home!  
Beautiful desert mountains 

The view as we enter our complex 

Once we drove through the gate to our complex and pulled into our driveway I couldn't contain myself. As soon as it was safe I jumped out of the car, marveled at the GORGEOUS, sunny, warm weather, and ran into the house to see my dog. To be honest I think I missed the canine companionship of my little brother (as my mother likes to call him) more than anything while I have been away. After a few minutes of milking my dogs excitement before he realized that mom was coming inside which usually means he would probably be getting food I got my stuff and settled in.

My Ari Simon! 
After being in cold and rainy Tel Aviv for the past however many months I could do little else than capitalize on the warm and sunny weather outside. I immediately put on appropriate sun bathing clothes and went straight out into the back yard to work on this skin color situation of mine. Ari didn't want to miss out on the excitement so he decided to join me for a little while. It was a perfect first afternoon home.

That night I had to think long and hard about what I wanted my first dinner out to be. I tried to think of the one thing I missed the most in Israel and, of course, Ranch Dressing was the first thing to come to mind... Well that and virtually all pig products (I know, not the best Jew). Thinking of how I could combine the two (since I have not had pork products of any kind, or ranch since leaving the United States) I decided that my favorite pizza place, CPK, would be the perfect place to go. I ordered a very large pepperoni pizza and made sure the waitress knew to bring out a BIG think of their ranch dressing... I practically drank it it was that good. Anyways, after dinner I made sure my American phone was back in working order, talked to most of my friends, and then jet lag got the best of me and by 9pm I was fast asleep.

The obligatory bowl of ranch :-) 
The next day I took care of business and went straight to see my wonderful grandparents. I have missed them so much and was so happy I could spend a few hours spending time out at their place. Firstly, I was not going to pass up an opportunity to have some of the amazing food I am lucky to get whenever I go to my Bubby and Zayde's house (the best tuna salad and BLT's in the world), and it was so nice to finally see them in person and not on skype. 

It was a wonderful reunion between me and bacon!

After I spend a few hours with my grandparents it was home to rest up and get ready to see my best friends from home. I have missed these girls more than anything and I was so excited to finally see them. The first night two of them came to my house and then the next day we all met at a local pub to get some drinks and spend the night catching up. All great things come in 4's and the 4 of us girls always have the greatest time with one another. I was so excited to hear all of their stories and I think they were very excited to hear all that I have been doing overseas. Needless to say it will be a great month with a great deal of time spent with these girls. 

Pure love and fun  
Love and Bubble 

Chris and me :-) 

After a great weekend with my mom, grandparents, and friends, it was time to start the week at my daddy's gorgeous, newly remodeled house. I am so lucky to have parents who live close to one another so I can enjoy spending all the time I can with both of them :-). When I got to my dad's house I was blown away by all the changes that were made. My dad and step mom definitely took full advantage of empty nesting! The outside of the house was newly painted, the rooms were all remodeled, and the ambiance was just magical. If you know me you know that I love barricading in my room and just hanging out doing my own thing and now my room is fully equipped so that I really never have to leave :-). It's pretty perfect! There is also the little fact that both my dad and step mom work all day so I have the whole place all to myself, and after living in a crazy apartment with 4 other people, the alone time is really really appreciated! 

Newly painted house 

Welcome home :-) 

It only took 14 odd years but I finally have a desk! 

It's small but sooo comfortable 

My safe haven! 

Aside from the lovely homecomings, time with friends, a superbowl spent with my football obsessed mom and good friend Dustin, I have been resting, taking care of my asthma (my doctor decided to overprescribe me so that my cough would FINALLY  be taken care of), and will be seeing my Chabad rabbi tomorrow to go over all of my papers for my Aliyah to Israel! Thursday I take one of the final steps in the process of getting Israeli citizenship when I travel to the Jewish Agency in LA to have my final interview and Aliyah decision! I have never been so excited for anything in my life. As much as I love being home my heart is pining for Israel more than I can possibly express in words. I miss my life there so much and can't wait to get back healthy and recharged. 

Stay tuned for A Tu Beshvat blog followed by news on my Aliyah :-),
Jordana Simone

Saturday, February 4, 2012

1/31/12: An Hour Distance And A World Away: My Day In Haifa

With only one day left in Israel I knew I couldn't leave the country without going on one last adventure of the fall semester. Despite living in Israel, visiting multiple times in the past, and participating in Taglit birthright, I never seemed to have time to visit one of Israel's largest port cities; Haifa. I was talking to a university friend of mine, informed him that I have never been to Haifa, and we decided to take a rather impromptu afternoon trip to the largest city in the North of Israel. After class on Tuesday we went to the train station, boarded our train, and were off. For those of you who aren't familiar with Haifa it is an integrated city (the only city where the busses run on Shabbat) where Arabs and Jews live and coexist side by side. Haifa also houses the tomb of the founder of the Bahai religion making it a pilgrimage city for followers of the faith.

I was a little worried about going to Haifa because the weather was so awful in Tel Aviv. It had been cold and rainy all week, and I was almost positive that the weather in Haifa would be similar if not worse. Luckily, however, I couldn't have been more wrong, and we found ourselves in the middle of a gorgeous afternoon in the North. The sun was shining, the wind was calm, and the weather only further illuminated the profound beauty of this amazing city. To be honest I don't know if I have ever seen a place more aesthetically appealing than Haifa. From the picturesque mountainsides, to the beautiful architecture, it was absolutely breathtaking and a wonderful break from loud, crazy, crowded Tel Aviv. The air was so fresh, the trees so green, and I felt like I was dropped in the center of a place resembling a romanticized Northern California.
View of the Bahai Gardens 

View of the Port of Haifa

Picture Perfect View 

Once I had soaked in the beauty of my surroundings Patrick (my friend from university) and I got some food before venturing to see the famed Bahai gardens. After we finished eating we decided to walk part of the way to the Gardens before catching a cab to take us up the mountain to the top entrance. The day was too beautiful to pass up a nice post lunch walk. When we reached the entrance to the gardens I was saddened to learn that, due to weather, they were closed, but what I saw through the gates was enough to give me a feel for how astonishingly beautiful they are. We read a little snippet about the founder of the religion, I learned a bit about what the Bahai faith encompasses, and then I saw one of the most beautiful sites I have ever been exposed to. The Gardens almost didn't seem real they were so incredibly stunning, and they literally took my breath away. The company was amazing, the surroundings were breathtaking, and it was really the perfect last little trip of my first half a year in Israel. 

Bottom entrance to the Bahai Gardens  
A little information about the shrine of the founder of the Bahai religion 

The gorgeous gardens 

Arab village in Haifa 

View from the top of the mountain looking down at the Bahai gardens 

No words can adequately describe the beauty I was seeing

Patrick and me at the top of the Gardens 

When we had absorbed all we could from the gardens we travelled down the hill to a Palestinian village in Haifa called Wadi al-Nisnas. It was like being back in East Jerusalem only much more calm and much less politicized. I was, for all intents and purposes, standing in the village of my dreams; a little slice of Palestine right in the heart of an Israeli city where everyone seemed to live peacefully side by side. We walked through the Shuk, enjoyed the quaint town for an hour or so, and then headed back towards the train station. By the time we boarded the train back to Tel Aviv I was utterly exhausted, I hadn't slept well the night before due to a rather unfortunate asthma attack, and I feel right to sleep. Luckily Patrick had Arabic homework to occupy him or I would have felt rather awful! 

When I finally got home the day only amplified in excitement when my roommate Ben brought his family dog back to our apartment to spend a few days. I was originally going to take the dog back to California with me so that Ben's family out in the states could have the dog but it ended up being better for him to stay in Israel. Luckily, however, I still was able to get some quality canine time in before I left!

Morgan bonding with Jet before he started biting him! 
Jet loved Aunty Jordana's room! 

The next day I had my last class of the semester, I came home to pack, and then it was off to the airport to return home to California! 

Stay tuned for a post on my first 2 days home :-)
Jordana Simone