It was a no-brainer for Jessica Fishman: She knew she was going to Israel. After college, she made aliyah, joined the Israel Defense Forces, learned Hebrew and struggled to embrace a culture so wholly different from her own that it inspired her to write a column, “The Aliyah Survival Guide,” and a book, “Chutzpah and High Heels,” about her experiences.
israel360 users had a chance to hear from Jessica in early May as she hosted an Ask Me Anything event on israel360. Their questions and her answers are digested below. The full conversation can be found here.
Jessica Fishman: Israel is pretty special in terms of its services for absorbing immigrants. A perfect example of this is Ulpan, which is a five-month intensive course for learning Hebrew that the country provides immigrants as part of the aliyah package! I don’t know of any other countries that offer this type of service for free. However, an immigrant has his/her own needs. For instance, the needs of an immigrant from Ethiopia are very different than those from the United States. The tedious and confusing bureaucracy is one of the hardest things to get used to in Israel. For me, that is the biggest area that could use improvement. However, organizations like Nefesh B’Nefesh have filled this vacuum. Another area that can be hard for immigrants is integrating into Israeli society or finding employment. When I was on one of my long-term programs, I received an adoptive family. Perhaps this could be implemented on a larger scale?
israel360 user: Is there an “aliyah” community, or is it really integrated once you are in Israel for a while?
JF: I definitely think there is an aliyah community. There wasn’t so much when I made aliyah, but for me that was good, because I really wanted to integrate with Israelis. Now there is more of an aliyah community. There are multiple organizations and activities for English-speaking immigrants. One that I try to attend is the poetry slams in English, but there are a lot more too!
israel360 user: What’s it like being a lone soldier?
JF: Being a lone soldier is not easy. It is both emotionally and financially difficult. Sometimes you just need a hug after a hard day. Sometimes you come home to an empty home and an empty fridge. You only make about 4000 NIS a month, which is about $1K—that isn’t even enough to cover rent! However, there are great people all around you that help and support you. Some of my closest friends today are ones that I served with in the IDF!
israel360 user: I’m curious what your parents and friends thought of “Chutzpah and High Heels.”
JF: I’m very lucky that I have a very supportive family. They have always been supportive of my decisions in life so that I could create my own path. Some of my friends didn’t really understand why I wanted to move to Israel and some of those thought Israel was a desert where people rode camels. I’ve been in Israel for over a decade now, so I’ve lost touch with many of my childhood friends, except for a few close ones.
israel360 user: I definitely get the chutzpah, but tell me where the high heels come into play in your memoir.
JF: In the first scene in my book, I mention chutzpah, high heels, and the Holy Land. That is sort of where I came up with the title. I also felt that the title really captured the tone of my book and spoke to its core audience. Plus, I just like the way it sounds!
israel360 user: Can you tell us about your time in the IDF? Was it a good experience?
JF: I served in the IDF Spokesperson Unit. I had a variety of different experiences. Bootcamp was a bit shocking—in my book I compare it to sorority rush but with semi-automatic weapons. I was older than everyone so that was a bit odd. Then I spent a few months or so feeling very useless in one of my positions. The most action I saw was kitchen duty. Then I moved to a very interesting department inside the IDF Spokesperson Unit in which I got to do a lot of interesting pre-planning for operations. I worked specifically on doing the media planning for Disengagement, which was a very historic thing to take part in. There were also some difficult times along the way, but overall, I’m glad I did the IDF. It helped me a lot in my career afterwards and I met some great people.
israel360 user: What about Israel made you want to live there so badly?
JF: This question goes to the heart of my book. But first of all, there are things that I love about Israel—the culture, the warmth of the people and their directness, the weather! I especially love Tel Aviv! Having grown up in a very active Jewish family and Zionistic one was a big part of my decision. But there is something about my identity and the country’s identity that intertwine and oppose each other.
israel360 user: Not sure if you think this is too much of a book spoiler, but did you ever find love and can you tell us a little about the dating scene for people who make aliyah?
JF: I’m still on the search for the romantic love, but I did find a different type of love. The book does talk about my search for romantic love and specifically about the obstacles I faced in this search. Dating in Israel can be fun—there is no lack of single Jewish people here! However, sometimes there are cultural differences that can impact the dating experience. I actually made a short little video clip about it, in which I lovingly joke about how these cultural differences impact dating. You can watch it here.
israel360 user: What was your biggest adjustment in moving from the Midwest to Israel?
JF: That is a hard question to answer! There were so many adjustments! I think language and overall lifestyle. The language adjustment is obvious, but it is hard as an adult not being able to express yourself like you want to. I put a lot of effort into learning the language. The lifestyle adjustment is twofold. One, life is harder here. Things are more complicated. Customer service is lacking. And to top it all off, everything costs more. If Israel had a tag line, it would be: Get less. Pay more.
israel360 user: What’s something that you learned about yourself after living in Israel?
JF: You brought the hard, introspective question today! Are you a therapist by trade? I think in my book, I go into the bigger lessons that I learned in Israel. I think anytime you go to a new place you learn a lot about who you are. You are completely independent from all the other outside factors that have defined you over your lifetime. Over the years, I found my inner strength, but I also realized how important family is. I also learned that reality doesn’t always meet expectations and learned how to cope with such disappointments.
For more information on future Ask Me Anything events, visit israel360.org.