I am an oleh chadash, a new immigrant, here in Israel; but there’s something missing from that translation. An oleh is literally someone who ascends, and chadash means new. So I should really say, I am a newly ascended person, and not just a new immigrant.
When I was in the US, everyone that came to our shores was an immigrant, usually with something attached to that word that clarified their legal status. Often, it was whether they were documented or not, or whether they were a refugee, or whether they were actually only there for a temporary amount of time. I never used the term “new immigrant” for someone in the States, and I certainly never phrased their legal status in terms of physical ascension.
So why is it different here? The source of the word oleh is tied with the process of immigrating here, or making aliyah, both words describing going to a greater height, and the words have been used throughout Jewish history to describe things quite different than immigration. When a man is called to read the Torah, he is given an aliyah, and he often literally ascends from the ground floor where the parishioners sit to the bimah, the raised platform where the Torah is read. He is an oleh, he is someone who ascended to the Torah. When pilgrims would come to Jerusalem in the times of the Holy Temple, they would literally make aliyah, they would ascend to Mount Zion to offer sacrifices. Those pilgrims too were called olim. Today, when we say that someone is making aliyah, we are saying that he is ascending from the depths of the lands outside Israel to the heights of Zion. He rises from exile to the Holy Land.
But then there’s chadash. None of those people in the Bible were called “new,” and we don’t describe someone today as being a “new” oleh if it’s his first time being called to the Torah. It is a term uniquely Israeli, and one I don’t see a parallel for in the rest of the world from a legal perspective, at least not in the United States. No one would say that Miguel, or Mohammed, or Sven, or Jacques is a new immigrant after his first day in the country; but I am still “new” six months in.
I think it’s because we are creating here new Jews, Jews that think differently and behave differently than they ever could have outside of this land. As a people and as a nation, we are making strides here that are impossible in the rest of the world; but it is also deeply personal.
I am new. I can explore parts of my personality, my life, and my soul with new lenses. I can create goals for myself and grow in a way that I couldn’t have back in the States. Since I’ve been here, I’ve alternately felt like I just got here but that I’ve been here forever, that I am a different person but still the same in many ways. I know that when I go back to visit, I will never be able to be the man I once was. Life here changes you in ways that are incomprehensible and unexplainable. Just for an example: I feel completely at home here but I miss where I was from. I have a sense of homesickness in a place where my home always was. This is a land where there 70 faces to the truth, and it’s hard to keep track of them all. I feel like I can be myself here, but I am also painfully aware of how different I will always be. I feel the welcoming arms of strangers that see me as reunited kin, but at the same time I feel like a stranger in my own country. I feel like a refugee who fled from a place where I lacked for nothing to a home where I need to build everything. I am constantly confronted by the fact that I have gone up the the mountaintop, but that I feel like it is too strange for me to understand even though the mountain has always been mine.
So as this new year approaches, I want to bind my own personal novelty with the newness of this year. This is my first Rosh Hashanah in Israel, the start of my first year as someone who has returned. I’ve learned so much since I’ve been here, I’ve made amazing friends, and I’ve become a little more Israeli along the way. I still have so many dreams to fulfill, but I know that I must make goals to make those dreams more than just wishes and fantasies. I will need your help, and all I ask is for you to keep reading and maybe comment once or twice. If you feel like asking me to write about something ask, and please complain when I don’t write enough. I have a once in a lifetime chance to be new in a place greater than anyplace I have been before, and I don’t want to waste it.
May this next year only bring us good and sweet things, and in a revealed way. May we all increase in our love of one another, and all find love for ourselves. Shana Tovah y’all, see you in the year to come.