Marriage puts a fresh face on aliyah

jerusalem | After two years of single life in Israel, I looked forward to the new perspectives that marriage would bring to my Israeli immigrant experience.

I knew that the normal adjustments from bachelorhood were inevitable, such as putting down the toilet seat and washing linens more frequently than every six months. But I never imagined that marriage would force me to re-experience the entire immigration process.

My initiation began the day after our wedding in Pittsburgh, which was also the day before our flight to Israel.

We sat in Dena’s family’s basement all night packing (I should say cramming) the majority of her personal items into four giant duffle bags. By no means is Dena a materialistic person; the simpler lifestyle in Israel appeals to her, as it does to me.

But after spending all night deciding which sweaters could and could not immigrate with us, I suddenly remembered the remark of a married friend who tried to prepare me for the changes ahead: “Women just have more stuff than us.”

Now, instead of the two suitcases that I brought on my aliyah, we were pulling five giant bags — four of hers, one of mine — through Newark Airport. We tried to disperse the heavy items evenly among the bags so they wouldn’t be overweight.

But when we got to the check-in counter, three of the five were overweight. We worked frantically, exchanging the heavier items for lighter ones so that we’d neither leave some unnecessary items behind (my suggestion), nor would we pay the $120 overweight fee (her suggestion). After 20 minutes of labor, every bag was about five pounds overweight — an amount the clerk was willing to overlook.

By the time we sat down on the plane, I had broken into a serious sweat.

But that was nothing compared to the work that awaited us upon arrival.

While Dena filled out paperwork in the absorption office, I had the task of locating and dragging each enormous bag off the conveyer belt and loading it onto the cart. We then had to load the five bags into a cab and, once in Jerusalem, carry them up four flights of stairs to our temporary apartment.

On my third trip up the stairs, I remembered another comment from that same married friend: “Being married means you have to shlep a lot more stuff. And just wait till you have kids!”

As we settled into our temporary home, I looked forward to the delicious dishes my wife had been planning to cook for us. Any one of them would have been a grand improvement upon my bachelor diet, which mostly consisted of pitas with labneh (yogurt cheese) and hummus, and soy patties or Delipecan cereal.

But I didn’t realize that a more substantial diet equals a more substantial bill at the checkout. On our first trip to the grocery store, the clerk rang up a bill of about $150. I bit my tongue as I thought to myself, “That’s how much I spend in a month!”

As we were walking out of the store I asked Dena if she thought we had spent a lot, and she answered, “Oh, that’s nothing compared to what I was spending for groceries at home!”

I couldn’t have been happier that we were living in Israel. But the shopping had only begun. Since I had previously lived in a furnished apartment, the only household items I owned were a microwave, assorted plates and pieces of silverware, a pot for boiling pasta and a pan for frying eggs.

It was understood that our housewares would need a major overhaul, especially since we were moving to an unfurnished apartment, which in Israel generally means the place would be completely empty. Ours didn’t even come with closets, much less a refrigerator or oven.

Over the next several weeks we tracked down all the necessary household items, some from Janglo, a kind of craigslist for English-speakers in Jerusalem, some from places I’d never thought I’d visit, like Ikea.

We spent so much time at Home Center — the Israeli equivalent of Home Depot — that I can still picture the workers in each of the different departments. There’s the French girl with the clear glasses in housewares, and the older Sephardi man with a moustache in the hardware department.

Our seemingly endless shopping spree started to feel like a nightmare, but over the course of several weeks our to-buy list was starting to shrink. We were just about ready to move to our new place in Efrat, in the West Bank about eight miles south of Jerusalem, when I saw a few essentials remaining on the list that I never could have imagined, namely a KitchenAid and a Magimix. Not only had I never heard of these items before I got married, I had no idea where to shop for them.

Apparently I hadn’t spent any time in the dozens of Jerusalem appliance stores that we began stalking day and night looking for the best price on these items.

I agreed with Dena that it’s better to buy good items that are going to last, but the bills were really adding up. Again, I heard a familiar voice in my head: “Being married costs a heck of a lot more than being single!”

Maybe the life changes that I’m experiencing have more to do with marriage and less to do with aliyah. Maybe all new husbands have to swallow high grocery bills and KitchenAids, though the side effects of happiness and fulfillment that marriage provides make it all worthwhile.

It may be that the only difference between my newly married friends in the United States and me is that I’m learning these lessons in Israel. But that detail makes it all even more worthwhile to us.