Dear Claire

I am a thirty- year old artist having made aliyah five years ago. As the holiday season comes around I feel myself getting depressed. I have read about “seasonal depression” around Christmas time in the United States (where I come from). But only in Israel have I experienced this. At first after I moved I was very enthusiastic even though I had to cope with my parents’ pain and anger about leaving them. The way they expressed their anger was to pull back and call less frequently. They also said it was too hard to visit often and in the time I have been here they have only come twice. At first I used to visit them a lot but it doesn’t seem fair so I also have pulled back. What that means is that when holiday season comes in the Fall I find myself feeling abandoned and neglected. I resent that, so I don’t visit them. But here I don’t have family and have to wait to be invited by friends after I hint that I am going to be alone. I sometimes feel as if I am the only “alone” person in Israel. What to do?

Claire answers:

The literature on immigration to any country is filled with research on how lonely the experience of changing countries permanently is. When we visit we enjoy every moment. But coming to live is totally different. There usually is a period of adjustment and during this time we face disconnections from family and friends who were connected to us before. What people often don’t realize is just how long the adjustment can take. Years is not unusual even though after two years most people think they should feel at home. The excitement of the move has subsided and the loneliness can creep in. In the beginning, new friends stood in for family. But as time goes by the ache of missing familiar people only gets stronger. Most people aren’t prepared for this.

For religious people the move seems to be easier. There is a local synagogue and the activities it offers. The connection to the Jewish people is very strong for religious people and fills in for family. Since you did not mention religious affiliation I would assume that you are not connected to a specific community. Rather you hoped to feel connected to the entire Jewish state. That is really hard to do. Israelis themselves can be quite exclusive of newcomers even though aliyah is respected. Many Israel-born people here have extended family spread over the country.  They have friends around them since kindergarten and army. When I travel abroad I see the Israelis keeping together in whatever community I visit. They listen to Israel radio and only socialize with other Israelis. They are however more open to people than the locals here in Israel.

Luckily you did not know all this before you came as you might have changed your mind! I cannot say I felt at home for at least ten years. Israelis often make you feel like an outsider by talking to you in English when you want to practice your Hebrew. And especially during holidays the gap between their sense of community and yours is greater. Since I have come to love living in Israel and did adjust I am hoping that helping olim to be realistic can help put things into perspective.

One of the hardest things is the distance between you and your family back home. There are important family events you will miss and they will miss being part of your daily life. This is a fact. I have seen people here staying with their parents two months at a time abroad to try to fix this. But going home for extended periods doesn’t fit where you are in the lifecycle. It is hard to uproot children for a long time and often work here suffers from these long trips.

For many people it helps to understand how heroic it is to make aliyah without family.  It is really hard and not enough people are willing to say this. Olim give up around year five whereas if they would wait they would adjust.

So what is adjustment when the facts are objectively difficult?

Admit that you aren’t depressed -  you are actually lonely. Loneliness is a powerful subjective experience. It can lead to depression .We can be most lonely with other people around.

To combat loneliness during the Jewish holidays and most of the year a helpful remedy is to give to others less fortunate as you. Instead of comparing yourself to Israelis, compare yourself to people less fortunate. These can be the isolated elderly, sick people and youth. ESRA is the perfect solution for new immigrants. With projects across ages and place of residence you can quickly be absorbed into a wonderful community of like-minded Anglos. Try not to be put off by that name. It’s just a way of saying English speakers. Research shows that new immigrants all over the world need connections to similar people in the country they move to. When you get in touch with people like you, loneliness is diminished. You start to feel a sense of community which helps you to miss family less. And if you join a volunteer program (in addition to going to the interesting lectures or group meetings that ESRA offers) you have the added benefit of feeling very useful. Since loneliness can make you feel bad about yourself, helping others does the opposite. 

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About the author

Claire Rabin

Claire Rabin was born in the USA and made aliyah to Israel in 1973. For over forty years she has combined an active private practice in therapy with couples and families together with an academic c...
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