Thursday, December 18, 2014

Exit 255

Shalom, chaverim! Or perhaps I should say, "Hiya, everybody!"

It's been a long time since I posted and when I logged onto my Blogger account today I didn't even want to look at my last post, since I'd actually have to see exactly how long it's been. Anyway, this post has been a long time coming, I know. It wasn't until now that I was really ready to speak about it.

Elul and I have left Israel. Our family and many friends know this, of course, but not all of our friends or acquaintances. If I haven't reached out to you personally, please don't think it's because I don't care or don't think about you. It has been a very difficult time for me and for Elul and it's only recently that I've been even willing to talk about it much to anyone.

We left for a number of reasons, but the main issue was that Elul has a medical condition that needed treatment, and, even though he should have been able to access that treatment in Israel, he wasn't getting it. I'd love to tell you the specifics of all this, but it is Elul's business and not mine, so I will respect his privacy. Anyway, he tried to get the treatment he needed for over seven months, all the while becoming less able to work, and suffering more and more on a daily basis. Nothing was working and he was getting a vicious runaround from the powers that be, and his condition was visibly deteriorating. This was taking a great toll on him personally, on us as a couple, and on us financially. Life in Israel as middle aged olim chadashim is precarious enough--even if you have two able-bodied workers. When disability gets thrown into the mix, it can really upset the apple cart.

Other problems were related to finance--specifically, our financial plans for the future. Elul will be 62 in July, and when we came to Israel, the gauzy, hazy plan was for both of us to continue to work, but to collect and invest Elul's Social Security payments until he--and then we--retired. Since we were low earners (by both Israeli and American standards), there would be no issue of us exceeding the annual earnings limit and having the payment docked. We enjoy working and are not in any hurry to completely retire, so the thought of Elul working for another ten or fifteen years didn't bother him at all.

However, I happened to come across a notice for a seminar being held by a representative of the Social Security Administration down in Haifa, put on by the wonderful organization AACI (Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel, which I strongly recommend North American olim join). I attended, and to my utter shock, it turned out that the rules for Americans living overseas regarding Social Security are quite different to Americans living within the U.S. In a nutshell, if you live overseas and are collecting Social Security, you are only allowed to work 45 hours a month, no matter what country you live in, no matter what hourly wage you are paid, no matter what currency--strong or weak--you are paid in. Period.

That little bombshell of information had major implications for our future. This was not the first marriage for either of us, and neither of us brought much to the marriage in the way of capital or investments--just a lot of lessons learned from the School of Hard Knocks and plenty of Stupid Tax "paid in full" receipts. We were, and are, determined to do what we can to prepare for our future. I've seen poverty among the elderly population in both Israel and America, and it's no walk in the park that either of us ever want to take.

A second very important financial problem also confronted us. Except for a brief period between 2003 and 2011, I've been living overseas in various countries since 1990. During all those years, I lived close enough and was able to always save enough to go visit my family on a regular basis--usually once a year. Now my family members are getting older and, very conveniently, they've all ended up on the same coast of America in Washington state and California. My grandmother was slowly edging towards the end of life in her 95th year, and I was extremely concerned that I would not be able to see her before she died and attend her funeral. I already knew that getting from Tel Aviv out to Seattle on a last-minute ticket just might not be possible for us financially. This was unacceptable. We just weren't earning enough to pay our bills and be able to go visit our families. Elul's mother and sister live in Florida, his sons live in North Carolina, and my family lives completely across the country. It wasn't working, and it really wasn't ever going to work. It took us awhile for this to really sink in.

So, as the Israelis say, "ma la'asot?" i.e. "Whaddya gonna do?" Well, after the umpteenth time that the tenants in our apartment building put the kibosh on doing the "Tama Shloshim Ve Shmoneh," aka the earthquake/bomb-proofing/elevator-installing renovation process that was supposed to have started nearly three years ago when we moved in, we'd had it. We seriously started thinking about moving back to America, at least for the time being. The stairs were getting too much for us, and it came to the crunch time: if we were going to move, was it to move apartments within Nahariya, move to another city in Israel that was closer to a university (like Haifa), or just move back to America?

The answer came wrapped in a most mysterious package: a car auction on eBay. One day, idly surfing the internet, Elul found my ultimate dream car on eBay at a wonderful price--thousands of dollars less than the Citroen C4 hatchback we'd bought in Israel. It needed some major repairs (some which were disclosed by the seller, some, unfortunately, not), but it was still a great deal and would mean living in that blessed state of no car payment. The car was located in Chicago. We decided, quite brashly, to place exactly one bid on the car. If we got it, the plan was that Elul would fly to Chicago (which would be a cheaper ticket than one to Seattle), then pick the car up and drive it to Washington, where he would investigate communities in and around the northern end of Seattle. My stepmother lives there, and my mother, stepfather, stepsister and her partner all live in Bellingham, which is about 90 miles north of Seattle. We were considering places like Everett, Bothell, and Mountlake Terrace.

We got the car. Within an hour, Elul had booked a ticket, and in less than a week he was out the door. Just three days after he picked up the car, he arrived in Bellingham, where my wonderful mother and stepfather put him up for a month while he looked around and scouted out communities. The big surprise was that while the original plan was for Elul to come back to Israel and for us to leave in February, he decided instead to just stay in Bellingham and not return to Israel at all. The minute he found an apartment and it was ready for him to move in, I was to pack up the cats and join him.

Not the actual car, but this is the exact make, model, year, and color of our awesome-ass, no-payment-ever, new-to-us dream car. Our car is parked under a fancy apartment complex carport. Whee!

So I did. I turned down three (!) teaching jobs I'd been offered for the fall, and we arranged with our employers to take our jobs with us to America. That's a huge benefit of working online--you're not tied to a physical place, so you can be extremely mobile if you need to be.

Elul found a great apartment. It's smaller than what we had in Nahariya, but far cheaper, quieter, and has a nice clubhouse with a pool, hot tub, and sauna. Of course, it looks onto a small pond instead of the Mediterranean, but it's warm, safe, quiet, clean, and very well laid out. And, amazingly, it is literally several doors down from my stepsister and her partner, who live in the same complex. (By the way, the title of this post, "Exit 255," is the freeway exit from the I-5 to our apartment.)

Everyone in the family has been so generous and supportive in helping us get set up: gifts in all forms keep coming at us from every direction, for which we are so extremely grateful. Elul now has access to the medical treatment he needs, and is now back to working nearly his full schedule. He is very, very happy to be feeling so good again. And, he didn't know it at first, but "my" dream car, with its badass black leather interior and heated, auto-adjust seats and mirrors, is now his dream car, too. He did an amazing job of pulling a new life for us here from thin air in a very short time--more evidence of my husband's formidable skills in planning and project management.

I got here in early November, with two cats, two computers, two suitcases, and a packet of anti-anxiety meds in tow. Our personal belongings, which I mailed from Israel in 26 large boxes, have just started to arrive. I was able to see my grandmother before she died, and I said what I needed to say to her before she passed away. I was able to attend my stepsister's birthday party for the first time. Last night, I saw a dear friend I hadn't seen since we left Nevada in 2010. I'm now living closer to my mother and stepfather than I have since 1984, and for the first time since I was three years old, I'm actually a resident of the same state I was born in. If you can believe it, we went to a Reform shul last Friday in Bellingham, where we met a man who'd known my brother from high school in Seattle! We're having the family over for brisket, latkes, and candle-lighting this Saturday. In terms of connecting with family and focusing on the fundamentals of life, it's been very good.

Well, I've been banging on for too long now, and I don't want to bore you. There's lots I can say about this strange re-entry process, Bellingham as a new place to live, and my jumbled feelings of grief, guilt, and ambivalence about leaving Israel and our dear friends and community there, but I won't right now. I wish you all a Chag Chanukkah Sameach--Happy Hanukkah, chaverim!