Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Gatekeepers and being welcomed

Today in the middle of Hebrew class, I started to think about my life here and my aliyah experience. A momentary space-out in the midst of an introduction to a new verb form, unfortunately. For the first year, things were difficult. Logistically difficult, that is. Getting bank accounts, registering with the health system, the types of things that require standing in long lines in government offices. The rest of that time was a slideshow of new and interesting experiences: ulpan, traveling throughout the country, learning how to drive amongst Israeli drivers, grocery shopping at the shuk, and making new friends.

I'm now in the middle of my second year in Israel. The newness has worn away, and I feel that despite my stumbling in the language, I am here standing on two feet and ready to move forward and to give back to Israeli society. What I'd really like to do is make a living on my own, to create, and to build something in Israel that will provide for more than just myself. To build a business that does good for the world.

Four years ago I started a business in San Francisco. It's an ecommerce business, a fairly simple buy low-sell high model with a socially conscious slant. In Israel, this particular type of business requires a license. Last week, I put together everything I needed to attain the license - bank account information, letters of recommendation, a letter from my lawyer, a letter from my accountant, my resume, a cover letter, copies of every form of identification I've ever had, my soul. When I arrived to submit my application, despite having been welcomed to the government office in the past, I was greeted with apparent disdain. Perhaps they heard that my business was small, much smaller than the other hundred-year-old businesses under their authority. Perhaps they're not used to young women starting businesses. Perhaps they're just not friendly, afraid I could create more work for them. I could continue to guess, but it's useless.

Rather than detail the whole of my experience, suffice it to say that it was demoralizing and demotivating. The inspiration dripped out from me as I wandered slowly to my car in the midday summer heat. My application had been rejected by a young office worker who needed additional documentation. Documentation that would be impossible for a startup to attain without significant funding. An hour drive in traffic to get there, 60 shekels for parking, and an hour drive back home.

So where do I go from here? I feel lost and a bit stuck. Do I continue to move forward, to attempt to get everything together so that I can get this license, be under the scrutiny of an unkind government office, and pay ungodly amounts of money just to maintain the license. Do I hire someone in the US to run the business from there, while I manage from here? Or do I change completely? Start something new, something more creative but related to what I was doing. Something that doesn't require a tremendous amount of oversight and out-of-pocket expenses to get started.

It's very hard to make a decision like this when it's tied so closely to me. It's a concept I've spent the last few years perfecting, building a client base, creating lasting relationships with wonderful organizations that are doing amazing things for the world. It's a business that I have built from the ground up that I'm very proud of - even if we aren't selling a million dollars worth of product every year ... yet! It may very well be the only concrete thing, aside from my daughter, that I've created and placed in the world.

So back to my thoughts in class. I'm new to this country, but I am a proud citizen. I want to give back much more than I take. Like learning Hebrew, nothing comes so easy here. It seems to take time, plenty of persistence, and the ability to weather embarrassment. But, someday, I plan to be fluent and established here. And when that day comes, I want to be someone that others can approach, who can inspire and help others achieve their dreams here. And perhaps this little bit of kindness and welcoming that I bring to the world will trickle down and affect the other gatekeepers of opportunity.

A lofty couple of goals and a lack of direction today. I spaced back into class and tried to participate. The teacher asked, 'what other verbs can you think of in this format?' I raised my hand and answered incorrectly. The teacher wrote my verb on the board, turned to the class, said the verb, turned back around and wrote a big 'X' over it. The exed-out verb remained there on the board for the rest of class. Yet another shaming, but I can take it. And if I can learn from this, then I will learn from the rest. Someday I will be fluent. Someday I will give back even more.