I realized over the last few weeks that aliyah is partly a display of identity, but it is ironically also an exercise in building identity in the most tangible ways. I know it is a typical immigrant experience, but it has still been a bit surprising all the same.
In the US, over the course of many years, each of us had built up an identity in the society: social security numbers, bank accounts, credit ratings, diplomas, and all the rest of the data points that glom onto our names and dates of birth.
Upon making aliyah, we started over. Adding our information to the societal data stream and creating our own (even if still small) currents within it. At the airport I had the opportunity to choose a new name (I didn't), but I could have. Or changed its spelling. Is there an extra alef or not in my last name or B-A's? How do the boys spell their names? Will I have a hebraicized version of my name or the name by which I am called for an aliyah on my teudat zehut? And that was just the beginning.
We've opened a bank account (a strangely lengthy process. I think B-A understood everything the bank clerk was saying, but I only caught every few words of his rapid hebrew, explaining the aspects of our accounts, which were then followed by him asking: "Do you understand? Sign here, here, and here, and initial here, here, and here." BTW, for those of you who will make aliyah, be sure to actually put money into the account you open! You'll need the receipt to show to misrad haklitah before they start making regular deposits of your sal klitah). We've nearly competed the process of renting an apartment (more on that another time). We signed up for health insurance.
And so bit by bit we grow our identities in Israeli society, doing in a matter of weeks what before we had done over the course of years. It is not exactly starting over from scratch but the speed of it all has been more than a bit dislocating, which is also surprising. Though it shouldn't be. Just because it is aliyah, doesn't mean that it isn't the immigrant experience.