I waited more than a year and a half to write about my impressions of life in Israel. Many times I sat down at the computer to describe the differences between the food here and in America, or tell funny or exasperating stories about the Israeli bureaucracy, or remark at the children’s unbelievably fast progress in school and how they prefer salad to doughnuts, or complain about the physical condition of a school that more closely resembles a migrant workers’ camp somewhere in the US.

It’s so much more drab, but so much more beautifulI have read, and can sympathize with, the hundreds of blogs about the experience of the oleh chadash, the new immigrant, moving at middle age from a wealthy country where no one really bothers you unless your lawn isn’t being taken care of, to a place where your neighbor’s teenagers, and yours, are standing at the border some ten miles away with their Uzis defending your right to exist. People feel they have a right to tell you that you aren’t feeding your baby correctly, and they just may be right.

I jotted down hundreds of lines about the unbelievable kosher food in the supermarkets, bakeries, restaurants, wineries and even gas stations (sushi to go). A liter of wine from the Tishbi vineyard down the street is twenty shekels (five dollars). You bring an old bottle, and they fill it from the vat for you, and stick on a new label and a cork. Every little hole in the wall has an espresso/cappuccino maker better than the one in the best Italian restaurant at home.

I’ve marveled at the fact that all of Israel knows that it is Shabbat, even if they don’t observe it. And Yom Rishon (Sunday) really is a workday. The only official day off is Shabbat. The holidays really make sense here . . . they fall at the right times with the right weather. The pomegranates ripen just before Rosh Hashanah, and the almond trees really do start blooming on Tu B’Shevat. You never wake up and say, “I wish it wouldn’t rain today.” Rain is essential, a blessing, and very rarely bothersome.

The Mediterranean color palette is astonishingly beautiful . . . blue sea and sky, olive terrain, red dirt, white stones. I took an art class when I first arrived, and the colors that came out on the canvas were not right . . . my art teacher told me that my head was using lingering shades from my Vermont summers. “Look again,” she encouraged me. “See how the browns and grays and olive greens dominate the landscape.” It’s so much more drab, but so much more beautiful. In Israel, just when you think the ground and the brush are so dry they will literally crumble, the winter rains come, and everything turns green—in winter. I’m used to it now.

Sometimes it is tense here. I have gas masks in the closet, and regularly walk past homes where people have decorated the doors of the bomb shelter with paintings of flowers. It’s the Israeli way of turning a dark necessity into something normal. I often catch myself thinking about my boys as future soldiers.

Many times, the experience is not something that can be put easily into words. The feeling that we belong here, and that while we are immigrants, we were not just welcomed but courted to come and live in our own home. In a short time, we have developed very deep relationships. We offer each other help and friendship, and share laughter and tears with new friends . . . when we come to terms with what we have actually accomplished. Our kids are bilingual, and the other day, my husband and I watched a movie in Hebrew without subtitles . . . it was big step. I add up all of these stories up, and it still doesn’t become the full picture.

It is a whole other realm of existenceAnd then I realized, living in Israel is more than just the sum of its parts . . . It is a whole other realm of existence. It’s a parallel world.

I can wake up, get the kids off to school, run to the gym, the grocery store, a quick coffee and errands, a bit of work, and then back to get the kids . . . and then I realize that I am sitting under the scorching Mediterranean sun, looking at the sea, through the branches of a craggy lemon tree in my back garden, an hour’s drive from Jerusalem—which is the center of the universe, as far as I am concerned.

Of course we have daily struggles, but a Jewish life has a different quality here . . . everything is filtered through a different prism. G‑d lives everywhere, but this is His billing address. These hills, trees, and rocks, He made especially for the Jewish people. We bless things and pray differently here . . . nes gadol hayah po (a great miracle happened here). This is where He wants us to be, and we are here!