December 8, 2005
The Cost of Marriage
After two years of single life in Israel, I looked forward to the new perspectives that marriage would bring to my Israeli immigrant experience.
I knew that the normal adjustments from bachelorhood were inevitable, such as putting down the toilet seat and washing linens more frequently than every six months. But I never imagined that marriage would force me to re-experience the entire immigration process.
My initiation began the day after our wedding in Pittsburgh, which was also the day before our flight to Israel.
We sat in Dena's family's basement all night packing (I should say cramming) the majority of her personal items into four giant duffle bags. By no means is Dena a materialistic person; the simpler lifestyle in Israel appeals to her, as it does to me.
But after spending all night deciding which sweaters could and could not immigrate with us, I suddenly remembered the remark of a married friend who tried to prepare me for the changes of married life: "Women just have more stuff than us."
Now, instead of the two suitcases that I brought on my aliyah, we were pulling five giant bags -- four of hers, one of mine -- through Newark Airport. We tried to disperse the heavy items evenly among the bags so they wouldn't be overweight.
But when we got to the check-in counter, three of the five were overweight. We worked frantically, exchanging the heavier items for lighter ones so that we wouldn't have to either leave some unnecessary items behind (my suggestion) or pay the $120 overweight fee (her suggestion). After 20 minutes of labor, every bag was about five pounds overweight, an amount the clerk was willing to overlook.
But that was nothing compared to the work that awaited us upon arrival. While Dena filled out paperwork in the absorption office, I had the task of locating and dragging each enormous bag off the conveyer belt and loading it onto the cart.
We then had to load the five bags into a cab and, once in Jerusalem, carry them up four flights of stairs to our temporary apartment.
On my third trip up the stairs, I remembered another comment from that same married friend: "Being married means you have to schlep a lot more stuff. And just wait till you have kids!"
As we settled into our temporary home, I looked forward to the delicious dishes my wife had been planning to cook for us. Any one of them would have been a grand improvement from my bachelor diet. But I didn't realize that a broader diet equals a much broader bill at the checkout. On our first trip to the grocery store together, the clerk rang up a bill of about $150. I bit my tongue as I thought to myself, "That's how much I spend in a month!"
As we were walking out of the store I asked Dena if she thought we had spent a lot, and she answered, "Oh, that's nothing compared to what I was spending for groceries in Philly!"
I couldn't have been happier that we were living in Israel.
But the shopping had only begun. Since I previously had lived in a furnished apartment, the only household items I owned were a microwave, assorted plates and pieces of silverware, a pot and a pan.
It was understood that our housewares would need a major overhaul. Even more so, since we were moving to an unfurnished apartment, which in Israel generally means the place would be completely empty. Ours didn't even come with closets, much less a refrigerator or oven.
Over the next several weeks, we tracked down all the necessary household items, some from Janglo, a kind of Craig's List for English speakers in Jerusalem, some from places I'd never thought I'd visit, like IKEA.
As the weeks went on, our seemingly endless shopping spree started to feel like a nightmare.
Over the course of several weeks our to-buy list was starting to shrink, and we were just about ready to move to our new place in Efrat, in the West Bank about eight miles south of Jerusalem. But there were a few essentials remaining on the list that I never could have imagined, namely a Kitchen Aid and a Magimix.
Not only had I never heard of these items before I got married, I had no idea where to shop for them. Apparently I hadn't spent any time in the dozens of Jerusalem appliance stores that we began stalking day and night looking for the best price on these items.
In the end we settled on a Magimix for about $345 and the Kitchen Aid for $600-plus, more than twice its price in the United States.
I agreed with Dena that it's better to buy good items that are going to last, but the bills were really adding up. Again, I heard a familiar voice in my head: "Being married costs a heck of a lot more than being single!"
Maybe the life changes that I'm experiencing have more to do with marriage in general than aliyah. Maybe all new husbands have to swallow high grocery bills and Kitchen Aids, though the side effects of happiness and fulfillment that marriage provide make it all worthwhile.
It may be that the only difference between my newly married friends in the United States and me is that I'm learning these lessons in Israel. But, that detail makes it all even more worthwhile to us.
Jonathan Udren is a freelance writer who lives in Israel.