Masa Israel Journey Blog

Published : February 28, 2013

By Yael Tzalka, Israel Teaching Fellows 


Take note: Israeli's tell it like it is.


They don't believe in standing in line, apologizing, or sweet talking. When they like you, they say it. And when they don't, you know it just the same.


There is no such thing as please and thank you. Nor is there such thing as like; only love and hate. Men have the ability to cry in your arms, and kill you from one moment to the next. And somehow, it hits me time and time again. Like a quick band aid ripping from a nearly formed scab.

I think Israeli's must have coined the term 'living life like today is your last'. There's something in the air here, as bustling energy coming from the ground. Whatever it is, it seems to enchant people with a fierce amount of drive, passion, and emotion.
Day turns into night, and night into day, but the celebrations seem to continue. It is a land of survival, and in this land, you sleep when you die.
Call me crazy, but I love it. Every minute. Nothing seems to surprise me here, for the good and bad. The fact that people mean what they say, and say what they mean. Or the beauty of not sweating the small stuff (even when it's big).
It's so ironic that it is in the Middle East, a place of constant turmoil and changing headlines, that I feel the most at peace and alive.
The following short stories are taken from real life moments that happened to me in Israel over the last few weeks. They highlight a good mix of Israeli chutzpah and love, this much I promise:
1. The other day I went to 'Aroma', kind of like Israel's version of Starbucks, but better. I got a yogurt and coffee. The yogurt was warm and tasted like beer. So I politely returned to the cashier and let her know.
In America, she would have immediately apologized and reimbursed me, or offered to exchange for something else. Instead, she looked at me with a blank stare, and replied, 'it's supposed to be that way.' Right, sorry lady. I forgot.
2. One evening, I walked down Rothschild (the main street near my apartment). As I approached the intersection, I witnessed a 5 year old boy arguing with his mom. I'm guessing she wouldn't buy him the toy he wanted.
Suddenly, the boy turned his back on her in fury, pulled down his pants, and began to pee upward in a rainbow like stream. Needless to say, I decided to turn back around, so I wouldn't get sprinkled on.
3. One day I visited the neighborhood where my parents grew up. I spent my childhood visiting my grandma there in the summers.. I have fond memories of running around under her apartment building with cousins, eating popsicles and playing hide and go seek till night fell. But the area changed a lot over the last decade or so.
What used to be a predominantly Polish/Russian population after the Holocaust, suddenly turned into a place for impoverished Ethiopian immigrants. We met some of them; fresh faced families trying to learn a new language in a foreign land.
They welcomed us with open arms, offering their homes for family dinners.. and suddenly through the time shift, I felt such a parallel between our people. They were just like my grandma, so many years ago. And everything was as it should be.
4. During classroom visitations the other week, my fellow participants and I had the privilege of meeting dozens of Israeli kids. I expected a lot from the day. For example, I knew that they would be rambunctious, and I wasn't surprised when one of them created a spit ball machine to use on us.
I even had a feeling that some would treat us like celebs, asking us for our autographs and emails. However, I was particularly taken back when one little boy came up to me during passing period, and started to freak dance while singing the song 'shots' by LMFAO and Lil Wayne.
5. On a quiet morning ride to volunteer sites, our Russian bus driver picked up his microphone and began to speak in hilariously broken English. Being an immigrant to the country, English was probably his third or fourth language. We all quietly chuckled in the background, as he tried to express himself.
I thought he would say something about keeping the bus clean and orderly. Instead, he reminded us that it was September 11. We became silent. He told us that he and the rest of Israel would never forget our loss, and that the country stood with us in love and solidarity.
6. As I walked through the Tel Aviv shuk one day, I was in search of a cheap pair of sun glasses. I approached an empty open stand, and began to try on a few pairs. I quickly noticed the man who worked there, eagerly staring at my every move.
After a few uncomfortable moments, I decided I'd move along and see what else the windy road had to offer. What seemed like a regular surveillance method, quickly turn to him cursing me in an unknown language with a gesture and grunt that I unfortunately can't reenact through words. I'm sure business went well for him that day.
7. I met a little girl at school one day. She just moved to Israel with her family from Romania about a month ago. She was 5, and seemed scared and unsure of her surroundings. The only languages she knew was English, other than her native tongue. Needless to say, Hebrew was as scary as Israel.
It was her first week of school, and I felt helpless watching her struggle through the halls. That day, two upperclassman noticed her among the crowd, and through body language, quickly adopted her as their own. It was incredibly heartwarming, and reminded me that some things have no language barrier.
8. Tel Aviv is an eclectic city. You'll find everything there - punks, liberals, rich snobs, poor immigrants and beggars, gorgeous models on the beach, a bustling LGBT community, international high tech and business district, crazy fashion, winding bazaars, and bars that close at 7 in the morning. It makes no sense, and yet it works.
The other night I was lucky enough to visit one such Tel Aviv place, called 'Deli'. It was a literal New York style deli in the front (with non-Kosher selections only, of course), and hipster bar in the back. Brooklyn has nothing on this place, sorry friends.
9. One night, a group of my fellow Americans and Canadians went to a local dance bar in Rishon to celebrate the start of our program. In the U.S., you would almost never find me at a club. Big crowds and freak dancing intimidate me, to say the least.
I would much rather spend my time playing guitar at a bonfire on the beach with friends. But within minutes of entering the place, we let go of all inhibitions and began jumping up and down, screaming, and dancing.. on the bar. Israel just does something to me.
10. Don't forget the music.. below is some random stuff I've been listening to recently. Shana tova!

Originally posted on Yael's Blog.

Published : February 26, 2013
By Jillian Hoenig, Shaalvim for Women
Does our unity make us a community, or does our being a community unite us?
What does it mean to be a community?
To be a state?
To be a nation?
What connection do we have with one another? 
 My friend Ariel and I were in Sanhedria looking to hail a cab.
I saw one coming down the road and signaled to it.
“Shalom, ma slomeich? (How are you)?” She said as we piled into the vehicle.
“Which cab company to you work for,” she said, gesturing towards the empty spot on the windshield where the name of a company should have been.
“What company do I work for? ANI OVED LACHEVRAH SHEL HAKADOSH BARUCH HU! (I work for the company of the holy One blessed be He)!”
I must add here that, with few exceptions, such a comment will send people running for the door.
I, unfortunately, was in a moving vehicle.
“Are you looking for a shidduch?”
“I’m not—but she is!” joked Ariel, motioning towards me.
I glared at her.  
“Great! I have a nephew who’s just about your age!”
The joke was apparently lost on our new friend. I began fumbling for the Hebrew words with which I could possibly explain to this man why I don’t want to marry his nephew right now.
“Ani choshevet sheani lo... (I don’t think that I’m)…”
“How old are you?”
“Perfect! My nephew is twenty-seven! He’s very smart. He’s studying to become a doctor."
He handed me his business card. "Here's my number.”
This would not be the last time the two of us would get an interesting taste of Israel from the backseat of a cab.
“Malkha, bevakasha (Please take us to Malkha).”
The cab driver’s face lit up. “Gam ani meimalkha! (I am also from Malkha)!”
As we approached the neighborhood in question, he turned off the meter. He then proceeded to take us on a tour, the focus of which being his family lineage.
First, he showed us the apartment building where his grandmother had lived—then that of his parents—then his shul—and finally his own house, where we met his wife and two of his children. And, after a series of events only peripherally related to the cab ride, Ariel and I had become acquainted with his brother, brother-in-law, cousins, and a large portion of the extended family—many of whom were cab drivers who live in Malkha.
From that point on, whenever I would walk out of my building, I was likely to see one of our newfound friends waving at me from the window of a cab.
“Who are all these people?!” I would, at times, think to myself. This new kind of community perplexed me. What is a community? 
This time I was standing outside a bagel shop, and the woman standing next to me was voicing to me her take on what I realize now was, by coincidence, eerily interrelated to the question at hand.
“Listen,” the woman explained, “I don’t let my kids play outside in the street like these Israeli women do. I grew up in Brooklyn—I don’t trust anybody.”  
I was passing through an underground walkway, and I was drawn by the sight of a man who seemed to be dressed as Avraham Aveinu.
He was bent over and talking to a man lying on the ground with a blanket over his legs and a shopping cart by his feet. As I drew closer I saw the man dressed as a biblical character was just talking to the man on the ground.
About forty minutes later, I returned to the site to find the two men were still conversing. In every way he embodied the Avraham from the bible, (whom he was dressed up as).
He was performing hachnasat orchim, (welcoming guests), in the truest sense—not that he was welcoming this homeless man into his house, but, by creating a bond between himself and the man by simply conversing with him, he was drawing him into the fabric society.
Now and then I will reflect upon what the woman outside the bagel shop said to me.
But if ever I begin to believe it, I am promptly revisited by memories of all the people who welcomed me into and treated me as a part of their families—(figuratively, and sometimes literally).
 I still cannot be sure what it means to be a community. I expect there is no right answer.
But from time to time I remember all these people and the society that absorbed me eagerly and happily—these people who blurred the boundaries between neighbors and family members—and I miss them, as I would my family.

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