By Alicia Schneider, Masa Israel Teaching Fellow, Rishon Letzion
Read more by Alicia on her personal blog.
Maybe it’s the kibbutznik foundation of the place, or maybe it has something to do with the teamwork ideals instilled during formative years in the IDF, but if Israel were an individual on the introvert-extrovert spectrum, it would undeniably fall under the latter. With that being said, Israel is still a place that attracts everyone, introverts and extroverts alike, so what is it about this land that manages to bring introverted people to an intimidating extroverted country and have them settle in comfortably?
A few months ago I moved to Israel, and while I had a few concerns such as the level of my Hebrew and the funds in my bank, I didn’t think to account for the overall personality differences between Canadian and Israeli society, however, that has proven to be the most challenging part of living here. As a self-described introvert who prefers a quiet night in with Netflix and a tall glass of wine, keeping up with the extroverted Israeli lifestyle has been testing.
Israel, a country roughly the size of the state of New Jersey, has a population of 8 million people. With over half of the country being desert, that’s a lot of people to cram in to a small space, and trust me, it is definitely noticeable. Like the stereotypical pictures you see of the shuk (market) full of dark-skinned men hollering sale prices and trying to sell you their produce before the neighboring cart gets to you first, Israel lives up to the cacophonic image of a Middle Eastern country. The morning bus ride to work becomes a social activity. Grocery shopping is an opportunity to get scolded by another customer about how she was definitely in front of you in the makeshift line, and a small quiet family dinner is not even a concept that exists here. Often mistaken for rudeness, people’s natural state is loud, assertive, and unapologetic. For this out-of-town introvert stumbling into this type of society, everyday life can seem a little daunting.
Yet, with all the balagan happening on every street in every city, Israel, and Tel Aviv in particular, still seem like a safe haven for all those introverted foreigners who come here in search of something different. What is it about this country that appeals to a mass of personalities instead of scaring them away?
Life as an introvert in Israel can be overwhelming. On more than one occasion, I have felt not only emotionally but also socially exhausted, which is not something I’ve dealt with before. Between constant required activities run through my program, my job as a volunteer English teacher, spending time with my very large and very loud Moroccan family, and trying to maintain a regular amount of personal relationships with friends, I’ve often found myself at the end of the week with no more fuel in my social tank when my roommates ask me where we’re going out that night. If this exact situation were to play out at home in Canada, I would apologize and choose to stay in for the night with a book or a movie almost every time. Yet here in Israel, much to my own surprise, I choose the opposite despite the fact that I’m running on empty, and the question is: why? Why this obvious and sudden change in personality and social habits?
I could chalk this up to me constantly coming more and more out of my shell, the Canadian winter affecting my mood or socializing opportunities, or how travelling has made me in to a more spontaneous person, but I don’t think any of those are the right answers for this situation. I’m not turning in to an extrovert, rather, I view myself as an introverted person with occasional extroverted tendencies and I believe that a lot of it has to do with integrating in to Israeli society.
As an introvert in the Western world, it’s easy to stay on the outskirts of the action while still semi-participating. However, in Israel, if you’re not a part of the action the surrounds you it seems as if you’ve missed some crucial part of living here. Back home, when we stand at the edge of a bustling party, back to the wall and uncertain about whether or not to dip a toe in, we’re left alone by our peers. Here in the Holy Land, if you’re at a party and you’re not on the dance floor someone else is likely to pull you in. The difference is that one society is raised with the view that each person is an individual with their own personality type, while the other is brought up with the idea that you’re at your strongest when you’re together. Neither is completely wrong, and neither is completely right.
I can’t help but wonder how different my personality might be if I was brought up in Israel instead of in Canada. I’m not for a second ashamed of being an introvert, I’ve grown to recognize my strengths as an introvert and focus on developing those instead of the extroverted traits I lack. It’s appealing to think about who I might be had I been raised in a society that prides communal growth in place of individualized attention. But for now, I’ll have to concentrate on how to move between being an apologetic Canadian and an opinionated Israeli.