Becoming Israeli 101

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.

 

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