When it comes to socializing, some new olim live in a bubble of immigrants and expats for a lifetime. There’s nothing wrong with that if it suits you, but if you’re up to the adventure of building friendships with Hebrew-speaking Israelis, here are a few ideas:
10. Think like a kid
Half the fun of aliya (immigration to Israel) is that you get to go to school again, learn to read, dream about what you want to be “when you grow up,” and, of course, you get to make new friends. Not many people get to do these things in adulthood, so you might as well cherish this special moment.
9. Language: You get points for effort
When it comes to friendship language isn’t required, but it helps. At the very least, Israelis will appreciate that you’re making the effort.
8. Get active… with Hebrew speakers
To make Israeli friends you must meet Israeli people, and that means being active in Hebrew-language activities. Here’s the trick: you don’t have to actually KNOW Hebrew; you just have to be open to HEARING it. How is that possible? Keep reading…
7. Go out after class
Friendship is about more than meeting; it’s also about bonding. So go out to the coffee shop, or watch the Maccabi Tel Aviv game at a bar; go shopping, or take your kids on a play-date — whatever fits your personality and lifestyle (and that of your new friends).
6. Pick activities that fit YOU!
Don’t have the language yet? Israelis are crazy for basketball and soccer; there are a ton of yoga studios; poker is hugely popular, and there are actually community centers with pick-up chess games; Israelis love making music; and the list goes on. So what if you get a little linguistically lost? Unlike high school, looking at the person next to you for help is not cheating — it’s just common sense.
Have some language skills? You could try your hand at an acting class, a book club (check the local libraries), or continuing education at the university.
Whatever you choose, make sure to put yourself in an environment where HEBREW-SPEAKERS feel comfortable, even if it’s a little scary for you at first.
5. Let the romance begin
If you’re single your Israeli friends will probably try to arrange a “shidduch” for you to go on a date. (This may also happen with ulpan teachers, taxi drivers, airport security guards, random people on the street, and pretty much anyone else you see. Welcome to Israel!) If your goal is to meet new people, you might as well say yes.
4. Socialize in Hebrew
OK, don’t panic. To socialize in Hebrew you don’t have to actually KNOW Hebrew; you just have to be open to HEARING it. The first time I went out with my Hebrew-speaking friends, they made an effort to speak English, out of politeness to me. I asked them to please feel comfortable speaking Hebrew around me, because even if I’m occasionally left out of the conversation, I will eventually improve. Aside from helping my language skills, this decision had an important side effect: the group felt comfortable around me. My Israeli friends understood that I was not some guest or foreigner who needs to hear constant English, but to the contrary, I was one of them. Also, beer helps.
3. Come for the holidays, stay for the argument
Israelis are famously hospitable. As you build friendships, you will find opportunities to join Israeli families for Shabbat and holidays. Meals are often followed by the tradition of coffee and a family argument. Even if you end up nodding politely while everyone else speaks Hebrew, you will be part of a special family experience. In time your Hebrew WILL improve but long before that happens, you will already feel a sense of connection. Also, wine helps.
2. Share the big things…
Now that you’ve met people, gone out for fun and come home for the holidays, you will quickly become a part of each other’s lives. You will receive invitations to weddings, to meet new babies, to take day trips or camping excursions. You will begin to share your life. And that’s when you’ll discover the greatest surprise of all:
1. …and the little things
The real magic of Israeli friendship is not in the major lifecycle events but in the day-to-day. In the US I found that as people “grow up” they become too busy for day-to-day friendship. Sure we’d see each other at the semi-annual barbecue — and I enjoy eating cubes of cheese off of toothpicks as much as the next guy — but I began to feel like we weren’t really sharing our lives anymore.
Yet in Israel I have found just the opposite: as friends marry and have children, day-to-day connection becomes even MORE important — not less. We continue to visit each other’s homes on random weekdays; we have coffee and watch those inexplicably popular Israeli “reality TV” shows; we keep a fully stocked snack drawer in our home, just in case of unexpected guests. Our meetings are filled with new wives and husbands, and “honorary” nephews and nieces. No RSVP required, and we never eat ANYTHING off of toothpicks! My Hebrew has improved to the point where I no longer feel left out of conversations, yet language was never a requirement of friendship: it was merely a gift of friendship.
The best part of all: now my friends feel like family, and my country feels like home.
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If you’re interested in learning why Daniel made aliya, you can read about how he got here, and if you’d like to read about his very first “Yom HaShoah” (Holocaust Remembrance Day) in Israel, you can visit his personal blog.
For a slightly more political perspective on what it means to be a “friend” to Israel, you can read his thoughts on being inside the tent.