“I swear to God, I didn’t expect you being an Israeli”.
A lot of eyebrows were raised when I stated my nationality in front of some friends overseas. We were brought together by some international program and had a whole month to spend together. By the time we were well acquainted and started spending more of our days together I realized they had never asked me where I came from. “Don’t you want to know?” I wondered. For a moment there I thought I was being a little racist, figuring that the fact that I was the only one who cared where people come from made me that. When I found out that most of them just figured I was from somewhere in the U.S and didn’t bother asking, and the rest guessed anything but the right answer I started questioning my previous revelation. “You’re not like any other Israeli I’ve met before”.
To respond to that remark I had to stop and think clearly. How does an Israeli look like to the rest of the world? On the top of my mind I thought about a yarmulke. Maybe I threw them off since I’m secular, since my Judaism isn’t noticeable visually- apart from my Jewish nose, of course. Maybe I threw them off because of my skin tone? Because I’m not as tan as you might expect a Middle-Easterner to be, to say the least. I started thinking of a million options why I’m not like “any other Israeli” when someone blurted out: “Yeah, you just don’t act like an Israeli, you know?”
A few weeks back, another story about young Israeli teenagers surfaced. The same old story we all know and grew to hate. The same old story about young individuals ruining hotel rooms, trashing public facilities and hurting others in the name of “good fun” outside the borders of Israel. It’s not new, sadly, once every few months another story like this surfaces and forces Israel’s publicity to work over-time to compensate for that incident. It’s a reoccurring act that has come to get its own name- “the ugly Israeli”. When you go around the world you can see people expecting the worse of you. You can see them looking at you and waiting for that ugly Israeli to pop out and show its face. These incidents are what comes to mind when foreigners think of how Israelis look and act. When they told me that I “don’t act Israeli” they meant exactly that.
The fact to the matter is that Israelis are much more that those incidents. We are warm loving people. We are emotional, yes, but that’s why we tend to bring joy where we go. We feel deeper, our openness makes people feel more comfortable around us. We tend to connect to others faster and yet we have our boundaries and know how to read social situations. I’m not that ugly Israeli that pops in mind when you think of us. True, sometimes our sincerity might seem a little rude to you- but that’s just the beauty of cultural differences isn’t it? At the end of the day we are all different from one another, and learning to bridge over these differences is what makes the world interesting.
Go ahead, meet us. Have a conversation over a cup of some oriental coffee and a game of backgammon and keep an open mind- we might have an ugly side, but our beautiful side is much more dominant.