Spontaneity is not something that comes naturally to me. As a child with ADD, my mind was always all over the place, jumping from one thing to another, my creative mind flowing all over the place, my left brain largely ignored while my right brain went crazy. The thing that has kept me sane and functional as an adult is order and planning…what I’m going to do, when and with whom, logistics, figuring out where and when and how. In Israel, I am an anomaly, a fish out of water, a planning person in a place of last-minute-ness. Despite the fact that there are so many religious people, all of whom must plan in order to have things ready for shabbat, chaggim, smachot, etc., the culture here is one of improvisation, impulse, and minute-to-minute inclination.
A roommate I had, an olah who has been in Israel for over 25 years, once told me that part of this attitude has to deal with the very real issue of war. “You can plan to meet next week,” she said, “but there’s always a chance war could break out, so why bother making plans?” While there is a grain to truth to this, I also believe it has to do with the sense of family and familiarity here.
In the States, when you go to college, get a job in another city, move away from home, your friends are scattered throughout the country, you’re far from your family, and creating a new home for yourself in a new place. In Israel, no matter how far away you move, you’re still only a car ride away from home. Your friends, your family, the people you grew up with, mostly still live in the same areas (or have migrated to the same city). There’s not so much of a need to plan because you can always go hang out with Avi and the boys or visit mom and dad or cousin Shmuely. I find myself, and other olim, planning much more, both out of habit and out of necessity. We don’t have the family/friends eco-system to fall back on in the same way, so we must plan or we don’t have plans. Sabras will often say we are uptight, too rigid, why don’t we “zorem” (flow) and see where life takes us?
As someone who’s always trying to take herself (and life) less seriously, I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment. As a new immigrant, I have to say that it is much harder than it sounds. There’s so much I feel I can learn from native-born Israelis: nothing is ever such a big deal (even if you get angry and yell about it in the moment), family comes first, it’s important to stay connected to your roots, and being well-rounded in life is important.
In America, if we get a text at 5pm asking to hang out at 6pm, we get offended. “How dare he text me last minute!” “Does she not think I have a life!” “Hmph!”. In Israel, it can be more of a compliment. “But I was thinking about you so I texted to see if you wanted to hang out. What’s wrong with that?” There is something fundamentally different and distinct about being an American in Israeli culture. I’ve decided to give myself about 15 years to adjust. If it doesn’t happen or I can’t assimilate by 2030, I’m going back to America. (I kid! Unless Trader Joe’s doesn’t make it here by then).
As the famous prayer goes, may we have the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference between the two.