Israel is a wonderful hodge-podge or mosaic of different cultures and a hotbed of innovative ideas. Hey, we have become the people of the book. Not just the Facebook (thanks Mr. President for that comment) or the bible (we have some of its prime real estate over here) but that fantastic best-seller, The Start Up Nation. We innovate! We Create! We Debate! We Ate?
When you make Aliyah (immigrate to Israel) you hear all sorts of anecdotes about Israeli culture. You are told again and again that you will be moving to a country with a completely different culture but nobody prepares you for just how downright entertaining living in Israel can be. Yes, there are days that are frustrating and perplexing and there are days when you question your decision to come but there are also days when living here is just so funny, some TV network should option a sitcom. So here are some observations made by this Olah Chadesha (new immigrant) that you just have to take with a pinch of salt. Or a large cocktail.
Politics – It zigs! It zags! And sometimes you even get to vote! There is a famous joke that describes Israeli political sensibilities perfectly. It goes a little something like this:
The Prime Minister of Israel and the President of the USA are talking. The Israeli Prime Minister turns to the US Presidents and says, “The difference between you and I Mr. President is that you are the President of 144 million Americans. I am the Prime Minister of 7 million Prime Ministers!”
It is absolutely true. This is a passionate country and everyone has an opinion that matters. At least to them. From the weather to the economy and how conflict with our neighbours should be resolved, Israelis are never shy to share their two shekels worth. A conversation between two Israelis could result in four opinions an election and a committee to investigate what you were trying to say in the first place. If the Olympics had a category for heated debate, Israel would be the unchallenged gold medal champions. Arguing – it is the national sport and everyone participates.
Driving me crazy – I have devoted several posts to driving in Israel. It is a subject that continues to amaze and perplex me. So after many observations, omissions of foul language in the traffic and downright shock, I have come to the conclusion that we don’t really drive here in Israel. We simply fling ourselves into the traffic and hope for the best. Now I understand why this is a miraculous country!
Food, glorious food – we Jews are governed by our love for food. “They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat” pretty much sums up our history. In Israel, the greatest threat is not Hamas or Iran but rather our bakeries. Delectable goods threaten to expand our waist lines and harden our arteries, seducing us with delicious aromas and yummy goodness. We love our food so much that someone combined two of our favourites, hummus and ice-cream. Personally I prefer dark chocolate but if you are going to kill two gastronomical birds with one stone, hummus ice-cream it is. Food plays such a central part of our lives that no activity is worth anything unless there is something edible and delicious involved. You can pretty much cure all ills with chicken soup and any conflict can be sorted out over a bowl of hummus with pita. Hey, even the humble tub of cottage started a revolution! B’te-avon!
All “Shouk” Up – The shouk (market) is a true microcosm of Israel. The hustle and bustle of so many cultures, aromas, scents and sounds crammed into a tiny space. Merchants rival any reality TV singing contest with their attempts to entice you to their stores. Friendly rivalries erupt over who has the sweetest tomatoes or where you can get that special Jerusalem opal bracelet at the best price. I always find it ironic that in the Jerusalem Old City shouk, the guy who is reading the latest Hamas-endorsed drivel in his newspaper is selling a t-shirt with F-16 fighter jets that says “Don’t worry USA, Israel is behind you”. I found out that should my family decide to sell me, they can get a sprightly grandfather and a red string bracelet in exchange.
Entertainment Israeli Style – is there a song playing over and over in your head? If so, just belt it out! Israelis love to sing. In the mall. On the train. In the post office. Judges on reality TV singing competitions give their criticism by out-singing the contestants. It doesn’t matter if you are in tune or off key. When life hands you lemons – sing about it. Where else can you see the former army Chief-of –Staff singing on TV? All together now..la la la la
Chicken dances – If you make the decision to come and live in Israel – you better bring along your sense of humour. There are times when you will have ability-to-converse-coherently-in-hebrew failure. For me this has meant Oscar-winning performances in supermarkets which have included dancing like a chicken when attempting to purchase some chicken breasts. You haven’t lived until you have told someone with absolute authority that cats prefer to smoke (instead of sleep) and that the person you are speaking to is more recognizable with their pants (instead of sunglasses) off.
Yes, we live here with hostile neighbours, dodgy news coverage that grossly represents us and a myriad of challenges but living in this country brings with it challenges that mould you and delicious daily adventures that delight and entertain. Seriously, I couldn’t make this stuff up. Live and let…laugh?