After Living in Israel for three months, I’ve decided it’s a very different life than what I had in San Diego. A shocking revelation, I know. Despite the similarly diverse cultures and religions, incredibly conservative politics in a liberally dominated state and cool morning hikes followed by warm days on the Arsim- and Frechot-flooded beaches, there is a lot about this country that reminds me why I’m not in California anymore.
For one, every other week is a celebrated holiday. From the playgrounds of grade school to the library stacks of college and the claustrophobic cubicles of being a boring adult, most holidays don’t have a noticeable effect on daily life in the states. With the exception of Shabbat, I had expected something similar in Israel. My experience with Purim has been carnivals for children, a biblical story with loud and obnoxious noise makers at the mention of “Haman,” and maybe a film about something Jewish.
This year, I got my carnival in Shlomi, I even won a grogger, but instead of the story of Ester and Mordechai, I ended up at an open bar in a Los Angeles rave-like scene. Screw the Holiday in Cambodia version, I’ll take the holiday in Israel.
This was only the start to Israel’s surprisingly consistent trend of one-upping my preconceived American notions of Israel. Sadly, some of the escalations have not been so positive. I grew up in a neighborhood sporting very mixed economic, social and cultural demographics, and have always felt the U.S. reigned supreme commander of bigotry and discrimination. I expected some confrontation, maybe a some hard feelings and mistrust bred by fear and loss, but outright hatred was not on this volunteer’s list of things to find.
Jews are supposed to be among the most accepting, kind and understanding people. Yet there I was, getting to know some new people that actually spoke English very well, which is uncommon where I live, when one says “(Arabs) should all die.” I’m rarely lost for words, and having experienced plenty of racism back home this shouldn’t have stunned me, but it did.
People are strange, and I’m certainly no exception. Call me crazy if you want (plenty of locals already have, because what sane person would leave the pleasures of California), but encounters like this are a big part of why I came to Israel. It’s a side of the coin that hadn’t come up for me before, and I’ve since seen it’s opposite as well. But unlike racism, I loved seeing a different level of humanity and reverence.
If there’s one thing to be expected from Jews besides a well developed argument and good food, it’s a fierce loyalty to their beliefs and a deep respect for the dead. On Purim, I was told it was a mitzvah to party, but on Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikaron I saw a true moment of silence. It didn’t matter if someone was Arab or Israeli, Jewish or Palestinian, Christian or Muslim, people stopped what they were doing and took a moment to honor the fallen.
In the U.S., that doesn’t happen. We have Memorial Day, President’s Day, Labor Day, Veteran’s Day and many more “-days.” For most Americans, these are naught but free time off from school or work to go barbeque and drink beer. Not to complain about beer and sizzling meat as I hungrily anticipate being the only person in the Galilee celebrating July 4, but I prefer the Israeli way. And that’s just something I didn’t get in San Diego, wouldn’t have seen through Facebook, and couldn’t have read on Reddit.
I don’t want people to send me photos; I want to be the photo. Although I love my beaches, my Chargers and my mountains in San Diego, my Israel is giving me this unique experience that I would not get anywhere else. That’s the difference of living in Israel.