They may butt in front of you in line without a thought.
They may scream epithets at you as they zoom past your car on the one-lane highway.
They may be brisk and brash and too aggressive for your liking, but…
Israelis sure know how to bless you.
Not just when you sneeze.
But for every birthday, milestone, and reason for celebration.
Israelis, religious and non-religious alike, are really good at giving you one heck of a good blessing.
I’ve learned, the hard way, that I’m not so good at it.
The first time I was asked to give a public bracha (blessing), I was caught off-guard.
It was my son’s 5th birthday at his preschool. I had been in Israel 9 months already, but never to a child’s birthday in the classroom. This was my first.
There I was, sitting in the place of honor at the front of my room with my son, in front of 30 smiling expectant children, and the teacher asked me for a bracha for my son.
In front of everyone?
My heart raced.
Bless my son?
What were they looking for? What were they expecting?
Baruch atah adonai …something or other?
How do you bless your kid on his birthday?
I fumbled through the bracha with broken Hebrew and a nervous smile. Said something about how I hope his year is filled with fun and laughter.
Not bad for a first-timer, but I realized soon after how common this practice is…and how there are certain expected phrases.
Much health and happiness.
Kids are actually trained in brachot.
Not formal training, really, but from a very early age children are asked to prepare brachot for their friends’ birthdays. It’s part of the birthday experience at school.
You don’t just color a beautiful card for your friend.
You write them a blessing.
And, I imagine at first, the teacher helps them with common nice phrases to say or write.
By first grade, the phrases become a little more sophisticated, but nonetheless still practiced and recognizable.
May you get many presents.
May you continue to be exactly as you are.
After years and years, and decades and decades of blessing your friends and classmates and neighbors, eventually it must be something you get really good at.
So that when it comes time to say something nice at a bris, or a baby naming, coworker goodbye party, or a wedding, Israelis are pros.
I envy their blessing ability.
Even when I am in a position to bless someone I really like and want to bless, I fumble.
And it’s not just the Hebrew.
Even in English, I fumble.
Growing up in America — despite our reputation in Israel for excessive, unnecessary niceness — we had a lot less practice in how to offer our blessings.
It’s something I really had to learn on my own.
And it’s something I am still learning,
How to meaningfully, and sincerely offer my true, authentic blessings to someone else.
And even more challenging — how to accept blessings and good wishes offered to me.
With a smile.
And a gracious thank you.
Not a shy, “Oh stop it…it was nothing.”
Or a sarcastic, “Oh, do go on…”
Just a true, authentic acceptance of a someone else’s blessing.
It might sound weird, but perhaps “formal training” in blessing is a good training to get.
Israelis don’t realize it, probably, and would be shocked to hear it — but when it comes to giving and receiving blessings, they’re actually nicer than Americans.
They’ve perfected a lesson in niceness worth exporting.