There are many things that one has to get adjusted to when living in Israel after making aliyah from the United States. No, I’m not talking about major differences like language, the currency, and the fact that most everywhere you find yourself you’re surrounded by Jews-not even the lack (thank G-d) of the incessant Christmas music played from Labor Day till December 31st). No, not that the Jewish holidays seem endless with their periods of dieting between them (oyyyy-somehow Israel is not only the land of milk and honey, but of bakeries and ice cream). That the kids are off from school for weeks during the holidays, like 10 days for Chanukah, 2 weeks for Passover and the entire time between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. The American holidays that we grew up with are not even listed on the calendars we keep now, (yet my mother still asks me if there is Thanksgiving in Israel every November and I tell her that everyday here, we give thanks) but what drives many of us crazy (not just the traffic) is the new weekend.
Sunday is Monday and Friday and Saturday is now the end of the week. Of course, for religious Jews, Saturday (Shabbat) has always been the end of the week, but for us less observant folks, it was merely the first day of the week that we could sleep late and not have to rush off to work. A blessing in and of itself.
Fridays in Israel are very hectic affairs. Some of the kids are in school for only the morning hours and there will be no stores open till about 3PM in the afternoon as workers will be going home for the beginning of Shabbat on Friday evening. Also, there is no mail delivery on Friday and Saturday ( and precious little during the week at all, but that is a topic for another article) and supermarkets, gas stations, small neighborhood grocery stores and coffee shops are filled to overflowing as Israelis use Friday mornings for what, in the USA, would have passed for Sunday morning brunch.
Every restaurant and hotel dining rooms have special deals on Friday mornings to attract the shoppers and parents whose kids will be in their classrooms till around noon. Bakeries will be redolent with the delicious aroma of baking bread and cakes, bins will be filled with hot rolls, there will be platters of cookies and danishes and trays full of hot, steaming bourekas (different shaped pastries filled with potato, cheeses, mushrooms, spinach and other delights) will be sitting near a display of small and large bags and boxes to shlep stuff home for Saturday morning. Alas, there are only a few bagel bakeries in Jerusalem, and although they try their best, there are no bagels like New York City bagels and it is definitely the water that makes the difference. But there is plenty of smoked salmon and whitefish.
Alright, let me continue after salivating…..anyway, I must admit that I was very aware of the attitude in the Galut, that Israelis were rude, crude and brash, which is a nicer sounding word than arrogant. Friday mornings here demonstrate a maddening rush to get things done and yes, people will crowd you, break into the lines at the bakery and newsstand and try to get ahead of you in the supermarket by filling up their shopping carts and leaving them on the line by the cash register while they go about the store finding their items. And yes, I’ve had my arguments with some of these inconsiderate dolts when they abandon their carts and I push them away from the counter to get my shopping checked out. A New York attitude does come in handy here, especially if voiced with very strong Bronx and Brooklyn verbiage.
As is our habit, my wife and I went out for breakfast this morning to a really pretty restaurant situated by a lake in our city of Maaleh Adumim. The lake is man made and has an assortment of ducks (no, they are duck made) and some small boats for rowing and those pedal pushing things that look like huge swans.
Now Israeli breakfasts are huge-baskets of bread, salads of all types, cheeses and everything from eggs to pancakes and French toast-no, not all at once! But very often, a waiter will bring you your coffee before your order arrives so it might not be hot when your eggs come to the table and no, I have never found a place here that gives free refills on coffee-that must be a Greek diner tradition in NYC.
Well, it was a beautiful, sunny morning, so my wife and I decided to take our meal at a table outside, on the terrace overlooking the lake when, we had just been brought our orange juice when the wind picked up and I was hit on the back by a flying, wicker chair. Even some of the tables were knocked over.
Thank G-d I wasn’t hurt badly, just had the wind knocked out of me a little, but the manager of the restaurant was very concerned and brought me inside and, well, to make my point, not only did he refuse to accept money for our breakfast, but he brought us a really fantastic dessert of several scoops of ice cream, covered with pieces of a fresh cake and whipped cream. Even the wait staff refused to accept any gratuity.
Now, I didn’t ask for this, nor did my wife. They even offered me a shot of whisky or a beer! I know the skeptics might say that they were afraid of a lawsuit or me badmouthing the place, but I did not encounter anything but kindness, thoughtfulness and true caring.
That is the other side of the often misguided impression that Israelis are not cognizant of manners or etiquette. Sure, there are the zhlobs and the miserable folks, but that is found in all cultures and countries. There are poorly mannered and least acculturated people everywhere. You know the old saying that Jews are just like everyone else, only more so.
Yes, we have our inattentive salespeople, rude waiters and lazy civil servants. Yes, there are the people who will ignore you and push their way into you or loud, abrasive and crude characters that will make you want to punch their lights out. But, these same people will help you up when you fall down and put on a uniform several weeks a year and put their lives on the line to protect us. You know, sometimes it is hard for me to lit at the table in the coffee shop and see these older men as warriors and I hurt for the lost youthful years of these kids, yes, kids, who are sitting near me with their weapons at their feet, having a bite before they head out to their bases or somewhere on a godforsaken border.
I love Friday morning in Maaleh Adumim-it is a microcosm of Israel and Israelis-almost 50,000 people from several different countries and most of the people people here are native born-in fact, almost 3/4ths of Israelis today are born here-that is a miracle.
Friday morning is my time to really watch my neighbors and be among them in their numbers, to sit with a coffee and schmooze with my friends and watch little children having breakfast with their parents and grandparents. To hear my fellow Israelis greet each other with “Shabbat Shalom” on their lips and to even get that greeting from the bus driver and the counterman at the deli department in the supermarket.
I love Friday mornings in my town, in my homeland, in my blessed, tiny Jewish country. Shabbat Shalom.