There is a trait peculiar to Israel which one only fully understands when living here. No, I am not talking about the pizza topped with corn and pineapple thing. This is a much more subtle aspect that most people totally misunderstand.
Americans especially can be put off by the Israeli way of just doing something. “kacha zeh” is heard often, it means loosely translated “that’s how it is (what can you do? We live with it, so can you, want to grab lunch or a beer?)”. This simplistic view is really a deeply embedded part of everyone’s psyche here. You go shopping, there is no fresh chicken, (yes this has happened to me a few times at a known super market) and you accept it, move on, and buy meat instead. While some might think it is a hard sell to get you to buy meat, they really had no chicken, probably some Knesset member’s kids bar mitzvah that evening. There is no screaming you want to speak to the manager or the butcher, it’s just a “kacha zeh” moment.
From an early age you are taught to be practical about everything. Eating a fruit, toss the seed in the yard, maybe it will grow. You get bags at the store for fruit, save them; you will need them to throw out the left over cholent that will melt through your garbage bags. It is a country, or rather was, of reuse, recycle, recreate until something falls apart. Think MacGyver must teach kids from an early age here. Then again, if you have been here for Lag Ba’omer, or the beta test run, erev Pesach, where every kid starts and plays with fire, you may wonder about the practicality of the fire training.
Throughout every war Israel fought, they salvaged and scavenged anything they could from shot down or destroyed planes, trucks, tanks, cars. I think of it like adult erector sets, but serious needs required practical solutions.
There is also a complementary personality quirk that stems from this practicality, and in westerners eyes may seem petty. Let me explain. You go to lunch anywhere in the world and if you are short a dollar or two one of your friends will take care of it. No big deal, right?
In Israel, it becomes the scenes from the 1985 “Better Off Dead” movie, with a very young John Cusack (see the link for the video), where the paper boy wants his two dollars. Ask anyone who grew up then, they will remember the line, but probably not the movie.
Yes, money is tight for people, even when you get “free” money from your office to pay for lunch, or your car, or whatever (drinks at bars). You left your card at the office or home and you have someone swipe their card to get you a drink. Well, you just sold your soul and maybe all your future felafel balls to someone that will not let you forget it. Pettiness, but practical at the same time. Oh, I forgot to mention, the “free: money on the card? It doesn’t roll over, it disappears at the end of each month, and now your friend is upset because you stole their free money! No, they aren’t, they just want to maximize their spending options while some other friar (or is it fryer or frair or frayer) is giving them “free” money.
Is it pettiness? Is it practicality? Who knows but quite a few times in the last few weeks this has come up and I decided to name it this way for new Olim coming this summer. We look forward to your arrival! Please remember to have fun when you come, even while waiting at the driver license bureau for 4 hours in the heat. Hopefully they put a roof on that office someday. KIDDING! ….About the roof part.
Many will help you best they can because you are new olim, your coworkers however may just want their two dollars back while they invite you to dinner, lunch and a BBQ in the middle of some dirt lot that is off the side of the road…. but has awesome views of the constellations.