My jaw dropped after seeing a Brazilian commercial of the Chinese take-out restaurant “China in Box.” The catch phrase of the restaurant’s jingle was a caricature of a Chinese man, crazily screaming “Chinaaaa in Box” with a heavy Chinese accent. Fresh out of liberal arts school, I exclaimed, “This is SO racist!” to my three Brazilian friends, one of them half Chinese, another half-black. They all laughed and told me I was being too “American.” Since then, I’ve heard on four different continents that Americans are seen as oversensitive.
Of course, many in the U.S. also critique this oversensitivity. Following the U.S. elections, Saturday Night Live suggested in a skit that progressive Americans move to a planned community called “The Bubble,” where likeminded members (and nobody else) can live with hybrid cars and used bookstores, sans Donald Trump. But the variety of Americans that this play mocks claim that safe spaces are a vital part of protecting and decreasing the mental toll on minorities and victims of assault, PTSD, and violence.
The American musical “Avenue Q,” which intends to ease the audience’s devotion to political correctness and social norms, plays around the U.S., on and off Broadway, and is now coming to Israel.
Avenue Q’s hit song, “everyone is a little bit racist,” pokes fun at the American sensitivity to race-dialogue. It’s message is clear: everyone is a little bit racist, so if you are able to laugh at yourself and not take things personally, then we will all get along a little bit better. Also satirizing American sensitivity towards sexuality, religion, politics, and mental health, the show is perfectly suited towards the American oleh (immigrant) audience. The Avenue Q Production in Jerusalem plays at the Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI) center in English until 17 December. Directed and co-produced by Layla Schwartz, an immigrant from Chicago, the show “hits home” by satirizing some of the biggest reasons why Americans choose to leave the U.S.
Many olim in Israel note that it is easy to find purpose in Israel, where they can find religious, historical, and cultural meaning all around them.
According to Schwartz, “the show is relatable for anyone who’s looking for a more purposeful and meaningful life. As the show teaches you, you just have to look around you to your community, neighbors, and the people you care about to find your purpose.”
One can certainly say that the sense of community is especially strong in Israel, as a small and close-knit country. This also breeds a strong sense of what is “real” and what is superficial.
As such, the biggest cultural difference between Americans and Israelis is the extent to which Israelis are direct and honest while Americans are politically correct and polite. Many American immigrants living in Israel will also tell you that politeness and political correctness, which can often come off as insincere and overly sensitive, is one of the reasons they left the U.S. In Israel, they feel it is more acceptable to speak one’s mind, especially when one’s mind reflects different perspectives than the norm.
Israelis understand that there is no such thing as a “safe space.” Young Israelis are out in the real world much younger than Americans because Israeli parents understand that they cannot shield them from a reality in which tomorrow is never guaranteed. While Israelis enlist in the army at age 18, Americans are three years away from their first legal drink. With everyone sharing their opinions and treating each other as family (for better and worse), being disagreed with or slighted is seen as a natural part of vibrant dialogue and discussion. Israelis do not have “trigger warnings” because in the real world, triggers do not come with warnings. They are triggered by the sounds of bombs, not by controversial topics. And forget micro-aggressions– in Israel, people are simply aggressive. Some find this off-putting, but many find it to be real.
For some, Israel is too real. European and American visitors are often shocked by the rudeness and crudeness of Israelis. Just like Israel itself, the Avenue Q perspective is not for everyone. Those dead-set on political correctness need not attend, as there are no safe spaces in the theater. But then again, if you opt out of the show for this reason, be warned: out in the real world, everyone’s a little Israeli.
For tickets to Avenue Q in Jerusalem, call 02-566-1181 or visit www.aaci.org.il.
Eliana Rudee is a fellow with the Haym Salomon Center and the author of the “Aliyah Annotated” and “Israel Girl” column for JNS.org. She is a graduate of Scripps College, where she studied international relations and Jewish studies. Her bylines have been featured in USA Today, Forbes, and The Hill. Follow her on Facebook.