Being English In Israel

This blog post might seem like it contradicts my last one, but actually they complement each other as together they both reflect my efforts to integrate into Israeli society, whilst being True To Myself.

For my Grandmother’s Special Birthday, my creative aunt ordered all us grandkids to each create a page of whatever we want, dedicated to Grandma, that we would put together into a book as her birthday present. We would give the book at the birthday party that my aunt was throwing during my Grandma’s holiday here in Israel.

So I thought for a while about what my Grandma would want from me, other than the obvious, what all Grandmas want from their unmarried granddaughters. One idea my cousin and I had was to make a collage of ourselves photoshopped getting married to all the different eligible celebrities we could have had but turned down because they’re not rich enough.

My initial idea was to create a collage of photos of me in all sorts of ‘dangerous’ situations, for the time when my Grandma refused to sponsor me to abseil down a building for charity, because, as her exact email said:



Do your parents know about this???  No way am I going to encourage you to do this by sponsoring you – Sorry!




PS: Grandpa says we support them anyway without you having to do dangerous stunts like that!!”

They did very generously sponsor me anyway. But I still thought she might like to see the picture of me doing the 50 metre abseil, and the one of me floundering in the middle of Lake Garda as my sister took off with the speed pedal boat, and standing on the wrong side of the hand rail at the top of a cliff at Ein Gedi. (I was still holding on!!)

Anyway, I realised that whilst I would find the page hilarious, my Grandma – not so much. And then the obvious idea came to me. My Grandma is a complex combination of ardent Zionist and Proper Englishness. I guess I take after her in some ways. And so, my page in the book was this:

Dear Grandma. For my page for your Birthday Book, I thought you will be glad to know that just because I’ve made Aliyah and am now an Israeli citizen, I have not forgotten my heritage and where I come from, and I am continuing some very English traditions over here. To be clear, I am a Zionist through and through, and my loyalty lies with Israel now, but I have to admit that there are some English habits that really add to the Aliyah experience. Such as:

  • Tea: No matter how much people make fun of me, Israelis, Americans, whoever – I not only drink tea at least once a day, but I always, always, have milk in it, which really confuses people here. If you ask for tea with milk in a café, you will receive a funny look, a cup of hot water with a splash of milk in it, and a tea bag on the side. But I will not be deterred. I will persevere! I drink Wissotzky only when there is no alternative, and the whole time I’m thinking “this is not what tea is supposed to taste like”.
  • Queueing: There is a misconception that in Israel, no one ever queues. But the truth is sometimes there is a queue and there is logic to it, it’s just difficult to see it through the crowd of people pushing each other. Case in point: buses. If there is nothing blocking the door of a bus from closing (i.e. a person), then the doors will shut and the bus will drive off. This is why when it looks as though people are pushing each other onto a bus, what they are actually doing is giving a polite message to the driver, saying “Look, I am half-on, half-off the bus: this means I want to get on. Please don’t leave without me.” It is also a subtle message to everyone around you: “Good morning, I am getting on the same bus as you.” And this is why, as a Brit, I have learned to accept the disorganised queueing here, because it is still – albeit in a very Israeli way – a queue.
  • Fish and Chips: Yes, I eat falafel and shakshuka and techina and silan and halumi and matbucha and chatmuna and shaklucha and fatchucha (ok some of those might be made up). But I also every now and then like to get a portion of fish and chips for 30ish shekels (about £5) at the shuk. It reminds me of back in England, and those seaside holidays where the delicious smell of non-kosher food would torture us until we would get back to London and I could finally have the chips I’d been craving for 3 days ever since I smelled them in the service station’s Burger King, one hour into our journey. Interestingly, it was oh-so-Israeli cousin Rivka who introduced me to fish and chips at the shuk!
  • Being polite: I have not forgotten my manners. I still say please and thank you, sometimes in English, sometimes in Hebrew.
  • Enid Blyton: I bought a Famous Five book in Hebrew, so I can remember my childhood and all the adventures I wished I’d had, whilst practicing my Hebrew at the same time.
  • Prince Harry: I still think he is the best representative of the Royal Family that they could wish for.
  • My accent: No matter how much my Hebrew improves, when I speak English I still sound very much like the most Londony Londoner – and sometimes even when I speak Hebrew. I hate it. But:
  • Being from London: Often when I am with a group of Olim, I am the only (ex-) Londoner, which is apparently cool, as is my accent.
  • The weather: It rained here over Succot – yes, even in Be’er Sheva where I was first night – and clearly it’s all my fault because I’m from London. But afterwards we brought the fan into the Succah because it was really hot and muggy, and that doesn’t generally happen in London.
  • Hiking: Sometimes when I’ve done enough walking and I get the bus, I think of our hike on the Isle of Wight that summer, and when you and Grandpa cheated and got the bus back to the start!
  • BBQs: On our trip to Portsmouth when I made us have a bbq on the beach even though it was freezing cold, you and Grandpa were amazing and didn’t even complain – it turns out that having a bbq on the Tayelet in Jerusalem on Chol Hamoed Pesach is just as cold.
  • Football: Whenever I can, I bring up football and Tottenham in conversation (you may not care about football, but it is a part of my British heritage!)
  • Night Life: There is a club in Jerusalem called Underground. I’ve never been, but I’ll check it out if you want me to (please don’t!!)
  • When I visit the cousins, in between talking about the differences between arsim and shababnikim, we talk about Fawlty Towers and Monty Python.

My Grandma loved her page. And I think I earned the Kit Kats and shortbread she brought me from England.

About the Author
Mizrachi Jew. Israeli-in-Progress. But I only drink tea with milk.
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