Cacti don’t shrug.

Often the question of the main difference between people in Israel and Americans flies towards me in conversations about my Aliyah. The words that respond usually depend on the slant on the questioner and reverberate a fluid non-negativity. “In a Jewish land, there’s just some givens that alter the normative culture” or “I think it depends on the families in each location that emulate chosen values.” If speaking in an open environment, I might venture to say that Israel breeds a level of authenticity based on survival and a pride in identity. In contrast to a land that blends cultures, Israel has no other option than to be Israeli and thus the members are more connected, more related- but hey, I’m no sociologist. It’s hard to pin point a chief difference between two countries that are immeasurably incomparable in size and history.

Standing in the middle of Times Square after spending the last 4 months in the Negev hits me stronger than expected. Jaw dropping culture shock rattles my confused mind. The wrong language spills out of my mouth. Modesty crashes as mistaken concept. Noise of advertisements and the world rushing around me, the seriousness of pleasure and pride in presentation all corrupt my senses with overstimulation. The vast landscapes of my land seem legitimately placed on the other side of the world and I feel isolated, totally surrounded by millions of people. I dream back to the land of paradox: bonding with strangers, constantly exploring the new in a geographically small location, inventing a new reality in the land of our history.

The question of cultural differences lacks the needed complexity to capture the disparity between my birthplace and my homeland. A native born Israeli is nicknamed “sabra” (cactus) for the prickly defensive skin guarding the soft insides. In agreement to the perfect depiction of the mentality, Israelis will not stand timidly behind politically correct limitations while asserting their opinions and needs. Picking my jaw off the floor during Sherut leumi meetings, I swallow the accepted nature of my surroundings and digest the straightforwardness that I start to hear from myself. On the phone with my childhood friends, the shift of speeds takes a warped turn and I balance the indefinable differences in the diction that fuels the long distance relationship. Meeting visitors at Aleh Negev, I share my Aliyah story: choosing this community as the scene for outpouring my energy. I catch myself becoming increasingly more inspired by the individuals here and the unity of thoughtfulness. To be a good person, a giving and loving volunteer to the world is nothing out of the norm in the land of survival, the land of paradox. In Sherut, we are giving everything and in return, receiving more that I could imagine. I look to my friends serving in IDF and cherish the unity of protecting our nation, and my peers volunteering in communities that thirst for the assistance to grow. We newbies are catching on.

My two weeks visiting my family teach me the definition of being home sick; home sick that is, for Israel. American culture doesn’t sit well on me. I don’t slouch in the American dress, concentrating on the snags in the fabric; it just simply is no longer my main wardrobe piece. My Jewish dress comfortably wraps around my frame, allowing my personal fashion sense to accessorize the gown of my people’s history. I add one of my knitted scarves of American entitlement of freedom and some romantic shoes of literary inculcations, a belt of accomplishing dreams and some earrings of sophistication. By adjusting the straps and resewing the hemline, I turn my dress from a gift to a possession of my own, a mixture of the cultures that have formed me into only one that can work that outfit like I do.

Continuing a strong connection with the characters in my beginning chapters, I am enlightened by the individuals that we are transforming into. My Californian posture of going with the flow will strengthen the new positive traits that impact me in Israel. The openminded education from diversity of my childhood continually guide my appreciation of acceptance. My value of adventures strengthens in exploring the cultural waves and empowers my patience in absorbing it all. I chose and constantly reclaim the choice to live in the paradoxical land, making the non logical move of Aliyah and total immersion because I believe in the survival of the cactus, asserting it’s right to be a cactus in spite of history’s stubborn swings of clearing out a more malleable version of our identity.

About the Author
Talya Herring, originally from California, made Aliyah to a Moshav in the Negev for a year of her National Service at Aleh Negev, a rehabilitative village for people with severe disabilities and then worked as a tour guide for her second year of National Service. Now as a law student, she writes her blog to connect her evolving thoughts with friends and family, inspire ideas of self-achievement, and celebrate pride in values.