Living in Israel: A Brief Survival Guide for Immigrants

Much is said about the Brazilian habit of greeting strangers with much more than a hand wave. Absolute truth. But when it comes to personal relationships, the Israelis reign absolute in the World’s Got Talent of intimacy, despite the questioning look they cast when I arrive to the annual school parent’s meeting fraternizing with kisses on cheeks.

It is not only about liking falafel or learning an alphabet without vowels. So, no matter which country you left — or intend to leave — it is worth checking out these six tips before venturing around here as a native.

1. Shouting
If you were used to using this way of communication only on extreme moments, like locked into the car with the music at the highest volume so you don’t risk being considered a human going bonkers, break free. Here everyone shouts for everything. Try, for example, sitting in any public department. Works like a charm. You get your number, look for an empty seat, and count to 15: …13, 14, 15. Someone will then begin the chaos scenario. It may be because the service is taking too long, because someone cutting in line (subject to the next item), because any machine is broken. So others will start screaming back, and within the few seconds you consider taking refuge in the bathroom to survive the next great war, everything will be back to normal, former enemies will be talking politics, and the machine will call the next number. Mind a blue light. Learn some mantra by heart. Try to stay calm.

2, Lines
Or simply alignment of a series of individuals in sequence, so that one is immediately behind the other. Practically an obsolete habit (if ever used here). If you are a newcomer, you will fall into the trap of waiting behind the person being served and even — fancy that! — being distracted by checking WhatsApp messages. Then someone will approach on your left, other one will approach on your right, and you will never be the next in this lifetime unless you incorporate the sabra and shout that you arrived first. Remember, it is more important to learn this phrase from Ulpan than “My name is Nurit, I’m 39 years old and I’m from Brazil.”

3. Healthy diet
A good example is the bakery section at any supermarket. You see that baguette that looks super fresh? For sure it has been squeezed by half of the passers-by, a salesman has taken it to the manager to confirm its price, someone has sneezed on it and, almost for sure, it served as a ball in a children’s volleyball game. It’s time to take a deep breath and encourage yourself. You can buy it. Microbes are nothing but invisible little creatures, and sweat is tasteless when mixed with zaatar.

4. End of the world
Nostradamus predicted the apocalypse, but didn’t know precisely where it would happen: in an Israeli supermarket on a holiday eve. If you are not out of coffee at home, ie if it is not a matter of survival, strongly avoid and preserve your physical — and mental — integrity.

5. Therapy
“How much you pay for rent” will be your new “It’s a beautiful day outside, isn’t it ?!” Here it is not necessary to be a childhood friend to answer intimate questions. How much you make, if you bought or rented the home you are living in and even “beautiful bra, but why did you choose black if you are wearing a white shirt?” are just friendly elevator talks. “Why?” Will be the counter response to all your answers. Be ready to share your innermost secrets while shopping for fruits and to use your poor Hebrew to explain why your child has a cell phone, why you canceled a doctor’s appointment, prefer chives over cilantro, brush teeth after lunch, had your parents divorced in the ’80s or the grounds of your earthly existence.

6. Intimacy
Yes, the time will come for you to stop crying over the ones you left and start building relationships with people living less than thousands of miles away from your home — even if you look like a 5 year old trying to communicate with them. Go for it! It may not seem at a first glance, but Israelis are sweet (so truth) and admire the ones who cross borders (“Wow, Brazil!”). How will you know if you are reaching your goal? What are the signs of a thriving relationship if secrets here are shared even with the bus driver? Just one:
Note if they put their bare feet over your couch.

I wish you the best of luck. Mainly because everything is gonna be alright and trust me: it may take a while, but you will certainly fall in love for it.

About the Author
Nurit Masijah Gil is a Brazilian-Israeli writer with nearly 100 chronicles published in Portuguese in both countries. In 2014, she launched her book titled "Little Ms. Perfect," in which she tells about her tragicomic wife-and-mom life. In 2017, she moved to Israel with her family. In 2019, she changed her busy suburban life as a content writer at a startup company, in Israel's central region, for a peaceful life at her own oasis at the Arava desert -- a 1,000-member ishuv -- where she has crowned her aliyah.
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