My Tiny Jewish Country

From speaking with family and friends back in the USA, I often get the feeling that they have absolutely no idea what living in Israel is all about. Sometimes I believe that they are far more obsessed with questions of war and peace than we, who live here, are. So, I’m going to try to break this decades long conundrum into simple language without the plethora of historical documentation, map reading, religious arguments, green lines and purple lines, the UN, the EU, the Road Map or the damn Quartet. The issue is quite an obvious one-We want to live and the Arabs want us dead. Period(not Obama’s period, my period.). There is not much room for compromise except as to the means of one’s extermination or the means one employs to prevent it. Does this mean that we Israelis don’t think about this ? Sure. But there are more important matters that need to be dealt with-such as, no one pushing in front of you on line at the post office, or leaving their full shopping cart by itself at the checkout counter to preserve their spot while they go back and forth and fill it one item at a time and you stand there like a schmuck with your 5 items, afraid to move the unattended cart out of the way so you can get out of the supermarket and make your bus home. Or standing on line at the bank, waiting for a teller at the one open window when the other 3 or 4 are empty because people are on their coffee break or they are sitting there talking on their cellphones or doing their nails and the customer at the window is arguing with the teller because he forgot the papers he needed to cash the check he has from a different account at a different bank and he doesn’t understand why the bank won’t cash it and how come the teller doesn’t speak Russian? How about the guy who takes up 2 parking spaces in a crowded parking lot at the mall with the line denoting separate spaces running under the middle of his car-I guess, in Israel those lines are meant to run under the middle of your vehicle, just like turn signals are strictly for decorative purposes. Let’s not forget the mad rush in the morning to get showered, dressed and make sure the kids don’t miss the bus for school because there are no school buses like in the US. The kids ride the regular buses which are also crammed with commuters trying to get to work. Oh, and don’t forget to pack a healthy lunch for the kids like sandwiches of chocolate spread and a bag of Bamba(peanut flavored derivatives of the peanuts used in packing crates) and try to remember what time school lets out that day cause some days it’s 1:30, some days it’s 2:30 and Fridays it’s 12 noon. And what do we do with the kids when they have 2 weeks off for Chanukah, 2 weeks for Passover, the 10 days from Rosh HaShana to Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Purim, Simchat Torah, Sh’mini Atzeret, not too mention Yom HaZikaron(Israel’s memorial day for the fallen of our wars), Yom HaAtzma’ut(Independence Day) and whenever the teachers go on strike. I didn’t even mention summer vacation!!!!! Then there is food shopping where if you want to be a vegan you can live quite cheaply, but you better buy your cherries and strawberries when they are in season or you’ll wait another year for them again.Same with oranges and remember that the “A” class produce is for export, the “B” class produce goes to the hotels and we get the “C” class produce which is still damn good, but can you imagine what an “A” orange tastes like after a few months of “C” class ones? And never mind if you live on a kibbutz that produces fruits and vegetables, because whatever they don’t export, turn into jam, juice or jelly or freeze, ends up on your table looking like something the insects wouldn’t eat-no wonder kibbutznikim eat in the fields! No, the national habit here is, to use a Yiddish expression, “Kvetching,” everybody does it and all your neighbors are not Ashkenazim or S’faradim or even Oriental Jews(meaning Jews from the Arab world, and China), they are all “Yenta” Jews. So, I don’t want you to think I’m complaining, these are the same people who will give you their last drop of water if you look thirsty, will help pick you up from the street when you fall, give you some water, clean your cuts and bruises and call you an ambulance before they even know your name. Yeah, they’ll elbow you on line, push their way ahead of you to get on the bus and scream at you and call you an “American!” when you insist on common courtesy, but I love them all as much as I “kvetch.” Guess I’m turning more Israeli every day. Oh, the other thing, the war and peace thing, I’m not worried. I have the Israel Defense Forces helping me to sleep at night and keeping the bad guys away from me-that is why I always give a soldier, sailor or airman, my seat on the bus, as decrepit as I am,,,,,,,,,and you know what, most of the time, they tell me it’s alright for me to sit……makes me want to cry and smile at the same time. That is Israel.

About the Author
Irwin was born in New York City and is now retired. He lives in Maaleh Adumim since making aliyah 7 years ago.