Moshe-Mordechai van Zuiden
Psychology, Medicine, Science, Politics, Oppression, Integrity, Philosophy, Jews

Never trust an Israeli telling you ‘Yes’

Mini-culture wars of the eternal new immigrants

Do you know how to get there? Yes.

This yes from an Israeli can mean anything. From ‘Yes, I will look into it’ (meaning, No, not yet), to, ‘Yes, I hear that you are asking something.’

I call it ‘the yes of no.’ They also have ‘the no of yes.’ Very dynamic.

NB: This has nothing to do with dishonesty. They will generally be true to their word — only not the words they or you said but rather the words that they assume that you or they said.

You’d wonder how anything could get done if yes can mean no and no can mean yes. Israelis have a talent additional to being fuzzy about answering. They don’t really listen to answers so it doesn’t matter what is said.

This sounds to Westerners as sloppiness. How could you make progress like this? Truth is that everything in Israel is in flux so that planning is of no use. But improvising makes the day here, creating real flexibility.

The only gateway to understanding them: ask follow-up questions. Or simply repeat the question. A simple yes may turn into a simple no and back to yes again.

When you ask the same question five times (they will never tell you, you just asked that), go with the majority unless the last two times are the opposite. So: yes, no, yes, yes, no means: yes. And: yes, yes, no, no, yes, means yes too. But yes, yes, yes, no, no, means: it’s no — I just woke up.

Israelis never listen to what you ask. Even not after you specify: ‘Listen to every word I’m gonna say now.’ They listen to what they think you mean.

Don’t ask them what you just said or what they just said themselves. The Israeli brain doesn’t come with built-in memory. “What did I just say?” is not an uncommon question in Israel and it’s not rhetorical. But if they dislike your literal repetition of what they actually said, they’ll deny it because it seems unlikely to them, not because they remember. Really.

If you insist that they’ll repeat what you just said to them, they’ll repeat it word-for-word like a recording device but the words have no meaning to them. They’re just sounds. They only get meaning when they translate them into what they assume you meant.

When they ask something, never just answer Yes or No. If they heard you at all, they’ll ask: What do you mean? When you say: That was my answer to your question, they’ll say: What question? When you say, of 15 seconds ago, they go blank. I don’t know how Alzheimer’s is diagnosed in Israel.

Did you call them? Yes.

That can mean anything from ‘Yes but the line was busy’ or ‘Yes but no one answered’ — you didn’t tell them to keep calling — to ‘I will call soon.’

Did you tell them? Yes. Ask what the response was. You could learn that ‘I told them but I’m not sure they heard me,’ or ‘I planned on telling them but they seemed not interested in listening to me.’

When Israelis meet you, they may ask: How are you? Where are you/have you been? What’s new? What’s happening? Don’t answer or you are a chatterbox. You just fire back: How are you? Where are you/have you been? What’s new with you? What’s happening? Tell me. Just as faxes or computers connecting, this is a ‘handshake,’ not to exchange information.

When Israelis write, they will go way beyond yes or no. They will give you endless sentences to sketch what they mean. In a spoken contact, they’d never have time or patience to wait out all these details. But when it’s written, they’ll scan all the details to get a feel of what is meant!

In the Netherlands, yes was yes and no was no. There, the implication of ‘yes’ was: I took care of it. In Israel, it means: ‘I got it off my plate.’

Don’t get me wrong. Israeli kids are great. Only, they do make you go nuts.

About the Author
MM is a prolific and creative writer and thinker, a daily blog contributor to the TOI. He is a fetal survivor of the pharmaceutical industry (, born in 1953 to two Dutch survivors who met in the largest concentration camp in the Netherlands, Westerbork, and holds a BA in medicine (University of Amsterdam). He taught Re-evaluation Co-counseling, became a social activist, became religious, made Aliyah, and raised three wonderful kids. He wrote an unpublished tome about Jewish Free Will. He's a strict vegan since 2008. He's an Orthodox Jew but not a rabbi. * His most influential teachers (chronologically) are: his parents, Nico (natan) van Zuiden and Betty (beisye) Nieweg, Wim Kan, Mozart, Harvey Jackins, Marshal Rosenberg, Reb Shlomo Carlebach, and, lehavdil bein chayim lechayim: Rabbi Dr. Natan Lopes Cardozo, Rav Zev Leff, and Rav Meir Lubin. * Previously, for decades, he was known to the Jerusalem Post readers as a frequent letter writer. For a couple of years, he wrote hasbara for the Dutch public. His fields of attention now are varied: Psychology (including Sexuality and Abuse), Medicine (including physical immortality), Science (statistics), Politics (Israel, the US and the Netherlands, Activism - more than leftwing or rightwing, he hopes to highlight Truth), Oppression and Liberation (intersectionally, for young people, the elderly, non-Whites, women, workers, Jews, LGBTQIA, foreigners and anyone else who's dehumanized or exploited), Integrity, Philosophy, Jews (Judaism, Zionism, Holocaust and Jewish Liberation), Ecology and Veganism. Sometimes he's misunderstood because he has such a wide vision that never fits any specialist's box. But that's exactly what many love about him. Many of his posts relate to affairs from the news or the Torah Portion of the Week or are new insights that suddenly befell him. * He hopes that his words will inspire and inform, reassure the doubters but make the self-assured doubt more. He strives to bring a fresh perspective rather than bore you with the obvious. He doesn't expect his readers to agree. Rather, original minds must be disputed. In short, his main political positions are: anti-Trumpism, for Zionism, Intersectionality, non-violence, democracy, anti the fake peace process, for original-Orthodoxy, Science, Free Will, anti blaming-the-victim and for down-to-earth optimism. Read his blog how he attempts to bridge any discrepancies. He admits sometimes exaggerating to make a point, which could have him come across as nasty, while in actuality, he's quite a lovely person to interact with. He holds - how Dutch - that a strong opinion doesn't imply intolerance of other views. * His writing has been made possible by an allowance for second-generation Holocaust survivors from the Netherlands. It has been his dream since he was 38 to try to make a difference by teaching through writing. He had three times 9-out-of-10 for Dutch at his high school finals but is spending his days communicating in English and Hebrew - how ironic. G-d must have a fine sense of humor. In case you wonder - yes, he is a bit dyslectic. November 13, 2018, he published his 500th blog post with the ToI. If you're a native English speaker and wonder why you should read from people whose English is only their second language, consider the advantage of having a peek outside of your cultural bubble. * NEW: To see other blog posts by him, his overspill blog you can reach by clicking on the Website icon next to his picture at the head of every post. There you may find precursors to later TOI blog posts, addition or corrections of published TOI blog posts, blog posts the TOI will not carry, and some thoughts that are too short to be a TOI blog post. Also, the TOI only allows for one blog post per blogger per 24 hours. Sometimes, he has more to say than that. * To send any personal reaction to him, scroll to the top of the blog post and click Contact Me.
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