Toby L.W. Klein


“Yeah, it was great getting to meet you guys! I’ll be visiting the States soon. . .after army.”

“I think I want to major in communications, I’ll probably end up at Tel Aviv University. . .after army.”

“My life isn’t centered around dating right now. I just want to finish up high school, and I can worry about girls later. . .after army.”

Survive high school. Put your life on hold for 2-3 years. Then return as a grown up and carry out your adult-like dreams. Perfect recipe for life, right?

As a teenager from the States, this originally sounded like anything but perfect. In fact, it sounded like something out of a horror novel. Put my life on hold for longer than Orange is the New Black has been airing? No thank you.

American culture has taught me to live my life in the future. I’ve been seemingly ingrained with the ideology that if I don’t make my plans to marry a nice Jewish boy and go to an Ivy League school yesterday, then I’m somehow behind the curve. While American culture does teach the importance of time and reminds us how little there may be, it’s also taught us to postpone happiness. Israeli culture seems to do the opposite.

While my American life is lived in the future, Israelis have a remarkable gift of living life in the present. It’s more of a gift than I think some of them will ever realize. Admittedly, it’s somewhat morbid that Israeli children grow up knowing that they’ll be serving in the military. . .that they might never come back from serving in the military. But, it’s given birth to a beautiful social construction that’s lead to an explosion of not only exuberant nightlife, but also technology and innovation. Most Israelis seem content in living for the moment. That’s not to say they ignore the future, but rather that they choose to let their present actions dictate their future, not vice versa.

I can’t imagine putting the life I’ve had road mapped since I was 6 on hold. As an American who has only lived in Israel for weeks at a time, I can’t even begin to claim I know the reality of war or the intrinsic sense of responsibility to defend my country. Yet as I’ve learned and come to realize vicariously through my amazing friends, it’s that army service doesn’t mean putting your life on hold. Upon asking a friend if he and his girlfriend would wait until he got back to pursue their relationship, he actually started laughing.

“Are you serious,” he snorted, “I’ll be home just about every weekend, which means I’m going to see her more when I’m in the army than I have during high school.”

I laugh as I write this now, thinking about his confused look as I asked him what boiled down to a simple question: why aren’t you going to postpone your happiness?

His answer seemed as obvious to him as my question seemed to me. The stark contrasts between the cultures we’d been born into had never been more painfully apparent.

So perhaps it’s time I took a note from an Israeli culture book I’m sure is bound to have a thousand dissenting opinions. Let me live for today and not for tomorrow. I only have one “right here, right now”. And if I’ve learned but one thing from it all, it’s that this is the present. . .perhaps I should start treating it as such.

About the Author
Toby Klein is a current senior residing in the suburbs of Chicago. She's a senior fellow in Write On For Israel (Chicago) Cohort 10.