Spoiler: This is not a column on politics or policy…
How much do you make? What’s your house worth? Who are you voting for?
These are all questions of a personal nature that most Americans wouldn’t dream of asking. In Israel it’s par for the course. Personal space is a commodity here, from the virtual to actual, as anyone who’s stood on line at the post office can tell you. Often I didn’t know what to say, not wanting to share financial or ideological details. But after so many years here, I realize this: ‘Don’t ask don’t tell’ belongs to a different kind of people.
Ours is a culture where strangers on the street don’t hesitate to tell you how to raise your children. ‘Cover that baby’s ears, it’s cold’ – Who hasn’t been critiqued, pushing a stroller down the streets of Jerusalem. ‘I just have one question’, says the person cutting the line to the teller, inevitably planting themselves there for a full half hour of business. Sigh, thinks the new immigrant from the more proper US of A.
But then comes the Shabbat invite. Wait, what? That person who cut in front of me just asked if I have somewhere to be for Friday night dinner. The downstairs neighbor who cut me off at the light when we drove home, just brought chicken soup because he heard I’m not feeling well. It’s starting to feel confusing.
Ours is a blunt people, direct and abrupt. We tell it like it is. We don’t beat around the bush. Try conducting a meeting around a stiff, well-dressed board room in Manhattan. You might not know if they actually liked your presentation at all, ever. In Israel, no worries – you’ll figure it out as soon as you take a breath and the audience jumps in with suggestions for improvement.
It takes getting used to, but I love it. No more wasted time in meetings where nothing is really said. No getting insulted when someone infers I could be raising my children better. This unfettered connection is our secret: We are all in this together, so you’d better get used to it. The best part is you’re never alone. We’ve got your back. That’s right, 7 million or so semi-strangers who’ve banded together to create the first modern Jewish state, and a few more million beyond these physical borders. You’ve got this – and if you falter, we will catch each other.
It’s best the world figures that out now – this nation is stronger than its parts. So when you’re badgered with questions about your salary or political choices, know that it’s all in the family, and all is well.
And p.s. Israelis, don’t forget to exercise your democratic right to vote tomorrow, no matter whom it’s for!