‘That’s Just Israel!’

If I had a shekel for every time I heard that phrase, I’d be a platinum customer at the bank.

Whenever my husband or I – who both love Israel with all our hearts and feel blessed beyond words to be here – decry an inferior customer service experience or quality control issue to a friend or acquaintance who’s a veteran Israeli, the response is most often a knowing shrug followed by “That’s just Israel.”

Folks here are quite an accepting bunch. They are able to look away at innumerable instances of negligence, shoddy workmanship, nastiness, and other unfortunate faces of life here. Technician never showed up? Store wouldn’t take back item that failed to perform – even immediately after purchase? Low quality work by contractor who then denies responsibility? Other parents not keeping their kids’ hair lice-free? Insurance company never answers the phone? Restaurant refuses to do simple swap of element of a menu item? People come late to doctor’s appointment and try to beat the line? If you’ve been here longer than a week, this must sound familiar.

After the inevitable reply, our knowing Israeli confidant(e) will add, “You should see how it was when I first came here. It’s much better than it was 20 or 30 years ago!” That’s undoubtedly true. How much more so do we respect the sacrifice of olim who came here before Kirkland paper towel and American tuna fish were available, and before even the concept of customer service existed. We remind ourselves that we are the lucky ones.

And indeed, they point out, this is the Middle East. A similarly lax attitude toward responsibility probably prevails in other countries in this world-of-its-own corner of the world – the place where time began and perhaps moves a bit more slowly. Although so many cutting-edge technologies are birthed in Israel, certain social and commercial norms remain stuck in the past.

I’d like to say I’m not complaining, although sometimes – such as, while I write this, and a plumber is at my home trying to fix a problem causing water damage, proof number umpteen of the builder’s incompetence – annoyance sets in. But even as we manage to keep our eyes on the prize (that is, living here in the Holy Land, in the Holy City no less), it is a source of continuing wonder how forgiving most people seem to be of embedded fecklessness.

I guess about that, too, you could say, “That’s just Israel!”

About the Author
Ziona Greenwald, J.D., a contributing editor for The Jewish Press, is a writer and editor and the author of two children's books, Kalman's Big Questions and Tzippi Inside/Out. She lives with her family in Jerusalem.
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