Israel is a new society, not just as a nation (established in 1948) but as a society itself. The people themselves are new; it’s like a pop-up society.
Israelis have gathered here over time from all over the world, each carrying their own cultural backgrounds, traditions, views, ideologies, and visions for what Israel should look like. For Israelis, the future is still a blank canvas, but it’s only ONE canvas, and they can’t exactly agree on what to paint there.
(Above) POP-UP MUSEUM TLV– April, 2019 – Artists nationwide were invited to express themselves in an abandoned building before demolition.
Unlike societies with longer shared histories, here there are no “scars of tradition”, no clear boundaries. There is a common term here called ‘combina’ (קומבינה) – basically, it’s when you rearrange the rules or pull some strings to get your way.
Israelis are great at that:
* Bending the rules
* Pulling strings
* Making exceptions
* Finding creative loopholes
* Completely disregarding the laws or traditions they don’t quite agree with (e.g. the average Israeli driver, or a party leader in 2021 with only 7 seats who managed to coerce his way into the role of Prime Minister, or the whole Israel-Palestine conflict.)
Society is making up the rules as they go.
Within this new society, various groups are divided along ideological or social lines such as Left vs. Right, Jews vs. Arabs, Religious vs. Secular, higher class vs. lower class, and each of these groups are also torn amongst themselves. And of course, they are all “surrounded by enemies.” There’s never any real quiet around here, no ‘peace of mind.’ There is always some kind of struggle, some kind of political or societal conflict, whether internal or external.
As researchers Moshe Lissak and Dan Horowitz pointed out in their book “Trouble in Utopia: The Overburdened Polity of Israel”, this creates an intense social laboratory that keeps everyone’s eyes on us as we figure out wtf we’re doing or where this relationship is going.
Right now, for example, we have decided to try out a coalition that is full of hardcore right-winged religious extremists who think they can do or say whatever they want. We’re curious to see what kind of artistic masterpiece will come out of that, and so is the rest of the world.
This also explains why customer service here is a complete mess, which, for someone who grew up in the USA, is still a culture shock. There are no expectations regarding service, no traditions or guidelines yet, unlike in the U.S. where service workers are supposed to be polite, and “the customer is always right.”
Here, you can waste an hour of your life waiting for a customer representative to answer your call, then argue with them for another hour over something they did wrong, and when you finally remember to ask them for their name (because they never bothered introducing themselves in the first place), they can just choose to hang up on you instead. (Based on a true story.)
But hey, on the flip side, sometimes you can run into someone who happens to know someone you know, or you just hit it off right away, and suddenly they treat you like you’re part of their family. They’ll go out of their way to give you the best deal, to “hook you up,” or help you in any way they can. That’s Israel for you. Anything can happen and will.
Israel’s unstoppable spirit may also be the driving force behind its numerous successes, from thriving start-ups to groundbreaking inventions and scientific advancements. You can’t tell an Israeli that something “can’t be done.” Unless it is written somewhere that it can’t be done (and often times, even if it is written somewhere), they will still find a way to get it done. Just ask the Supreme Court judges.
If one idea doesn’t work, they can always tear it down and start over – a blank canvas. Israelis will find the right ‘combina’ if they want to.
When there are no limits or boundaries, you can do anything; you can dream big. You’re not restricted to “traditional” mindsets or the struggles of breaking past these old traditions into modernity. You are modernity.
But with great power comes great responsibility. Everything you say, everything you do, every conscious or unconscious choice you make around here has the potential to shape society itself.