The real Israel (they didn’t teach us this at day school)
July 31, 2012 | Jewish Tribune
Davida Ander Special to the Tribune
JERUSALEM – I was brought up learning about Israel in Hebrew day school, yet a familiarity with the language and history did not spare me the culture shock upon arrival in Bat Yam, Israel, for a two-month immersive internship program. I quickly realized that being able to recognize Herzl did not constitute being able to recognize a taxi driver’s jacked-up ride price.
Israel is a fascinating social paradox. Outright rudeness and insensitivity are typical, as well as the stark opposite of extreme hospitality. A bus driver may slam his door shut when you are trying to ask for directions. A laundry-man may refuse to give out an extra bag, leading to an embarrassing scramble for underwear that has tumbled out of a ripped open bag on the bus.
Yet spark a conversation with an Israeli and within minutes they will be asking you to spend Shabbat with them. Spend the weekend at a family friend’s and they will insist you sleep in their bed, get a set of keys to their apartment and take leftovers of home-cooked meals.
There are many things we take for granted in Toronto.
For one, bless central air condition that does not leak, does not squeak and does not freeze you to death. Bless spontaneous showers that do not need advanced warming of the dood, the water heater. Bless non-jelly fish lakes.
But then there’s the opposite.
In Canada, our rigid coldness and obsessive agenda- checking habits lead to many missed conversations and much anal-retentive behaviour. In the Western world, we view others first as strangers, then as friends and finally as family, compared to here where each new face is automatically family.
A month in Israel has led me to see the absurd as the ordinary. Like when a teenager orders a schnitzel with a gun over his shoulder. Or when a young woman works out in 36ºC heat at an outdoor gym facility. Or when it costs a shekel to use a public toilet. Or when a security guard checks for explosives in your backpack.
In Israel, it is normal to clarify “actually, I’m Canadian, not American” and “No, I say ‘about’ not ‘aboot’”. “Yes, I speak Hebrew – at least I thought I did before I got here – but can you please slow down and speak with a Canadian CHAT teacher accent? Please and thank you.”
All jokes aside, it’s nice spending a summer in Israel. Instead of the Lake Ontario sandpit, there are the beautiful Mediterranean beaches to enjoy. And for two months, Mac and Cheese will be replaced by shwarma and falafel.