To say a lot has happened in the last five weeks would be an understatement. I spent four days in the desert meeting 70 Israelis; I spent Shabbat at an American friend’s house; I moved into my apartment at the mechinah for our five day opening seminar; I went to my cousin’s house for Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year) and then quarantined there for two weeks because of a corona outbreak at my program (fortunately I didn’t get sick and those who did had a mild case); and then I spent a few days with a friend from my program whose family made aliyah (immigrated to Israel) from South Africa 9 years ago. Too much has happened to write about everything, and frankly, I don’t want to dwell on my second quarantine… so instead here are nine things I’ve learned/experienced.
- Israelis speak super fast and mumble; I swear half the time they aren’t saying words, merely stringing random syllables together.
- It is acceptable to eat salad – cucumbers and tomatoes and if you’re lucky peppers or some lettuce – with tachina (tahini) at every meal.
- You have to lean into the awkwardness because five minutes of discomfort can lead to an hour long, wonderful conversation.
- Though Israelis are more blunt and brisk than Americans in impersonal situations they are infinitely more welcoming and friendly in personal ones. After brief introductions, where my accent gave me away as American, everyone was inviting me to their homes for the weekends we have off. We are still teenagers, so I do sense cliquey inclinations in a few people, but it is staggering how much more open and supportive Israelis can be than Americans.
- You never know what’s going to happen until it’s about to happen. As I have said before, conveying information is not Israelis’ strong suit, but this shortcoming is exacerbated by Corona’s ever changing restrictions and my mediocre Hebrew comprehension. I frequently miss bits of information or just don’t catch on to certain things. It’s been hard transitioning from always being on top of everything to always being clueless.
- People have more children in Israel. As an icebreaker, we all went around and spoke about our families; I was shocked when person after person said they had three, four, five siblings. Some had even more. I am one of two that comes from a family of two kids, and there are no only children. Stereotypically, religious families have a lot of children, but now, even secular Israelis have a lot. In a religiously affiliated country, sometimes religious customs/actions/imperatives simply become part of the culture.
- The lazy Sunday that all Americans cherish does not exist here! Sunday-Thursday is the Israeli work week, Thursday is “going out night,” and Friday is spent cooking/preparing for Shabbat (which starts Friday night and ends Saturday night). Most of the country shuts down starting Friday afternoon for Shabbat. Coming from The City That Never Sleeps, I’m not used to grocery stores and drugstores closing and public transportation not running for a whole day.
- Many Israelis smoke cigarettes, some habitually and some just socially. Every time my friend lights a cigarette, I open my mouth in shock but then quickly close it so I don’t choke.
- And finally the one you have all been waiting for (if you read my first blog post)…an update on my Blundstones. Almost everyone at the mechinah has a pair, so when I wear mine they all exclaim “ישראלי ממש את ,אבי” (Abby, you’re so Israeli). The only thing is that I own black ones, whereas almost everyone here wears tan/brown ones. I guess my shoe choice reflects that as much as I try to fit in and immerse myself into Israeli culture, I will always be American.