Written by Ami Farkas:
The gathering of Jewish exiles from around the world into modern day Israel has built the most diverse Jewish community in history. Here in Israel we often joke about each other’s cultural habits peculiarities. I’ve heard Yemenite Jews poke fun at German Jews for being relentlessly punctual and meticulous. Hungarian Jews are known for baking, Moroccan Jews for their spicy dishes. American Jews are teased for their accents, which Israelis just love to mimic.
In a culture that’s this diverse, what holds us together? There is, of course, our Jewishness. But upon my return to Israel from the U.S. this summer I began to think about defining national features that characterizes all Israelis – characteristics that, no matter where you came from when you moved to the Holy Land, you can be sure you, and your children, will exhibit one day.
For one thing, Israelis are decidedly and consistently informal. They’re also notoriously blunt, at times to a fault, so you know where they stand on everything. Being raised in the U.S., I had to get used to these cultural nuances, but as time went on I began adopting them as my own – almost unconsciously, in some cases. At first, it seemed difficult to get my very American way of life up to speed with Israeli culture, but I’ve made some progress. For example, I don’t own a suit jacket or tie anymore, and I no longer cringe at weddings when I see someone in jeans and sneakers – even if it’s the bride and groom.
I’ve also learned not to get offended when older ladies tell me how to raise my kids, or when a store clerk tells me what to buy and what not to buy. I now know that “Meet me at 8:00” really means any time after 8:15, and that neighbors stop over anytime for sugar, milk, or to drop their children off for the day – no invitation necessary.
This lack of formality can sometimes be hard to get used to for an American boy like me. But I’ve come to view this familiarity and lack of pretense around strangers as a positive thing. But I must admit that it feels wonderful knowing that my neighbors view my kids as their own, and would do anything for me and my family in a time of need. Everyone here in Israel feels like extended family, and it instills in the children a feeling of safety and confidence.
Here in Israel we like to refer to ourselves as sabras, after the thorny fruit that grows on a desert cactus. A sabra is prickly on the outside yet sweet on the inside, much like our Israeli-Jewish culture. So if you happen to be in the Holy Land for a visit, let loose, enjoy the informal ambiance of this ancient land, and certainly never let the thorny side of Israel rub you the wrong way.