Trust me, it isn't a fluke that "chutzpah" is a Jewish word. It sums up Israelis better than any other word I can think of. That said, your year will have been wasted if you don't get to know some Israelis. (If you are only interested in learning then perhaps you could try Uman, Ukraine. I hear they have a pretty rowdy Torah time there.)
Fortunately for you, Israelis are all over the place in Israel -- yes slightly more than eight million Israelis concentrated in about 7700 square miles. They drive the buses, police the streets, and work at the phone stores. However, Israelis don't have the best reputation abroad. I didn't make that up; you can Google it if you want. This probably explains why so many Jewish gap-year kids do their very best to avoid them at all costs, despite the fact that they have chosen to spend a year in Israel.
Do yourself a favour and don't come with that attitude. Remember that these Israelis are already fulfilling one big mitzvah that you are not -- they live here on the front line. It is of greater magnitude than the 613 commandments -- see, I just gave you your first discussion topic for yeshiva as a bonus!
As you can imagine, it is tricky to have absolutely nothing to do with them, although I have seen some gap-year kids make a very valiant effort to do so.
I am not interested in why gap year kids are so Israeli adverse. That's not my area of expertise. Instead, I have some tips on how to make the most out of your year in Israel. Spoiler alert: It does involve Israelis.
Here are some things you need to know:
- Shouting is the official inside voice for Israelis. It often has nothing to do with being angry at you. It is simply the decibel at which they speak. Maybe all those missiles collectively deafened them. So don't be offended when they shout at you -- in their minds they are just taking. Even if they are service providers, expect them to yell and then you won't be surprised when they do.
- "No" doesn't mean "no" (this does not include physical aggression); it is simply the starting point for any negotiation. If you accept the first "no" as a "no" then you can expect to get absolutely nothing done all year.
- Waiting in line is a relatively new concept here so it doesn't always work. Be prepared to muscle you way though any crowd you encounter. You will know if you have gone too far because .... yes .... someone will shout at you to get back in your place. Remember, they are not really yelling at you; they just want you to know that there is order in the apparent chaos.
- There is very little need to dress up so don't bring your fanciest duds. Israelis are very informal. I have been to more than one wedding where the groom was in an untucked button-down white shirt and chinos for the ceremony. And since it is so hot here from May through October, socks and pantihose in shul are not necessary. Ties are virtually unheard of outside of offices in Tel Aviv that deal with international clients.
- People do whatever they want until someone stops them. Israelis are collective believers in the old adage that it is easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission.
- Being called the Hebrew version of "sweetie" is not considered condescending, nor it is a problem when women are called "banot". Politically correct language has not come to Israel.
- Most Israelis are thrilled to practice their English so if they either hear you speak English or hear your obvious Anglo accent, they will happily switch to English if they are able. If you want to practice your Hebrew -- and you should -- just ignore their English and continue speaking Hebrew while the Hebrew speaker speaks English.
- Brush up on your Israeli and world politics. Every Israeli has a political opinion to share and you will miss some really colourful conversations if you cannot participate. In Israel, many eight-year-olds can discuss politics. Oh, and expect more shouting if they don't agree with your position on any issue. But that will not stop them from hugging you before they leave and inviting you for Shabbat.
- Do not miss the chance to get to know as many Israelis as you can. There is nowhere else on Earth where you will meet a more diverse group of Jews. Don't avoid them; but rather, seek them out. You are not above them just because they haven't seen a Broadway or West End production.
- Get to know the soldiers you encounter. They are approximately your age and while you are here having fun for a year on your parents' dime, they are busy protecting you and every Jew worldwide from the countless enemies we have. Do not minimize what they are doing and never stop being thankful that they are doing it -- because, let's not kid ourselves, you surely wouldn't do it and your parents wouldn't let you. You have the luxury of their protection. They are putting their lives on the line so that you can continue to believe that it's easy to be a Jew.
So there you have it. Ignore me at your own peril. But if you are open to the comments above, then I believe you will have one (or two) of the greatest years of your life. Maybe longer. You may even rue the day you have to leave what is without a doubt the most incredible country on Earth.