Saturday, July 18, 2015

More Dos and Don'ts for Gap Year in Israel Part 2: What to do if you meet Israelis

So, now that we have thoroughly addressed how to be an excellent Shabbat guest, it is definitely time to move on to the next lesson. I can only assume that if someone is here for his or her gap year that they are interested in Torah learning and Israel. I realize that that may be a huge assumption on my part but I am going to stick with that for now. Gap year kids, you owe it to yourself (not to mention your parents who are footing the bill), to make the most of the year. And to do so involves dabbling in some Israeli culture -- preferably with Israelis.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. "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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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. 

Sunday, July 5, 2015

To know me is to tolerate me

Talk about a brouhaha. There is no better word to describe the events of last week.

The primary topic of discussion for me this past Shabbat and motzei Shabbat revolved around the comments that resulted from last week's blog posts which addressed some things that gap-year kids should know about visiting other people's homes before their yeshivot and seminaries cut them loose on a bi-weekly basis. Honestly, those two posts triggered more conversation than anything I have ever written. Normally I would say that was a great honour but judging by some of the hate mail that made its way to me I am going to hold off on the self-applause.

Instead, I am going to publicly address the issues so that no one can accuse me of be unwilling to open a dialogue.

  1. Unlike a typical blog post, many of the people who read my posts last week have never met me and don't know a thing about me. Don't worry, I am not going to copy my bio into this space, but suffice it to say that when the readers who know me personally read the post, they understood immediately that there was a current of light-hearted humour running through it. As people often say to me: "I read your blog and I can hear your voice in my head as I read it." Bottom line: they know me and they know how generally non-threatening I truly am.
  2. That said, I meant every word of what I wrote; I just did not intend to come off sounding nearly as angry and resentful of gap-year kids as I apparently did. I have no reason to be angry or resentful because other than sometimes hogging my favourite seat in shul, I have very little to do with any of them. As I said previously, this is not my world. I don't shelter or feed them en masse, and I do not do pick ups or drop offs at the bus station (that's why I have children who drive), and I surely don't do their laundry. I even eat those crazy stale bus station cakes JUST TO BE NICE.
  3. I have had some amazing gap-year guests and yes, my favourite was a group of three seminary girls -- two Americans and one Canadians. In fact, I wish they would come back again because they made my Purim fun and easy.
  4. My worst guest ever was a British adult. Enough said.
  5. The overwhelming majority of my Anglo Israeli readers agreed totally with everything I wrote. Sadly one or two told me they could not "like" the post on Facebook for fear of repercussions during their summer vacations in the US.
  6. One of my readers wrote to me privately as I was preparing the second post to tell me that, at that exact moment, she was in the middle of electronic communication with a parent of some foreign summer campers who never planned for the mid-way Shabbat break and wanted my friend to host her kids and four of their friends .... with two days notice and a son on his way to the army.
  7. I could write a book based on the horror stories relayed to me last week.
  8. Ra'anana was, is and will continue to be the home of the most chesed-minded group of people I have ever met. There is no task too big, too small, too soon or too crazy that they will not tackle with complete zeal. I am honoured to find myself living among such people and I am sure I am a better person because I want to be more like them. The thought that they would not host gap-year kids is beyond laughable, no matter how tired they are or how much they deserve more thanks than anyone could possibly give them.
  9. Without the Americans amongst us, a lot less would get done here. Oh don't start writing me hate mail other Anglos because that's the truth. It must be something in their DNA but collectively they are doers on a level I have never previously experienced. As a Canadian, Americans can definitely ruffle my feathers (growing up next door to them was often overwhelming and tiring), but man oh man, when they set their minds to something, it happens. That does not mean that the rest of the Anglos don't get things done -- they do -- but there is just something about the American "can-do" mindset.
  10. As for the "witch" comment I received last week, all things being equal, I would still love to be a witch -- as a few people suggested, besides my own preference for Samantha, Glinda would be a great alternative, as would Lily Potter or Hermoine Granger. I am all for witches. 
  11. For the few people here who told me that I sounded angry and intolerant (and they are the only critics I am willing to listen to because they know me), I hope this clarifies enough matters and puts this issue to bed.
  12. I was surprised by the amount of vitrol that came out of some foreign readers' fingertips. If that is the way you address matters uncomfortable to you, then I am not surprised that some of your kids are ill mannered. Obviously introspection isn't your strong suit.
  13. I am still going to write Part 2 of the Gap Year Tips...........