Israelis love to argue. They prove the saying ‘You have four Jews in a room and five opinions’. They shout at one another but no one’s really angry. It’s just their way of saying that they care.
The grandparents of Israelis came from all corners of the world and so the country is essentially a melting pot of European, American and Middle Eastern cultures, all mixed up with a dash of Zionism and a healthy paranoia that everyone always has been and always will be, out to get them.
But Israelis love to assimilate and the one million Russians who arrived in the 90’s are already throughly Israeli – which doesn’t mean that the national jokes about them all being criminals or whores have completely died out. The Sephardic Jews are still sometimes seen as being one step away from being Arabic and everyone knows that when the Polish Israelis are in a good mood they sit in the dark until it passes. The Iranian Jews never want to spend a shekel, the Moroccans all carry knives and the Americans aren’t real Israelis but Jews living off their rich relatives in New York.
Such, at least is the picture drawn for you by Israelis all the time, only half in jest.
Israelis speak Hebrew which is a quirky, throaty language that takes ages to learn. Once you get a grasp of basic communication you’ll find out that they mostly only talk about money and food anyway. Although they can appear the rudest people in the world, at heart they’re immensely kind and hospitable. Israel is a tribal society so if you’re on the outside they seem quite hostile. But once you’re their friend they’ll invite you to come and stay or go on trips around the country.
Israelis are raised to feel they are kings and queens and consequently shyness is a rare quality. People will talk to you in the street if they feel like it without the slightest hesitation and will tell you what to do without a second thought. There’s a joke that explains this:
why does no one make love in the street in Tel Aviv? because if they did someone would come along and say
‘No, no, no! Squeeze her ass before you kiss her! Where did you learn to do this? Alright, move aside and let me show you..
Religion in Israel is a strange trip. The orthodox Jews dress in black and frown at everyone. The rest of the Israelis may be religious in a general kind of way or just not give a shit. Judaism seems to be much more about tradition than religion. Most people gather for the festivals and Friday meals, probably won’t eat pork and would think twice before marrying a Goy. That’s about as far as it goes.
Although it has to be said there’s a strong movement of Israelis returning from abroad with a head full of psychedelic visions and running straight into the arms of religion to give them some answers. New Age Judaism is flourishing and you never quite know if an Israeli friend who’s dropping acid one minute might be sporting curly pig tails, a beard and black tights the next.
Israelis are a family-orientated people. Blood ties run very thick here and is part of their collective strength. The extended family becomes a network of support and connections meaning that everything in Israel comes down to who you know. This phenomenon they call the combina.
Israelis from kibbutzim or small towns are often much more gentle and idealistic than the shrewd city crowds. They often move to Tel Aviv in their 20’s though in search of some action before finding their lifetime partner and moving back up north.
The melting of cultures was of course accompanied by a mixing of the gene pool and the resulting inter-marriages have left the present generation of Israelis with just about every physical complexion and aspect imaginable. It’s also made them a stunningly good-looking race with Spanish eyes mixing with Polish cheekbones and Arabic tanned skin.
Add to the equation the Russian influx, the recent immigration of Ethiopian Jews and the Thais and |Filipinos who were imported to do all the jobs that Israelis thought beneath them and the racial spectrum is complete.
Every Friday night each family in the land congregates around the dinner table to pick apart and criticize the lives of each member of the family in excruciating detail. Each of them tries to talk louder than the other over 3 or 4 courses and you’re reminded of bunch of arguing generals in the strategy tent before a great battle.
Israel is a country that resembles a pressure cooker. The parents are forever pushing their kids to succeed, the religious are forever tying to get them to live up to their obligations as a Jew, the army makes the men serve for three years and the women for two and then demands a month of the men’s lives until they’re forty. Israelis have to practically threaten their boss to get paid on occasion and, just in case the tension isn’t quite high enough, bombs go off every few weeks in the market or the buses.
When something like that happens in the country you can feel it like a shock wave. The tension is so taut that it’s as though you could wet your finger and feel the electric in the air. Remember that as a traveler you can make all the judgments you want about the situation but at the end of the day you can leave. When you’re born in Israel you have no choice but to chew what previous generations bit off.