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Danita and Michal Aziza

 
LESSON #18: STRETCH TO SEE THE GOOD: GETTING TO KNOW ISRAELIS UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL

by Danita Aziza November 16, 2010

There are certainly days in Israel when I honestly need to pinch myself to believe that I actually live day-to-day life here.  Some days I feel like I’m having an out of body experience where I am hovering and observing someone else’s life.  As great as life can be here, it is physically and emotionally exhausting.  Nothing is all that easy and fortunately we’re  "lucky" new immigrants,  in that we do not have a very young family facing many of the financial burdens that so many Olim experience upon their arrival in Israel

I started yesterday contemplating this topic and ironically today in ulpan, my teacher spoke about the exhausting aspects of the country.  Everything is fast here she explained.  Much has to do with our geographic location and the security situation.  People pack much into a day that begins early and includes all the normal routines like anywhere else, but there is something else at play here that is hard to pinpoint, but for sure goes beyond the norm. 

People in Israel generally operate at a very high level of stress.  The stress or “luchats” in Hebrew, is always in the air and generally at far greater concentration than actual pollution inducing air particulates. While I acknowledge  that  I am  generalizing a bit, Israelis tend to speak fast, walk fast, drive fast and they are always going and doing and seeing no matter what the day of the week or time of the day. The fast pace combined with having to deal with a horrendously frustrating bureaucracy, traffic congestion, high cost of living and that underlying fear for what tomorrow may bring, creates a very interesting cocktail of emotions that lies just at the surface for most of those that call Israel, home.

It is so very easy to judge others without walking in their shoes and one can be very quick to judge Israelis without truly understanding why Israeli culture is the way it is.   While it may be stating the obvious, sometimes it is exactly what is obvious that eludes us.  Life in Israel centers around security and this is the maypole so to speak, around which everything else revolves.  Defense is the cornerstone of life here and basically dictates so many aspects of daily life.  When you have to be consumed with defending your existence militarily, politically and otherwise it becomes exhausting, draining and it can’t help but seep into your blood and become a part of who you are as an individual.

People in Israel are tough, at least at first glance.  They don’t have a lot of time for the normal pleasantries that dictate so much of North American culture.  In general, I find that Israelis have little time and patience for what they deem to be superficiality, which is part and parcel of having to deal with so many difficult realities that are just not present in so many other parts of the world.

What is interesting is that on one level there is a quality of life here that doesn’t exist in other places primarily because of the defense and security issues.  Since you are never quite sure of what tomorrow will bring, you live life to the fullest, taking in all that you can.  I’ve started to somewhat shift my mindset from my normal “don’t upset the routine” focus to being far more spontaneous and far less long term planning oriented.  It isn’t really a conscious shift, but rather something that has evolved slowly over the past few months. I’m also amazed at how much I can pack into a day and sometimes be in three different cities in a span of 12 hours.  I don’t think twice about driving to Jerusalem to see a friend for dinner or deciding at the spur of the moment to drop everything and go to a cultural event in Tel Aviv for the evening.  Having nice weather helps to make being spontaneous much easier, but it also goes beyond that to knowing that life is to be lived and appreciated as much as possible.

That’s the good part, but the not so good part is that when you’re put on the defensive dealing with matters of high importance you tend to become defensive with the small things as well.  You drive defensively, become defensive when someone appears to be going ahead of you in line at the grocery store and you tend to develop that in your face attitude for things that really aren’t necessarily all that significant.  I’ve actually seen this evolution up close within myself and members of my family.

 As a small example, Michel was stopped at a red light recently and got into an argument with a motorcyclist who tried to tell him that he isn’t supposed to stop when the light changes to a yellow which clearly indicates that you need to slow down and stop.  As Michel recanted the incident and how he dealt with the driver, I couldn't help but think that he’s becoming a little more Israeli with each passing day.  Even Tali,  who is generally  very passive and certainly not aggressive except with her siblings, utilized all her assertiveness to ensure that her visa was actually processed, notwithstanding that the clerk said it could not be processed.

The thick skin that is grown of necessity, can be peeled away however to reveal the essence of people here that tells a story quite different than what appears on the surface.  Israelis are go-getters; they are smart and creative and passionate and critical.  They are always thinking and doing and feeling and in spite of what they sometimes present, they are by and large exceeding caring and compassionate and value family above all else .  We have witnessed time and time again since moving here, the gentleness, sincerity and compassion of so many citizens of Israel.

There are countless stories to draw on to illustrate the true nature of Israelis, and one in particular comes to mind.  I received a call a few weeks ago from the Jerusalem Post  promoting their new Hebrew language magazine for new Hebrew Learners.  The young man on the line spent time convincing me that I needed this magazine.  He was very insistent and a bit irritating and he was so persuasive that I ended up ordering the magazine (which I actually  now love.)  After he took all my information and had closed the deal he said to me that he wanted to thank me for moving to Israel and truly appreciated the fact that I was giving up a much easier life in Canada to live here.  I hung up the phone knowing that this is the only country in which such an incident  like thay would take place.

Being judgmental is a part of human nature and it is difficult, if not sometimes down right impossible, not to be critical of others and make assumptions based on what appears at face value.  If you do that in Israel with the people that inhabit this Land, then you may be apt to see merely the scars of years of difficulty and strain rather than the true goodness of so many.  The day here is long and the work is great, but the rewards of fulfillment, purpose and growth far outweigh the horn honking, dogs barking, people shouting atmosphere that sometimes obfuscates all that is good, and if not, great about Israel.

 
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