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Danita Aziza and her husband Michel


By Danita Aziza, former Winnipegger currently living in Evan Yehuda, Israel, May 27, 2010

"LESSON #6 Your Business is Everybody's Business and That's OK."

On one of our drives from Tel Aviv not too long ago, Michel [my husband] and I pondered how it is that two grown adults with university degrees who are regarded as fairly responsible parents seem to be on the receiving end of unsolicited guidance and advice from just about everyone in Israel.
When we first arrived in Israel, it seemed like our relatives, and everyone we met or knew  had something to say about where we lived, our children’s school, what kind of car we were going to buy, the place we planned to celebrate the chaggim  [holidays] and where we bought our groceries. We attributed such words of caution and advice to us being newcomers in a foreign land and our obvious lack of experience in dealing with many things unique to Israeli society and culture.  For sure neither of us were quite used to being questioned on a daily basis on various aspects of our life from people who not only close family and friends, but also relatively new acquaintances, including neighbours, bank clerks, supermarket cashiers and the guy who  I desperately needed to call to get rid of the cockroaches in the house.

Perhaps inquisitiveness and the need to offer advice if you haven’t been asked, is something unique to Jewish culture.  After all, if one dare generalize, as a people we can be fairly curious in nature and rather headstrong on issues about which  we feel passionate.  There is another element, however, that is added to the equation and that is our large capacity to care about others and our genuine concern for what we consider to be in one’s best interest. 
A much admired friend who made aliyah thirty years ago told me about her son and Israeli born daughter-in-law, both doctors who lived in Manhattan for five years.  They knew none of the neighbours in their apartment building and were never invited to anyone’s home for the holidays even though they were working at a hospital with a very large percentage of Jewish staff.  Last Fall they decided to return to Israel with their two young children.  My friend told me that her daughter-in-law found it overwhelming for the first few months that complete strangers would pass her stroller and tell her to pull the blanket up on her baby and put his hat on.  After living a basically anonymous life in New York City where no one cared who you were or what you did, it took some time to appreciate and not resent the Israeli way of believing that everything is, and should be your business especially when it comes to a baby’s body temperature.

The grocery store is one arena where unsolicited advice is offered as the rule rather than the exception.  With some extra time on his hands, Michel has taken to doing much of the grocery shopping.  Since childhood, Michel has had an aversion to purchasing toilet paper for whatever reason and one particular day there was no getting around the fact that we needed toilet paper and he would have to grin and bear it and put it in his cart for all to see.  In an effort to be as low key as possible in his purchase, he chose the smallest package of toilet paper on the shelf.  At the checkout the cashier looked at the toilet paper and in a loud voice with Hebrew flying a mile a minute told Michel that he needed to get the big package of toilet paper because it was a two for one special.  Michel politely declined the offer which sent the cashier straight to the manager to get him to explain to Michel his enormous misdemeanour.  Michel, by now more than a little embarrassed and with about five people in line behind him with grocery carts overflowing, told the manager that he didn’t want nor need two bags of 40 one ply rolls of toilet paper.  With head in downward position in order not to be recognized, Michel  wheeled his grocery cart at alarming speed to the car unloading the two for one special vowing never to return to the store again.

I had a similar incident happen a few weeks ago when I was purchasing a bottle of orange juice.  The cashier told me that the price was four shekel lower than normal and that I was a fool not to get at least two bottles.  I thanked her for her concern but only wanted one bottle to which she muttered something under her breath and made me feel like I had just been scolded by my mother.  I couldn’t help but think that in Canada no one in Safeway, no matter how congenial the cashier, ever tried to persuade me to buy something that was on special.  What would they care if I took advantage of the special or not.  This is simply not the case here and in case you were wondering, I ended up with an additional two bottles of orange juice just to avoid disappointment (the cashier’s disappointment that is!)

In the Land of Israel everyone seems to have an opinion on everything and a desire to share that opinion with you no matter how close or distant the relationship.  This interest in your business can be a bit off putting at first, but as time goes by, you learn to filter the information and simply turn a deaf ear with a smile and polite todah.  Actually as my time here has progressed, I’ve  learned to appreciate and value all of the opinions that are directed my way and treat this as something exceptionally unique and beautiful about the country.  I especially enjoy being referred to as “motek” or “hamooda” (terms of endearment meaning “sweetie”) by people I’ve never met before and who don’t even know my name.  I’ve learned from much of the advice, benefitted from it in many ways and have gotten some great deals as well.

Even though I am living in a totally new environment where I know few people, I actually maintain a very special and unique connection between myself and the majority of the population of the country.  A complete stranger offers me advice not just because they are nosey and intrusive, but because they view me as a member of their family of sorts and as such take the liberty to treat me in kind. I’ve learned that it’s totally ok to have people in your business.  Perhaps even a blessing.

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