Israeli Observations

So I’ve been here for about a month and a half now (and what an amazing few weeks it’s been!). Things are starting to become a bit more routine and I have a set schedule now which is nice. I know where I’m going to be on certain days and what I’ll be doing. But no day is ever the same, which is the kind of variety that I like 🙂

Over the past few weeks I’ve compiled a list of things that make Israel unique from the U.S. These are all random little tidbits that I’ve noticed throughout my time here and given that I did absolutely nothing exciting this weekend (unless you consider making friends with the vomit bucket exciting) I thought I’d share a few:

THE PARKING SITUATION

Israelis park wherever they please. Seriously. Wherever. Oh, I’m sorry, is there a bench in the way? A tree? Another car? Nothing a little oomph to the gas pedal can’t fix. I have seen my fair share of people parked sideways, on the sidewalk, or even diagonally in the spot. I also once witnessed another car with its back wheels on the bumper of the car behind it. Yes, that was how it was parked. Here are some good Israeli parking examples:

Perfect spot, sir.

It’s okay, this car is only slightly obstructing the sidewalk. I’ve seen worse.

THE CAT SITUATION

Tel Aviv is cat city. I have never seen so many feral cats in my life. It takes me about 15 minutes to walk to the Tachana Merchazit (Central Bus Station) and if I don’t see at least 7 cats in that time period something is terribly off.

There are a number of rumors as to why the cat population flourishes so in Tel Aviv. I’ve heard tell that the British brought the cats in decades ago in order to deal with the rat problem. Although why they did not spay and neuter these cats first, I’m not sure. Either way, these kitties are everywhere.

Cats galore.

GUNS, GUNS, GUNS

I know that I’ve mentioned it before, but there are guns everywhere here. It’s something you see so often that it doesn’t even cross my mind anymore. All soldiers, on and off duty, are required to keep track of their own army gun 24/7. When they leave the base, the guns leave with them. If they have to leave the gun in their house it needs to be in 2 secure lock boxes, otherwise that gun’s coming out with them to the store, the movies, etc…Everywhere you go you see soldiers carrying guns, it’s just a part of everyday life. At first it’s unnerving (um, that girl trying on shirts next to me is carrying an M16?), but now it’s comforting.

At some point in training the soldiers in elite units get permission to wear plain clothes and carry guns. This is even more bizarre to witness, but still common. It happens. My friend was talking about taking a few of his buddies and all going to the bank in plain clothes with their guns. They thought it would make for a funny picture to send back home to America…just some guys chilling at the bank with their guns, a very relaxed robbery. I like the creativity.

LOUD, UNCENSORED, AND DIRECT

Israelis are all of the above. Americans often get a bad rap for being loud and we absolutely are, but Israelis take the freakin cake. Israelis will yell forcefully at each other, scream loudly from across a room, and make threatening gestures in order to get their point across. This not only goes for actual arguments, but also for plain old conversations. For example, “Hello, how are you this morning?” followed by a few other pleasantries may indeed sound like your neighbors are about to go to war with each other. This is further exacerbated by a common gesture in Israel. Jodi will demonstrate:

This is commonly referred to as the “Rega!” hand. Now, in the US if someone was to make this gesture and shake it furiously in your face you might guess that he/she is not exactly pleased. However, in Israel, this gesture thrown about violently merely means “wait a moment.” Took me a few weeks to figure that one out.

Now I’m not saying that Israelis are mean or crazy, they just happen to be very blunt and open with their feelings. Some lady stopped me on the street the other day to let me know that the outfit I was wearing wasn’t very pretty. Well thanks lady, now I know! On another occasion at Irony Hey I was sitting in the teacher’s lounge when all of the sudden one of the teachers started screaming bloody murder. My friend Maya and I sat their, mouthes agape, for about 5 minutes as this lady let all of her feelings explode. Of course, it was all in Hebrew so we had no idea what was going on. Later, when we asked another teacher what had happened, she said that the lady did not want to go outside for yard duty (essentially just watching the kids at recess) because it was raining. All that for a little rain?? That’s how you know you’re in Israel.

OTHER GENERAL TIDBITS

Here are a few more things that I won’t go into too much detail on, I just think they’re funny.

1) The school bells in all elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools are high pitched nursery rhymes (they also go on for about a minute). We have an elementary school across from our apartment and the first time I heard the “bell music” I thought it was an ice cream truck. I sprinted outside onto the deck as fast as I could only to be disappointed (re’eva re’eva hippo).

2) The dogs here cross the streets like people. At first I had a panic attack every time I saw an unleashed dog trying to get across the road. However, I soon realized that Israeli dogs are the smartest canines around. They seriously look both ways before crossing to the other side. What brilliance.

3) Cars here backfire every 3 seconds. Took me a few days to realize that this wasn’t gunfire. What a relief.

4) Every woman over the age of 40 tries to set you up with an Israeli. The saftahs (grandmothers) are particularly bad about this–especially the woman I work for at Shapira, Didy. Didy is a 90-year-old spitfire with fire-engine-red hair and a propensity for being a little wacky. The other day she asked me if I had a boyfriend and then whispered something to the Israeli volunteer sitting next to me. I later learned that she had told him to find some Israeli boys for me to date. Thanks Didy, I always knew you had my back.

I’m sure there are things that I’ve overlooked so there will definitely be a part two in the future 🙂

As far as this week goes I’ve been volunteering, throwing up incessantly, and going to study days (a mix of Ulpan and classes on Israeli society). We learn something new every week, which is great. This week we had a class on the Masorti Jews, a less strict sect of the Orthodoxy. Afterwards we took a tour of the Bauhaus architecture in Central Tel Aviv, which was not my thing, but it was interesting to learn about.

Last night was a Masa event night! Masa (which means “journey” in Hebrew) is the organization that sponsors post-college programs like Tikkun Olam. They provide the grants/scholarships for students to come over and live in Israel aka they are the world’s best organization. We had a choice between 3 different events: a movie, a book discussion with an Israeli author, and a dance. Given my love for all things “So You Think You Can Dance,” I just had to go with the dance option.

We were all very excited for the performance to come.

The dance was incredible. We saw the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company, which is an amazing dance troupe located out of Kibbutz Gaaton in the Western Galilee. The show was beyond my expectations and I was really disappointed when it was over–the dancers were amazing!

Okay, so as a finale to this post I want to share a really happy moment from earlier this week 🙂 Sunday I was still very sick so going to Shapira and teaching English was pretty much the last thing I wanted to do. I debated skipping it for a while, but I really like the girls that I teach on Sundays so I decided to go. After dragging my sorry butt to the Community Center I walked in and saw this on the board:

Happiest moment ever.

I don’t think those girls realize how much I appreciated that. After a crappy weekend this little moment made my day so much better. And look at that perfect English! Maybe all these lessons are paying off?

Okay, well I’m off to wander around in Tel Aviv for the night 🙂 Happy Thursday!

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2 thoughts on “Israeli Observations

  1. Alana – you are too adorable! Hope you are feeling better and glad that the Israeli experience is expanding your understanding of the world.
    meanwhile, back at UConn – the men just clinched the NCAA basketball championship – so we’re doing pretty well too!
    -Meg

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