Jun 9, 2011

Only in Israel

Every time I come to Israel, I feel like there are more and more things that stand out to me as "only in Israel" kind of experiences. I think it's staying in an apartment and not a hotel that aids to this experience, but also schlepping around and seeing Israelis and experiencing the life that really makes these things stand out. There are moments when I'm actually saying to myself, "Good lord, this would never happen in New York!" ... Let alone Teaneck, New Jersey.

I mean, we complain about keeping kosher in the U.S., but here it's a ridiculous experience trying to buy a jar of mustard in the store let alone figure out which booths at the shuk are good for spices or loose-leaf tea. It's funny how the te'udot (the document that explains a restaurant or booth's kosher affiliation) have changed since December when Tuvia and I were here last. I still can't manage to tell the difference between  Kosher L'Mehadrin and Rabbanut. Yes, I know, I should just read the documents, but, when you're being shoved around by a hundred other people trying to buy tomatoes, it's kind of hard to stop and smell the roses and analyze a document hanging high above a wall under which is a man yelling for you to buy his delicious, red agvaniot.

Things that happen only in Israel?

  • You take a shower and soak the entire bathroom floor. Why? Well, either the shower doors aren't really shower doors, or the Israeli folks behind the bathroom's construction expect that small tilt in the floor to do the job. Of course, there's always the gigantic squeegee. 
  • Your feet, the floor, and everything else is perpetually dirty, no matter how much time you spend cleaning (with the squeegee, of course). 
  • Leaving your door open for a nice cross-breeze means stray cats think you're inviting them in for a visit.
  • A man will sit on the stairs outside your apartment screaming at the top of his lungs into a cellphone -- wearing a kippah and cursing, that is -- without a care in the world. And no one, not a single person, screams out the window "SHUT UP!" 
  • Another man (or maybe the same one) will walk down your street coughing as though the world's largest hairball has found its way into his mouth, again, of course, without a care in the world. (The word "restraint" must not exist here.)
  • People on the street move for no one -- not the elderly, not babies, nothing. You can say slicha (excuse me) a million times, and they won't budge. Not even IDF soldiers! Call me old fashioned, but ...
  • Strangers will speak to you freely, willingly, saying whatever is on their mind or asking you any kind of information. 
  • People don't know the next street over. Unless they live on it, they can't tell you where it is. Especially in Nachlaot. 
  • People will push, shove, and knock you down to get to the Kotel on a holiday. They'll watch you freaking out, being crushed in a crowd, when they know that there is no room to move forward or backward, watching children be crushed in a crowd, and they will continue to push and push and push until you're forced to freak out in a way that you've never freaked out before. I will never forget the word for stroller (agalah), and I will never forget the nice EMT who once-upon-a-time lived in Memphis, TN. 
And, I'm sure more will be added to this list as my trip goes on. I'm looking forward to be secluded for a few days out at the Dan Hotel on Mt. Scopus for ROI, to be honest. I love Jerusalem, but I don't love being here without Tuvia, and I don't love how claustrophobic a single event has made me. 

If I weren't halfway around the world, I'd pickup and go back to Teaneck. 


Hadassa said...

Just to confuse you a bit more, Rabbanut can also be L'Mehadrin. Most cities/regions have two levels of kashrut.
Those strangers who feel free to ask you anything, are also willing to help you, beyond any extent that you could imagine.
You'd rather be in Teaneck? Once you consider yourself to be at home in your own country, you'll feel much better. With the right attitude culture shock goes away quickly. Asking directions will, however, always be an interesting experience. Enjoy the rest of your visit and... make it permanent!

Mark said...

You don't go to the kotel on a holiday, it's a madhouse! In fact, my father doesn't go to the kotel at all on weekdays anymore, only on shabbat. He can't stand being repeatedly accosted by beggars every few steps. I recommend avoiding the kotel while there are crowds, if you really need to see, watch the kotel from the rova for a while to see the crowds, etc.

My favorite times to go to the kotel were late at night when there were few people (and plenty of parking) and early in the morning, especially early shabbat morning to daven "vasikin" with the boys from Yeshivat Hakotel.

For me, kosher is easy in Israel. Any teuda that is within its validity date is good for me.

There are plenty of more modern bathrooms in Israel with enclosed showers that don't wet down the entire bathroom. But I once saw a tiny bathroom in which showering wet the entire room including the entire toilet, tank, seat, floor and all.

It's the middle east, noise is pretty much a constant.

Nachlaot is a complex neighborhood with lots of tiny streets, some people just don't have recall of street names even though they know how to get wherever they need to get on foot or by bus. Yaffo is like that too.

Batya said...

My life has gotten pretty hectic. My elder son lives in Nachla'ot. He loves it.
Have you noticed all of the upscale shops opening in the shuk?

Anonymous said...

There are a lot of very positive "only in Israel" things, too. Looking forward to reading some of those on this blog as well!

Anonymous said...

Stop talking loshon hara about Israel and it's people or leave the country. You should feel lucky that you're even here.

Anonymous said...

People on the street move for no one -- not the elderly, not babies, nothing. You can say slicha (excuse me) a million times, and they won't budge. Not even IDF soldiers! Call me old fashioned, but ...
Strangers will speak to you freely, willingly, saying whatever is on their mind or asking you any kind of information.
People will push, shove, and knock you down to get to the Kotel on a holiday.

These are just blatant lies.

You should have titled your post "why can't Israelis have class like me"

Chaviva Gordon-Bennett said...

@Anonymous (all 3 of you) Really? Really? I've written a bajillion positive posts on Israel. Do you want me to link you to all of them here? Do I need to detail the overwhelmingly traumatic experience that occurred at the kotel that WAS exactly what I said that resulted in me in an ambulance?

You can't expect everything I write to be a glowing endorsement 24/7. I didn't defame or call harm upon Israel, no, I just wrote a critique of its citizenry as being a little bit less insensitive sometimes than a NYer on a mission.

Mikeage said...

Not sure why "Strangers will speak to you freely, willingly, saying whatever is on their mind or asking you any kind of information" was automatically assumed to be negative; it's both good and bad. Or maybe not even "bad", just unexpected and it other cultures inappropriate.

And like it or not, Chaviva is right about the pushing and the kotel. We can have wonderful R' Levi Yitzchak Miberditchev vorts about how they feel the kedusha so deeply that they have an instinctual draw that pulls them along or whatever, and that may even be true. But folks, she's right. It's a problem.

It's a wonderful country, but if you think we have nothing to work on, then _you_ can leave. E"Y is for people who want to grow, not for those who want to remain stagnant.

[been here almost eight years. planning on another ninety.]

freevees said...

@anonymous posters: chill out! 1st of all, this is a personal blog, where a person's personal opinions are expressed. 2nd of all, these are *not* lies!
Where in Israel do you live that you see crowds parting for the elderly, babies, or even soldiers? I'm sorry, you don't need to be "classy" not to close your bus's doors on a baby carriage, which I've seen happen more than once. In Bituach Leumi, I, a very recent immigrant, was the only one who spoke up for a soldier- who risks his life daily to protect our homeland!- to not have to wait another 30 minutes because he missed his turn by 30 seconds.
About strangers starting conversations with you, did you see anything to indicate that this was a bad thing? In America, this doesn't happen, not because Americans are too "classy", but rather because they are more often than not too uncaring of others. Rather than an insult, I see this particular remark by Chaviva as praise.
And pushing at the Kotel? Have you ever *been* to the Kotel, Anonymous posters? My grandparents have lived in the Old City for more than 30 years, I have seen the Kotel on holidays, on weekdays, on shabbat, daytime, nighttime, you name it. Please do not even attempt to pretend that people don't push, that they say excuse me, or are considerate. Yes, you will find people who are all of those good things, but you will so many more who aren't.
I would also recommend that you reconsider your own preconceived notions about Israel and Israelis before you automatically assume that someone's observations and comments are criticisms.

Rona Michelson said...

With all due respect, you are writing about your somewhat limited experiences in Jerusalem. I have been living in Israel for 16 years, the first three in Jerusalem, and isolated experiences in Jerusalem have resembled some of what you recount, but that is not at all a normative experience. It reminds me a bit of the poem about the blind men and the elephant where all were right and all were wrong. It certainly does not reflect my experience living here in Modi'in where pretty much in every comparison to my life in the US, Modi'in clearly comes out on top. I wouldn't live anywhere but Israel.

OneTiredEma said...

I'm sorry that you had such a terrible experience, and at the Kotel no less.

But I have to admit, I hate crowds. I hate davening in a crowded place--even our regular shul can get stuffed for me. (Vatikin on Shavuot was VERY nice. Me and about 6 teenage girls.) Now the kotel is a place I bring tourists to...I think I could only daven there myself a) in the middle of the night or b) on a rainy day.

Jerusalem holds a special place in my heart--sometimes it's magical, but sometimes it is dirty and noisy and crowded and the traffic is a nightmare, and I am glad we don't live there. Though of course there are people who wouldn't live anywhere else. Different strokes.

I hope that while you're here you get to spend some time out and about; the natural beauty of Israel is what makes me truly thankful to live here.

Chaviva Gordon-Bennett said...

I'm writing a response to all of this ... new post. Stay tuned.

AidelKnaidel said...

I've been offline for quite a while and didn't even realize you were in EY, Chaviva. (I might have tried to give you a package for my kids ;) ) I've only been to Israel once; it was magical. We had an apartment in Geula for two weeks. It definitely was not noisier than Manhattan....I don't speak Hebrew, sadly, and had trouble communicating. It's different from what I'm used to, but that was okay. I wouldn't want to be squished at the Kosel--it wasn't crowded when I went. I have two kids who live there--they love it! I'm hopeful someday I will join them. May the rest of your visit be productive and pleasant!

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