Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Really Not That Different...

Since I've been in Israel, it hasn't really occurred to me that I'm in a different country. I can walk into almost any store or restaurant in the surrounding area of Rechavia/Shaarei Chesed/Nachlaot/City Center and speak in English, and get an English response without much hesitation. On the bustling Ben Yehudah Street, packed with seminary girls and yeshiva guys, English can be heard over Hebrew 10 to 1. I still feel like I can get in a car and drive over to my parents' house, or go to Sarah Chaya and Avraham's for dinner. There are, however, a few things that I have picked up as being "different" in the time that I have been here so far:

1. traffic: By traffic, I don't mean just vehicles. In most places, pedestrians and automobiles share street and sidewalk alike, with people walking in the middle of busy streets and mopeds and cars driving in open air plazas. The most popular place for cars to park in Jerusalem seems to be slanted on the sidewalks, and because many of the neighborhood streets are so small, people are forced to walk in the middle, with cars (usually taxis) zooming by, barely missing the people.

2. taxis: In America, taxis are generally outdated cars, or at best some mediocre make and model. In Israel, however, the vast majority of taxis are either Mercedes, Volkswagen Passats, or Peugeots.

3. check out counters: The places where you place your items is about half the length and width as in America, meaning that you can't generally put anything up until you are the person being checked out. Also, you normally have to bag your own groceries.

4. lines: I have noticed this each time I came to Israel, and it can also be found among the Israelis in America. If you see people in Israel waiting in a straight, normal line, then you can be sure that those people are not Israeli. Israelis tend to huddle by whatever it is they want to enter, bypassing any silly Westerner who has some sense of being cordial and waiting their turn. When I came back from Israel last time (during the summer), my plane landed at JFK at the same time as a British Airways flight from London. When we went through the border and got our luggage, the El Al passengers were all huddled at the customs gate, while the British Airways passengers were standing in a single file line at their gate. After several warnings, the customs attendant at the El Al gate closed his gate and left. The (seeming) need for order leaves Israelis confused.

5. living quality: In general, the interior of average Israeli homes and apartments just isn't what it is in America. Before I came to Israel for this extended stay, I voiced my reservations about living in a country that is "minimalist and quasi-section 8; a Third World country pretending to be Western." Well, I seem to be doing okay, but still, looking at unpainted walls and exposed wires, ignored cobwebs and laundry hanging over streets for all to see makes me cringe a little. Also, I miss being able to shower without pre-planning. Now, I have to press a switch and wait 30 minutes for my water to heat up so that I can take a 5 second shower.

6. expression: Unlike America, expression seems to be found all over in Jerusalem. There is hardly a wall without some form of grafiti or art. Here, people don't seem to frown at what Americans call "defacing public property". Except for private homes and upscale hotels, one can find political statements, small art exhibits, and poems sprayed on the columns and retaining walls. This is especially true in the adjoining area of Nachlaot. Nachlaot is, for lack of a better description, an Orthodox Jewish 1960's Haight-Ashbury. On my walk to the city center, I pass an organic co-op garden in Nachlaot, where men in tye-dye shirts and dreadlocks with yarmulkes sit with barefoot babies and women with elaborate, colorful scarves covering their hair (as opposed to the usual wigs), playing in the dirt with the scent of incense clearly present. This open expression seems to extend all across Jerusalem, as well as in Tel Aviv, though the flavor there is a bit different to say the least.

For now, these are the most prominent differences that I can recall. Perhaps later I will edit, or make occassional "What's Different" posts as I see the need.


  1. You're a hoot and a half!

  2. Yes I agree you are a HOOT. I understand why you feel at home. It is good for you spiritual growth. Also it sounds like the time period I was raised. Late 60's early 70's when freedom was a life style and we lived open to ALMOST anything and everything which did not harm ourselves or others. Be safe and G-d Bless and may I say PEACE to you in your new home. Love ya and Miss ya Mom