Anyone who has ever been to Israel knows all about Israeli chutzpa. Chutzpa is a word that is impossible to translate adequately – it’s a combination of outright audacity and the refusal to accept “no” for an answer, but it’s even more than that……
A few months ago we were at the Dead Sea and we wanted to make a barbecue. There were very clear signs all over advising that campfires and barbecues were forbidden yet there were many groups enjoying a campfire and/or barbecue. We asked a group consisting of several Arab families around their fire if fires were or were not allowed and they just shrugged their shoulders and said “This is Israel – you do as you want.”
In Eilat we saw the same phenomenon repeated where the signs said “no camping on the beach” and people had an innovative solution. In the morning they would just drop their tents and leave them collapsed on the beach but leave all their stuff there and when the sun starting to set and the authorities left the beach, they would raise their tents again. I photographed this crazy skirting of the rules as ultimate evidence of chutzpa in action.
Living in Israel, I realize how different my education was. South Africa during the Apartheid era was the extreme opposite! We never spoke unless spoken to and respected authority all the time – in fact we blindly followed rules. I was once telling a group of Israelis how we were forced to wear the school uniform blazer in the blazing hot sun. We would get detention for minor infractions and have to spend recess in the over 100 degree weather standing at attention wearing the blazer and even if someone passed out (which happened not infrequently) it was just tough luck. Someone asked me if we ever protested and I realized that through 12 years of schooling no-one even thought of protesting or even questioned the system. My dad would tell me many unbelievable stories of his school days and likewise no one protested and parents certainly did not come to the school and complain.
So here we are as olim chadashim struggling with a myriad of issues. Our Israeli friends listen to our challenges and usually have suggestions that include shouting, demanding, calling the top person at whichever bureaucratic agency we are dealing with on his or her home number, creating a performance in a government office or simply ignoring the rules outright. We simply feel like a deer in headlights when these options are presented – it’s so antithetical to how we were raised.
Oh how I wish we had different mindset. It is so clear to me that the chutzpa which is a lack of fear of unwillingness to accept “no” and the ability to challenge authority has allowed Israel to prosper and succeed beyond imagination. Is so clear to me we need to learn chutzpa and yet it is so foreign to us!
Originally published: January 19, 2015
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