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  • Writer's pictureJodi Samuels

Us and Them

Since moving to Israel in 2014 with my family I have been “living” between 2 countries and 2 cultures.

We recently went on a cruise to Alaska and on a day trip I could not help but notice the Purell culture. Basically everywhere you go in the US you see Purell. The message washing hands prevents spread of germs. I can’t help but contrast this with Caila’s first day of kindergarten in Israel. I mentioned to the teacher that she does not always wash her hands after the bathroom and someone should remind her. The teacher simply shrugged and said “We cannot make sure 27 kids wash hands”. I can only compare that with the US where Caily’s toilet habits afforded her a health para professional to accompany her for 33 hrs of schooling. That was in addition to her special educator teacher and the 3 other teachers in her class of 18 children.

The whole approach to education and liability is different. In US schools, a big part of the challenge of inclusion is the question of liability. The schools want someone looking out for your child all the time. In Israel the approach is “What can we do?” Meaning if we don’t have something we will make it work even if is an imperfect scenario. And that’s how our children are educated to figure the world out even when there are no obvious solutions or perfect answers. I always joke when we go on hikes there are limited maps and trail markers in Israel, even a hike it’s figure it out culture.

An Israeli friend who moved to the US expressed exasperation at bureaucracy here. I was shocked thinking how could the US be harder than Israel. His point was in Israel getting a NO answer is the starting point of a negotiation. For me it’s been so hard to learn that no is not no and every encounter requires boxing gloves. Even the most challenging encounters usually end with each party wishing the other well.

The best illustration of this was my friend was waiting for an important meeting about changing her child’s school. She finally received a call that the meeting would be the day of her scheduled cesarean. When she explained the situation the city official insisted her husband could attend the meeting and she refused the idea that her husband would not be present at the birth. They argued back and forth with the frustrated official shouting at my friend for her unreasonableness in the situation. They finally settled on a new date and ended the call. Two minutes later the official called again apologizing that she forgot to wish her well with the baby and layered on blessings and all.

We all know about rude taxi drivers in Israel but I famously tell the story of how we once arrived for vacation in Israel. Our flight was delayed 8 hrs in Italy and when we finally landed at 1am our luggage did not arrive. We were not sure we could get the keys for the apartment rental. In the cab tears of frustration came pouring out of me – no clothes, nowhere to sleep. The taxi driver looked at me and said “Gaveret – lady if there is no key, no problem you come sleep at my house and your children will wear my children’s pajamas.”

Likewise we were once in a taxi after a long hot hike and my kids were fighting over the last drop of water. The driver turned around and gave us a bottle of water and insisted that in his taxi my children are his responsibility.

A few months ago I was walking on shabbat and while waiting at a light I said to Gavin that I really needed the restroom. Being shabbat there was nothing open and a woman who heard me offered I could walk to her apartment and use the facilities. Only in Israel.

These stories are in stark contrast to NY where no one even offered to help me when I was 6 months pregnant and tore my gastrocnemius in the subway and hopped out of 42nd st with no one even noticing the hobbling, sobbing pregnant lady.

But it’s infuriating living in a culture where you simple don’t get it. The first time we went to a live music concert at a big venue, we were the only suckers who apparently did not know that shows don’t begin at the time stated on the tickets. We have so often arrived at events and ceremonies to realize the only other people arriving on time were Olim too.

The fact that people talk through shows, use their phones etc is so infuriating yet I look around and while I could happily mow down all the people irritating me but I look around and no one else seems concerned or flustered.

Having planned a Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah in the last 15 months, l had to learn a new culture regarding RSVP – people simply don’t reply unless they are new Anglo immigrants like us. Somehow second time round I was not as freaked about planning around an invisible number.

People frequently ask me if it really is so different in Israel vs other countries that we have lived in including Australia, New Zealand and England. Yes in every possible way life is different. After living in chilled, friendly and beautiful Australia for 7 years we thought living in NY would prepare us for Israel. Rude, pushy, mad, stressed people living in apartments with lack of greenery. Somehow there is a line that makes life in Israel so different and while it’s not a judgement of good and bad, it sure is different!

Originally published: August 22, 2016


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