Musings on Israelis and life (for real) in Israel

It is hard to believe that we’ve been here for  four weeks and will be going home in six days.  We miss everyone at home terribly, but it will be hard to leave.  We feel like we belong here.  When we returned from our week-long trip to our apartment, we felt like we were coming home!  Now, when we walk around the neighborhood, shopkeepers and restaurant staff wave and ask how we are.  When my sister Denise and her husband Jim arrived to stay with us for the week, we proudly showed them around the neighborhood, walked on the promenade along the sea, went to our favorite cafe, and sat out on our rooftop deck for wine and snacks before we went out to dinner.  If it weren’t for the situation back home and missing everyone, life could not get much better.  To all our family and friends who suffered through the long aftermath of Sandy, and especially to Cindy and Jay who hosted my parents for almost two weeks, we send love and hopes for a quick return to normal.

This post is going to be a hodgepodge of impressions and vignettes about Israelis, their lives, and our encounters with them.  I cannot say this has been systematic research; in fact it’s highly anecdotal and impressionistic so take it for that but I hope it provides some insights and interest.

Although as I’ve written before, Israel is an incredibly diverse society, there are some generalizations that seem appropriate.  For instance, most Israelis are talkative, demonstrative and outspoken.  The American taboo subjects- money, religion and politics- are their favorite topics.  Every single Israeli we have met has asked us who are voting for and did we vote already.  Almost all have voiced strong opinions when we say we voted for Obama.  We had one ugly encounter with a racist cab driver, but mostly we’ve met many patriotic Israelis who fear Obama’s policies toward Israel and worry he won’t confront Iran about their nuclear capacity, and we’ve spoken with a few Israelis who wanted Obama to win and feared the conservative policies of Romney.

There are some good aspects to the Israeli penchant for argumentation.  There appears to be real public discourse about difficult subjects and this manifests itself even in television interviews with politicians and pundits where they are challenged and confronted in ways that would never happen in the US.  Chuck thinks the Israeli news coverage of the American election has been more in-depth and nuanced than the American coverage! Unfortunately, much like in the US, Israel has a strong right-wing in politics and a fractured liberal to left movement.  There are corrupt politicians going to jail and getting out of jail and being investigated, there is a major void of leadership on the liberal left, and lots of jockeying for power among the various political figures as the election in Israel nears. Sound familiar?  I won’t go into the various characters on the political stage here, but there are as many repugnant right-wingers here as there are at home and similar unholy alliances.

The Israeli economy is booming right now, but it is very expensive to live here.  Many things cost as much as they do in the States, and some things are more expensive, but Israelis are acquisitive for the most part- especially around gadgets and electronics- and there are iPhones everywhere we go.  At one time, most Israelis lived off credit cards, but the government changed that by outlawing credit cards.  What everyone has is a debit card with a specified amount of overdraft and that’s it.  But, you can extend payments and when you charge something here with an Israeli card, they ask, “One, two, or three payments?”  Just as in the US, young families depend on two incomes and as my cousin said, “It’s hard to make it to the end of the month.”  My hairdresser here, cab drivers, our relatives all talk about how hard you have to work to have a decent standard of living.  Sound familiar once again?

My cousin Zilla’s daughters (our kids’ ages) are married and each has four children.  We see a trend toward larger families, even among secular Israelis.  The love of children (and dogs, who are allowed and taken everywhere here) is profound and palpable in Israel.  We also see a major change in the parental behavior of fathers here, who used to take a patriarchal hands off approach to child raising but now are wearing their babies in front carriers and taking a very active role in parenting.  It’s lovely to see, despite the Israeli tendency toward macho behavior in other ways.  Israelis in general are very affectionate and demonstrative and I now kiss my hairdresser and house cleaner hello and goodbye!

On Sunday and Monday, I spent time at Kibbutzim College, giving a lecture and sitting in on campus-wide discussions about democracy that were scheduled to commemorate Rabin’s life on the anniversary of his assassination. Here I am lecturing.  You can’t tell the faculty from the students as faculty members here dress as casually as the students!

Kibbutzim College was established by the secular Kibbutz movement here to prepare teachers for Kibbutzim, the cooperative agricultural settlements that blossomed in the early history of the country.  Now, it is the top ranked teacher preparation college in the country and it is no longer tied to the Kibbutz movement, but it retains the social justice, left-wing foundations of that movement.  It was so heartening to listen to the students discuss what strengthens and what weakens democracy in Israeli society and how democracy is manifested in schools in Israel.  The students were articulate and passionate about human rights, equality between Jews and Arabs, and the responsibilities of teachers in the realm of social justice.  There was significant disagreement about whether teachers should reveal their political views to students and whether Arabs in Israel should be allowed to observe Nakba, which is a day of mourning for them on Israel Independence Day, but the disagreements were civil and respectful. Most of all, the students reminded me of Montclair State teacher education students- committed to making a difference for children and their lives through teaching despite the lack of respect and support for teachers.  It gave me hope for the future of Israeli society.

I’ve been away from blogging for over a week, but have lots to tell and show about our recent adventures, especially while Jim and Denise were with us.  Stay tuned for more posts and stunning pictures.

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