Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Life After Aliyah: Even strangers are rude enough to be family

Guest Voice: Sarah Lubelski

Israelis have a reputation for being rude.

And they are.

Make no mistake – that old lady beside you will pummel you with her cane so she can get on the bus before you do. But on the other hand, I’m learning that there’s a surprising caring and generosity to the Israeli spirit.

Trip and fall in public, and strangers might trample you in their attempt to pick you back up, bandage your knee and marry you off to someone’s good Jewish son/grandson/vague distant relative. In short, Israelis have an overwhelming need to take care of those around them.

The other day I was walking down the street on a miracle of a rainy day. A man in a shop called me over to inspect my umbrella. After pronouncing it insufficient, we had an exchange where he tried to give me a new umbrella as a matana (gift) and I attempted to convince him it wasn’t necessary.

My favourite Israeli affectation, though, is the need to feed others. Imagine an entire country consisting of replicas of your Bubie. Israel is a variable wonderland of Jewish grandparents trying to feed you, convinced you’re always too skinny and hungrier than you let on. I can’t tell you how often I’m offered food in public. French fries, sandwiches, fruit – and once, half a cookie.

I was in Ikea waiting for my boyfriend, wandering around the food section. A man walked up to me brandishing a cookie, half eaten.

“Try it!” He proclaimed. “It’s good!”

I was understandably skeptical. I learned early on in life that you shouldn’t take candy from strangers, and I suspected this went double for candy that had already been bitten into.

“No, no, no,” I said, shaking my head. “It’s okay. I’m not hungry.”

The man frowned and furrowed his brows. “Good!” he insisted. “Try!”

I awkwardly protested and edged away from the confused man, hiding until Yonatan came to find me. As soon as Yonatan arrived, the man pounced.

“You speak Hebrew?” he asked. Yonatan said, 'Yes,' and the man launched into a long explanation of his attempt to feed me, and my constant and unexplainable refusal.

“Well,” said Yonatan, “she must not have understood you. Because if you offer that girl a cookie, trust me, she takes it.”

The more I think about this story, the more I look like the weird one. In Canada, we often politely ignore the strangers on the street, keeping to ourselves. But here, there are very few boundaries. People push and fight and talk and support and love like the strangers beside them are no less than family. And I like to imagine that one day I’ll be Israeli enough to take that half a cookie.

“Thanks,” I’d say gratefully. “I’m starving!”

Sarah Lubelski is a freelance journalist and Birthright Israel alumnus
from 2009 who recently made aliyah in the summer of 2009.


Hipster Jewfus said...

I love these posts about life in Israel! Sarah, as a Canadian brought up in a loud Israeli family, I can say that you totally nailed it. Can't wait to read more!

josh said...