The internet and cable guy came to the apartment today in order to set it all up. I guess this would be a nice segue to talk about the general Israeli 'personality,' or the Israeli character, disposition, attitude, or whatever word describes how these natives conduct themselves.
A native born Israeli, any Jew that is born and raised in the land, is referred to as a sabra. In case you don't know, a sabra is a cactus fruit. As you absolutely do know, cactuses are guarded with a tough outside shell and sharp, painful spikes. The sabra fruit protects itself with a tough skin, granting the ability to withstand abrasions and bumps, and rigidity to stay in tact during many stressful environmental conditions. Despite the tough exterior, the sabra fruit is truly soft and juicy on the inside, a true delicacy! It is one of the greatest achievements of nature, to be so brash on the outside, while being so soft on the inside.
This is the Israeli! The native Israeli is loud, rude, pushy, and just generally everything that Americans consider a negative personality trait. They don't wait in lines. They allow cell phones to ring during inappropriate times, and then answer them and have a full conservation, without ever budging from their seat! Getting on and off the bus is like too many salmon fighting their way up a narrow stream in Alaska; shoulders push, elbows block. The most normal conversations appear to be shouting matches, with wild gesticulation, and an unknowing observer would be sure punches will follow! The Israeli has more than a tough exterior, but...
With only a smile, a genuine greeting, and a friendly question, this rude specimen is suddenly your best friend! Greetings between men typically include the word "achi," meaning my brother. Names are shared, stories intertwine, and suddenly you are invited to someone's house for dinner, or given a special deal at the store, or any other number of possible positive outcomes. This is the way of the Jew, at least as it is found in biblical stories: Abraham's most important trait was his hospitality. People often forget that Israelis are Jews! The transition from rude to apple-pie can take place, literally, in the span of 2 seconds, revealing the true persona. The Israeli is a softy on the inside, with true emotions, soft emotions of a desire for friendship and acceptance. Ironically, the Israeli, for all his brash exterior, is in many ways much more genuine than the southerns I grew up around. If someone here gives you a compliment, asks you a personal question, or befriends you, you can know that they are being serious! How often do we say in America, "oh you should come over sometime for a cup of coffee,"? And how often is that actually what we want to happen, that we want that person to come into our house, sit on our sofa, and drink our coffee? I'd bet to say not that often. How often do we smile towards others' faces, and then cast daggers with our eyes towards their backs? Of course you will find an Israeli that will do this, but if they really didn't like you...trust me, you'd know. They simply wouldn't drop the shell of impenetrable armor! For all the anger on the outside, the Israeli is the most genuine and personal creature I've ever met.
So why the tough attitude? Why act like jerks in the first place? The question is, how can such a nice person be so mean?
Can you blame them? Name the top 3 or so hated countries in the world, at least in terms of negative media or outspoken opponents: Iran, North Korea, Israel. The other two change over time, but Israel will always remain. Moreover, you can identify the origins of all groups of modern Israelis and see why they have grown to be strong on the outside: Russians from the anti-religious, anti-minority communist Soviet Republic; Ethiopians chased from their homeland; Mizrachi Jews chased from Middle Eastern countries with the advent of Israel, even after enduring hundreds of years of minority oppression; European Jews fleeing the Holocaust. If your father, and your father's father, and your father's father's father, ad infinitum, were raised in such hostile environments you too would learn to be tough, to let insults, sneers, and attacks roll more easily off your back. A member of a minority cannot live day to day when each day they let the majority take advantage and abuse them. You have to be strong enough to say, "You can't bother me, because I know who I am on the inside." The Israeli is like the sabra fruit, in that the tough exterior only protects the true nature of the entity: the inside.
That being said, Israelis are no longer Jews living in Russia or Iraq. They are now living among their fellows. Even though the world constantly berates and unfairly singles out Israel (for example, the only refugee group in the U.N. to have its own definition of 'refugee' is the 'Palestinian' Arabs), Israelis are slow to accepting the fact that they do not need to be tough towards their fellow Jews! We aren't the people to be yelled at, to be brushed aside, to ignore! We are one in the same here, we are in the same battle. The same struggle for survival. This attitude problem, the lack of manners, etiquette, and nicety is a huge issue in this brand-new state.
Knowing all of this from too many experiences, where a sabra that retains his tough shell towards you will really not help you anymore than necessary (which means they do a lackluster job and cut corners), I greeted him with my name, a warm smile, and asked him how he was doing. He got quickly to work on the cable, but it turned out that some of our wiring was less than perfect. He went into a different room, and I stood wondering how I could extend a helping hand. What do I know of cable problems?
I did what any American, any Virginian, would do! I offered him a glass of water. He accepted. Instantly he was a different man. We talked about politics, my decision to move to Israel, thoughts on Israel and society -- all standard topics. But then he said something I've heard a few times since I've been here, and it always seems so incongruous to me. He described the attitude of the Westerner that moves to Israel for ideological reasons (me), and how they feel as if they have entered heaven. He said, "but this isn't Heaven! This place can be hell! The life here is hard: everything is expensive, everyone hates us, the government is ineffective in domestic matters, and Israelis are so rude."
It isn't that Israelis don't understand what they are, and that it isn't ideal to be so brash. The problem is that to change an inborn personality trait is one of the hardest things to ever do! A classic rabbi once said something along the lines of, "It is harder to change one part of our personality than to memorize the entire Torah." To change the Israeli abrasiveness is synonymous with changing our own desires for cars, houses, or high-profile jobs. It's just not that easy.
One of my greatest difficulties in coming to Israel, a difficulty shared by many Westerners, is letting my casual politeness subside for a moment to realize how to actually get something done around here. Raise your voice. Gesticulate. Do Not Budge. These are hard for a shy, soft-spoken, patient, tolerant, semi-southern kid to grasp!
Fortunately, the Western voice is being heard here more and more, and I've actually even read a few op-ed pieces in the biggest Israeli newspapers on the importance of manners and politeness. In addition, I was talking to someone from Nefesh B'Nefesh, and I mentioned how hard it is for me to act like a sabra, how hard it is to jump onto a bus without first allowing everyone else to pass. Long story made short, I was nearly chastised on thinking that just because I moved here I had to act so rudely. Essentially, whatever happened to "leading by example?" That's one of my goals here, to never really be so rude. This place is making me tougher, as I've always been sensitive to what others say and do, but not in any way that makes me less polite.
(Note: Don't think that Israelis walk around screaming at each other, pushing others off cliffs, and kicking people for looking at them. Israelis are human like any of us. Think of this persona as more of a New York too-hurried-to-be-nice type of thing...).