Becoming Israeli?

A deeper Insight into Israelis

and the challenges for new olim as we interact with them

 by Ariella Bracha Waldinger

 When I made aliyah, I arrived, as does every oleh, with an American perspective and way of operating in the world. Olim from other countries bring with them their own country’s perspective. Once here, though, we must understand the Israeli perspective and way of dealing with the world because now our home is here. Through this understanding, we can acquire the respect we need for each other’s differences and maybe even have some positive impact on the Israeli perspective.

When the Jew returns to his ancestral home…the Holy Land of Eretz Israel… by making Aliyah, we suddenly come face to face, in our day to day life as well as business dealings, with the members of our extended Jewish family who have been building and maintaining this land for generations.   Even though we are one family, we have lived very different lives giving us vastly different values due to our countries of origin. As a result of this fact, our very first job should be to acquire and understand the ways, values and social mores of Israelis. If we were applying for a job or trying to acquire a sales contract with a customer, we would, without question, learn all that we can about the customer or company, their values, mission, etc., so as to impress them and show that we care.  In order to maintain the shalom that HaShem asks of us due to our living in a sacred creation (THE HOLY LAND), it is imperative to learn the skills and acquire understanding  in order to make the most of our interactions with our relatives.

WARNING: Some people arrive with a very arrogant attitude and spend their time putting down the government, and many other things about Israel and Israelis.  This is extremely problematic for one is prohibited from speaking lashon hara about Eretz Yisroel.  The Pele Yoetz writes: “He who lives in Eretz Israel should be perpetually happy with this mitzvah, and all the suffering he experiences should be insignificant to him in light of his love for this mitzvah”. (Pele Yoetz Eretz). Our job is strengthening the settlement of the Land not weakening it and negativity and judgment do just that.

Israelis are known for their kindness and hospitality and this is something I felt right from the start. In addition to these outstanding traits, they have a feistiness that can come across as very aggressive but the truth is, their nature is assertive and uninhibited and many Americans are not use to this kind of real behavior and find it intimidating.  Americans are used to mild mannered, non-assertive, people pleasing behavior where the customer is always right and people do not show their true emotions. The most vital truth one perceives in Israel is that ISRAEL is real… fact, real in a way most of us have never experienced. The Israelis are real, life is more real on many levels and the challenges are real, but there is a great degree of comfort in living in a real world. I find it far better than a pretend world. Israelis can fight with you one minute and be your friend the next.

The best way of relating to Israelis is to acquire knowledge of the history of the settling of Eretz Yisroel, to dive into their culture and become friends with them. Many Israelis speak English and will share their expertise and will set you up with connections in many areas.  Once you have integrated with them, protexia will be the end result as they will go out of their way to help, guide and protect you.  This is invaluable.  We built a home in Tzfat and live in a Sephardic, Israeli neighborhood. Our Israeli neighbors and friends have taught us a great deal about getting along in Israel and about the ways of Israelis and how things work in our Medinat Israel.

However great Israelis are in the big picture, they can try your patience and frustrate you at the same time. When a challenge arises with an Israeli, I suggest the following options in dealing with them: 1) Do not engage in a battle you cannot win, so get some professional  help or an Israeli friend to step in.  2) arouse your own inner warrior and fight for your voice to be heard (you may have to yell, which is ok).  3) Use your sense of humor to disarm them…they love it, or 4) try to become like them (this takes time and work but it can be done).  The beauty and truth is that their assertive nature and fighter mentality has enabled Israel to survive in a hostile physical and political environment.  They had to learn to be cunning and at times resort to creative methods of making things happen.  Because we do not understand the way the government or the agencies operate, or the Israelis themselves and we seem to get diverse opinions even from Israelis, we can get caught up in mistrust and judgments. The problem is not with the Israelis but our own innocence and ignorance. The key is to be mindful of our ignorance, take out our ego and protect ourselves by getting references from the community where we reside in all matters related to business. DO not be overly trusting nor paranoid….BE SMART. DO not give out too much information and negotiate everything and you must have an attorney check out any contract before you sign anything.

 Israelis are extremely friendly and playful, as they love having fun and living life fully. They are curious and conversant and warm and caring. Family, friends, community and country are the most important aspect in Israeli’s lives. Israelis are not rigid about rules. They are people of empowerment and flexibility. Because they are friendly, they value being greeted with a friendly smile and a “how are you today?”  Israelis aren’t whiners and they dislike complainers. Give them a problem and they will help you find a solution but start complaining and they will shut you out. Show interest in them and they will be there for you.

Roni Einav, retired army major and CEO of Einav High Tech states in an article in the Jerusalem Post,” Israelis are educated differently than Germans or Americans. Improving the world, for Israelis is a way of life and they work hard at it.”

Israelis are comfortable with who they are and they are not apologetic about their nature.  They are smart and proud and confident and they are fighters.  They are adept at living with uncertainty as it has become a way of life in Israel. We have much to learn from them and must do so in order to achieve a successful settling in.  The best advice is from a friend who said, Americans need to become like Teflon and let small things slide off. I like her advice but my best advice is to take responsibility for your own failures and successes and to judge others favorably, it may save your sanity and your soul.

Bamidbar Rabba 23 states, HaKadosh Baruch Hu said: Eretz Israel is more beloved to me than everything


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