A loud crash erupts on the fourth floor of Dizengoff Center. A display from a bookstore shelf has hit the ground, books everywhere. In the middle of this chaos, it is easy to see the culprit. Two Israelis locked in the warmest embrace I have ever seen. This anecdote, to me, is the perfect example of the Israeli mentality. The focus is on the people, their expression of deep connection and joy for one another. The concept of stopping to pick up the books before giving the embrace due diligence would be out of character.
Like the situation with the books, Israelis are surprisingly predictable. I say this with a deeply affectionate tone. For example, I flew here on Turkish Air. I found it to be very comfortable (as best as it can be for that length of a trek). About an hour before the final landing into Tel Aviv, it dawned on me that there would probably be no clapping during the landing. For those of you who may not have flown to Israel, Israelis clap upon arrival. It always makes me giggle, as if they’re excited the pilot just learned how to execute a proper landing. After all, this plane is a mixed bunch of people from Turkey and all over the world. I was wrong. As the plane touched the ground, the crowd clapped and sang. I never clap, but there is something about the “audience participation” that makes me feel like I have really arrived somewhere far more important than other destinations. I should have known it would happen, even if we came by unicorn.
There are some things Israelis do that I always find humorous, Israeli dog walking being at the top of the list. First the dog approaches me. He or she looks semi-mangy looking, but seems to have a good temperament. I, in all my American social conditioning, get worried for about two seconds. Why is this dog not on a leash? Why is it relieving itself without its owner? Oh no! Another stray dog appears. Will there be a dogfight? Whew! They passed one another. Then, finally, the “master” comes. The human is wearing the leash across his or her body. Their cell phone fully fixed to their preferred ear and more often than not, a cigarette in the other hand. I am absolutely sure that Israeli dogs have a secret society called “How to train your owner.” The dogs seem to lead with far more authority.
Nothing has changed. Israel still has all of its beauty, graffiti and horrible drivers. These things make travelers (me) comfortable; Israel is consistent. However, every time I come here, it makes me learn more about myself. I am now a good judge of shakshuka (you must eat at Benedict in Tel Aviv) and a fan of arak. I have accidently swallowed enough coffee grounds at the bottom of my glass to laugh, spit them out, and make that same mistake the next morning. Israel, once again, has treated me well.
Rachel Schiff is an English teacher who graduated from Cal State Fullerton. She was president of Hillel, a representative of World Union of Jewish Students and a YLD intern. Currently, she is a master’s degree student in American Studies with emphasis on Jews in America.