Though Israelis have a reputation for being pushy and aggressive, here is a surprising fact about life in the Jewish state: If you get into trouble in Israel chances are that a stranger will help you. This Israeli trait was demonstrated to me most vividly on two occasions, both involving my vehicle, although thankfully in circumstances devoid of potential injury to anyone. The first time was toward the end of December 1997, only a few months after we moved here. My Mazda MPV was then just about 3 weeks old. My Mom was with us and she wanted to go to the cemetery where her parents are buried. Somehow or other in my search for the graves through the cemetery’s labyrinth, I managed to wedge my van into a spot where I could neither go forwards nor backwards. Panic had just about set in when I saw two cemetery workers and asked them for help. They came over, assessed the situation, and said, “this doesn’t look like a big deal.” The two men found some wire, hooked it under the van, and we pushed the van sideways until the front cleared the wall.
The second time I was in car trouble was more recently. We had gone hiking and I found myself on a dirt road with my front wheel perched precariously on the edge of a rocky slope and my back wheels without traction (perhaps that “4 x 4 only” sign I had passed was meant for me?). A family drove by and I flagged them down. The burly father got out, asked what the trouble was, looked at my front tire and said, “this doesn’t seem too bad.” I didn’t know how he was going to do it, but right then I knew that everything was going to be okay. Indeed the man navigated the van out of the rocky area by a series of deft driving moves, knowing just when to give a lot of gas and when not to hit the brakes at all (is it very parochial of me to admit that I got a special thrill at the fact that this he-man was wearing a kippa?).
There’s two factors at work in going out of your way to help a stranger: the willingness to help and the ability to help. For Israelis, the ability to help is perhaps honed in the army, where improvising under pressure is extremely important and rewarded. As far as the willingness to help, I guess this comes out of a sense of shared destiny, people hood, neighborliness, or some other factor. You’re invited to come to Israel and see for yourself how Israelis give of themselves. Just do me a favor: At the airport, please don’t cut the line in front of one of my fellow Israelis—because then you’re toast.
Teddy Weinberger, Ph.D., is Director of Development for a consulting company called Meaningful. He made aliyah with his family in 1997 from Miami, where he was an assistant professor of religious studies. Teddy and his wife, Sarah Jane Ross, have five children.