Updated: Oct 21, 2021
Beeping, Yelling, and Hand Gestures
I was driving to the Dead Sea with my mother when she was visiting us about 15 years ago. Suddenly she asked me, "Did you always talk to other drivers, or did you just start doing that since you moved to Israel?"
That was a revelation to me. I had not noticed but she was indeed correct. I was rhetorically speaking to other drivers constantly. "Are you going to turn? ... Move already ... The light's green—bozo!" And along with all that, a regular dose of beeping my horn. And all this is done usually with some creative gesture with my hand. No—not that one—just putting my hand up in the air and twisting it. At worst, the most condescending insult one Israeli can give to another Israeli while driving, putting up your index finger and giving them the shaking no, no, no signal. That's worse than using the finger next to the index finger! It is just the most patronizing thing you can do to another motorist or pedestrian.
And the funny thing is, as soon as I land in America and get into a car to drive, all of this disappears. I don't beep my horn at people in America. I don't do it on ministry trips to Europe. I don't yell at other drivers, even knowing they can't hear me. And I never, ever make gestures with my hands to other drivers. I certainly don't want to get shot!
Freedom of Expression?
But I guess this is one of the things that I love about Israel. You are free to express yourself and the other person takes little to no offense. In fact, driving through Tel Aviv on a Sunday morning, the first workday of the week for us resembles a video game. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to get to the highway without hitting anybody on a bicycle, electric bicycle, scooter, a Corkinet (the name that we have for those new types of electric scooters that you stand on and steer), a skateboard or motorcycle. And while you were avoiding them, you make sure to communicate with all the other drivers verbally and with hand gestures and of course with the beeping of your horn.
I've not heard one story in 20 years of a road rage incident in Israel. And maybe one of the reasons is because we don't allow all of that anger to become pent up inside of us but are constantly releasing it. I do remember one day when I was picking up my kids from school. I stopped in the middle of the road, as we do when the kids get out of school, and the gate opens, and the kids come and get in the car. But because I was the first one there, the person behind me must not have known that what I was doing was kosher and gave me a nice long beep. Before I realized it, I was out of my car looking at the person in the car behind me gesturing with my hands and saying something.
That was not okay!
As soon as I realized what I was doing, I immediately got back into my car. I was quite embarrassed. It's one thing to beep your horn at somebody and to rhetorically yell at them, knowing that they cannot hear you. It's another thing altogether to get out of your car and become confrontative. But that's also the difficulty of being an immigrant—you don't know exactly where the border is between acceptable and unacceptable.
Learning the Ropes
My daughters went through this in their schools. In the Israeli schools (I will have to write a blog on this in the future), the kids call the teachers by their first names. There is a tremendous lack of respect. They learn foul language from English TV shows and repeat the words, not knowing what they mean. Of course, my kids came from America, and English was their first language. But sometimes, in the midst of getting used to this new aggressive culture, they would go too far, and we would get a call from the principal.
After being in Israel a few years, once I knew that I had become "Israeli," once I no longer felt like an immigrant, I was able to really change. Now I go out of my way to exude the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). I'll give you just one example. In Israel, when you're walking down the road, and there's only room for one person to pass, you start thinking even 25 meters away, "who's going to move first"—because if it is you, you're just weak. I don't know how to explain it other than that. We even have a word for it, a frier or sucker. And we will certainly have to do a blog on the meaning of that word! Of course, in the States, I would never behave this way.
A New Mission
But now, when I walk down the road in Tel Aviv, I already know that I am going to be the one to move. When I'm driving, I still beep my horn but then also wave and smile at people. Just the other day, I was with my son-in-law Andrew. We were in the wrong lane and needed to get over. So, I started to move right as I put on my signal. A worker in a van was absolutely not going to let me in. "What, did you think I am a frier?" he was surely thinking.
I rolled down Andrew's window. I'm sure the guy in the other car thought I was going to start yelling at him. But instead of yelling, I joked with him and told him that he was hamud‚ the equivalent of "aren't you sweet." Then, when he heard my accent, he started making fun of the way I pronounced my Rs. (The Hebrew R is very different than in English—and I have to do a blog on that one day.) Before I knew it, we were both laughing, and he was waving me to go in front of him.
No, I am not on a mission to change the culture of Israel. But I am on a mission to try and be more and more like the Messiah in my dealings with fellow Israelis so that I might shine God's light. So they will see his good works and glorify the Father in heaven. That's my testimony.