How would you feel if you were named after a cactus? Most people know that we refer to native Israelis (like my lovely wife) as Sabras. Sounds nice, right? What you may not know is that we get that name from a cactus plant called the Sabra (or Opuntia Ficus-Indica, as I like to call them).
The question is why did we nickname our native-born sons and daughters after a plant that has been also called a ‘prickly pear’ or a ‘cactus pear’? It’s about the fruit. You see this special desert cactus produces a fruit, a cactus pear, that we call a Sabra. The cactus pear, unlike other pears, is prickly on the outside, but it is oh, so sweet on the inside.
If you have ever spent any time in Israel, you may have noticed our prickly exterior. We will yell at you if you bring 11 items in the 10-item line. We will make gestures at you if you cut in our lane. If you stand in the line anywhere in this country, it is not uncommon for the other people in line to get uncomfortably close. We can yell and scream at our fellow man over the simplest of disagreements. But when it comes to serious issues, Israelis will give you the shirt off their back.
When I wrecked my motorbike a few months ago, I lay in the middle of road, half in shock and half ready to throw up. Even though I was primarily just shaken up, several people instantly stopped to take care of me. One man gently washed my hands and poured water on my head to cool me off. Another women followed me that last half-mile home to make sure I got there. And others stood by, ready to help.
The same neighbor who yelled at you for not moving fast enough when the light turned green, will be serving you te im nana (mint tea) or lemonada (lemonade with fresh mint) in their home the next day. We are an incredibly hospitable people.
And when an earthquake took place in Haiti, Israelis were on the scene, ready to serve and help. The IDF search and rescue team saved a man that would was trapped on rubble for four days! (See video with subtitles) The only other Middle Eastern country to lift a finger to help Haiti was Morocco (as I understand it).
So next time you are in Israel, make sure you taste the Sabra fruit and remember, just because they may be prickly on the outside, doesn’t mean they are not sweet on the inside.