It wasn’t merely that I was Jewish. I didn’t fall in love with the sites or the cities, but the people—the characters in his book. He described a people that didn’t take themselves too seriously; that live one day at a time. A people that can laugh and make jokes in light of constant threat and tragedy. (And having lived here for nearly a decade, I can tell you that bombs can literally be falling and Israelis will still find a way to laugh in the midst of it. It is how they stay sane.)
Thomas portrayed Israelis as aggressive and straightforward, but with a robust love for life. Yes, in that bathtub I fell deeply in love with Israel, her citizens and I knew I would live there.
Israelis share their opinions freely and not always in the most endearing ways. We have a word Dugri, it is actually Arabic and it means to say something truthful, but without so much tact. Before we were married Elana worked in a deli when she first moved to America. The owner was an Israeli. His father had come over from Israel and was working in the deli with him. A customer brought a sandwich to the counter and said, “My sandwich is cold.” The father stuck his finger in it and looked at the man and said, “No its not,” and handed it back.
To be clear, not every Israeli is like that. The younger generation is quite a bit more cultured and that story is over twenty years old. Israel quite simply is not the Middle East and it is not Europe. She is a bizarre combination of the two cultures.
One the one hand, the stories above paint a picture of the matter-of-fact, aggressive character of the nation, and on the other we are leading the world on technology (along with the US and Japan), and have made massive strides in science, computers, medicine and mathematics. Instant Messaging started here and right now our government is backing a private project to establish a network of electric car refueling stations. And at the same time, you would be hard-pressed to walk into a home and not be offered something hot to drink and tasty to eat. We are the Western Middle East.
In addition, Israelis are a warm people. A baby-toting mother cannot get on a bus without several people helping her. Sure, they tell her everything she is doing wrong as a mother (put a jacket on him, she doesn’t need that hat, are you feeding him, he is so thin?), but they will hold the baby, lift the stroller and even offer to feed the him.
Of course, at 25, I didn’t have this deep knowledge of the country—I was reading a book in a bathtub and now the water getting cold. I was falling in love with a people—or at least with Thomas Friedman’s description of them. Strike while iron’s hot! It was time to visit.