Updated: Oct 21, 2021
Shalom just doesn't mean what it used to!
I am a deeply emotional person, but I am not a super touchy person. If I'm honest, not hugging and kissing because of COVID (Israelis kiss on both cheeks when greeting someone you know—male and female) has been a welcomed experience for me. The less physical contact, the better. As you might guess, my love language is words of encouragement. I love words and use them all day long in writing, blogging, encouraging, podcasting, and on the two different TV shows that we have on GOD TV. But physical touch, ehh.
I love greeting people that I don't know. I particularly love it if they're not from the same social demographic as I am. I seek to go out of my way to communicate God's love through words—just not touch. (Ironically, I am on hold with Delta Airlines right now. The on-hold voice just informed me that they are doing everything they can to prevent physical touchpoints. Now that's my kind of company!)
Good Morning! Nope.
When I moved to Israel in 2003, I can remember waking up that first morning at 6 AM. Elana and I went for a brisk and exciting walk together. Between the caffeine and adrenaline, I was super excited about my new life in the Holy Land. I didn't know much Hebrew at the time, but every time we passed somebody, I said with childlike enthusiasm, "Shalom!" Strangely, no one said shalom back to me. They just looked at me like I was strange.
Now understand, I come from the south, in Virginia. In my parents' neighborhood, where we had lived the past few days before we journeyed to the airport to immigrate to Israel, it seemed like an unwritten commandment, "Thou shalt wave at every human that you pass, whether by car or on foot, or risk being ostracized by the community forever."
I had been programmed, like a robot, to greet every person I see. What I didn't know is that was not the culture of Israel—at least not the greater Tel Aviv area. Now don't get me wrong, Israel is one of the warmest countries on earth. Particularly in the Sephardic families, that is, Israelis who were born in other nations of the Middle East such as Iran, Iraq, Syria, or in northern Africa, like my Moroccan in-laws. They are incredibly warm, and if I walk into their home, even with coronavirus, they are ready to give me a big hug and two kisses, along with a plate of couscous and Moroccan fish.
But that is with people you know. When just walking around Tel Aviv, you don't just tell a stranger good morning, or as we say, boker tov. If you do, they will look at you like they looked at me 18 years ago, as if to ask, do I know you?
Israel is a fast-paced, aggressive society. Waving to people you know in your neighborhood comes off strange. That's partly because Israel is mostly urban. Now I would imagine that some of my readers who live in different parts of Israel are going to email me and tell me how wrong I am. And if they live on a moshav (click if you want to know what a moshav is) or in a kibbutz (click if you want to know what a kibbutz is), I have no doubt the people are much friendlier than the folks in Tel Aviv. Even in our largest city, Jerusalem, I am told that it is acceptable to greet people you don't know on the street. The pace of Jerusalem is a little bit slower and a lot more religious. In many ways, that's a negative, but in some ways, it's a positive. And one of those positive ways is that people are friendlier on the street. But in the greater Tel Aviv area, with 3.5 million people, making it the largest concentration of Jewish people in the world, you just don't talk to strangers without a reason.
But don't worry!
Now here is the good news… There's always a reason! Whether you're in the grocery store or waiting in line at a movie theater, there is always a topic to discuss or a situation to complain about. It could be our dysfunctional government or the situation with Hamas (which my voice dictation just wrote as hummus).
Often, it could be the behavior of the person behind you or in front of you, can you believe that guy? Ma bo'er lach, (What is burning in her?) Some of the best discussions happen in line at the grocery store, where rules are broken, and boundaries are tested like a two-year-old with his parents. I don't want to ruin a future blog on grocery stores, but I'll tell you this one story. I was in line at a grocery store in Jerusalem in the kupa mehera (fast lane). I noticed the guy in front of me had a grocery cart full of groceries. I was about to say something, as any self-respecting Israeli would when I decided to wait. I knew other people behind me would eventually notice and call him on his crime—and that would be entertaining.
I was right. Within seconds people were asking him what was he doing in the kupa mehera? His response was classic Israeli chutzpa—"the other lanes were too long." The insults kept coming. After a brief moment of seeking to ignore the indignation from fellow shoppers, as he just looked forward, he finally capitulated and moved to a regular line. For Israelis, that is a victory worth celebrating… and we did. All of us in line talked about how obnoxious that guy was. All understanding that it could easily have been any of us, maybe not with a full basket of groceries, but maybe with double the allotted amount, that would have committed the same crime. It really is just like that! I learned that in America, you go grocery shopping, and you come home with groceries, but in Israel, you come home with groceries and a funny story. All the time.
Of course, the problem is now, nobody will talk to me in my parents' neighborhood. They think I'm a snob because when I come back from Israel to the US to spend time with my parents, I forget to wave.