Updated: Oct 21, 2021
The Worst Israeli Insult–Fryer!
It wasn't long after I moved to Israel that I learned the meaning of the word fryer (also spelled frayer). It is possibly the worst thing you can be called. It simply means to be a sucker—being naïve and allowing someone to take advantage of you. This wouldn't be the worst thing in many cultures, but there is nothing worse than being a sucker in Israeli culture.
Here's a good example. A friend of mine's son had just gotten out of the army. When he was a new recruit, he had won the chayal mistayin, which means outstanding soldier, in his basic training. At the time, he was quite proud of it. He did what he was told to do. He wanted to be a good soldier. Now it was about three years later, and he had just finished his mandatory service. And now, he was embarrassed at how he was "such a fryer." When he entered the army, he still had an American immigrant mentality, but by the time he got out, he was fully Israeli and nobody's fryer.
Those of us who come from America are groomed to be fryers. My wife used to tell me when we first got married that I was square, an American. I would argue with her, "No, I am not!" I never understood what she meant until I visited Israel. For Israelis, laws are more like suggestions. Americans are rule keepers (until pushed), and we tend to reward fryer-like behavior. If we get pulled over by a police officer, we are all, "yes sir, no sir." It's very different in the "holy land." If you are too polite when getting pulled over, the police officer might think there's something wrong with you.
In the Israeli markets, bargaining is expected. My wife is an expert. She grew up in the very ethnic town of Ashkelon. She is a street-smart Israeli. She doesn't bargain because we are poor and need to save a few shekels—no, for her, NOT to bargain would be an insult to the merchant. And she would be a fryer—not good! I, on the other hand, sometimes pay double what I need to (in the outdoor market, not in a normal store), just because I want to be nice. And that way, I am a happy fryer.
I found this humorous example, not from a Messianic Jew (i.e., Zeus), online that really brings out the meaning of fryer.
[Our one cat] Zeus, being born in America, is a fryer. When we try to clip his claws, he sits in our lap with a long-suffering expression... but makes no effort to actually move. He fully trusts not only our good intentions but that if we're punishing him, he has probably done something to deserve it. Similarly, if Zeus jumps on the table to sniff at some chicken and we yell at him, he'll immediately shrink back with a guilt-stricken expression and try to win back our approval. Pixel, on the other hand, is thoroughly Israeli, the product of rigorous natural selection on the Israeli streets. Clipping Pixel's nails is an ordeal involving me, my husband, and several thick blankets. Even so, we emerge scratched and bitten, and Pixel (who is otherwise a very sweet cat) emerges with his back nails still intact. Pixel trusts us—to a point—and is grateful for our protectzia, but he'll watch out for himself, thank you. If we attempt to do something not in his self-interest, well, we'd better think again. If Pixel jumps on a table to sniff at some chicken and we yell at him, he'll grab a drumstick on his way down. No fryer, Pixel.
My daughter Danielle is very sweet. She's also very strong. She's dedicated her life to helping the less fortunate, as she leads a volunteer organization getting food to Israelis in need. But she's not afraid to fight for the rights of others. Some of you may remember her getting arrested when she protested against the government's lack of organization in caring for those in need at the beginning of coronavirus.
But coming from America, as a nine-year-old, she just wanted to fit in. She was a fryer. And all the other girls in her class took advantage of her. Then one day, as a girl was picking on her, Danielle had had enough. She defended herself and ended up accidentally ripping off the necklace of the girl who had attacked her. The girl was infuriated and, in a fit of rage, charged at Danielle. Danielle closed her eyes and stuck up her leg (to this day, we don't know if it was dumb luck or if she actually meant to kick the girl in the stomach). When she opened her eyes, the other girl lay on the ground crying. No one ever picked on her again! She wasn't going to be anybody's fryer anymore.
In the blog I quoted above, the author correctly states, "The only way to be certain at any given moment that you are not a fryer is to make somebody else a fryer." You don't let people butt in front of you. Israelis are famous for cutting in line. Especially when getting on the bus. I remember when different stores and clinics started having the machine where you take a number. It was like a revolution! Most Israelis welcomed the "order" (I have to do a story on standing in line!). But, still, some would waltz to the front, "I just have a quick question," and the non-fryer says, "I don't think so, pal. We all have questions. Get in line." We live with this tension of constantly making sure that we don't become somebody's fryer.
I should say I used to live with this tension. Ever since I became confident as an Israeli and no longer feel like an immigrant, I am not so worried about being a fryer. Obviously, on big issues such as purchasing a car, I'm going to stand my ground. But in the market, I may negotiate a good price and then pay full price just to bless the merchant. Sometimes the pressure not to be a fryer can make you lose the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Messianic Jews have the task of both walking in the Holy Spirit while not being a fryer. Believe it or not, being a fryer could actually be a bad witness to Israelis. They simply won't respect you. But if you can stand up for yourself and still maintain your witness, God can use you 😊! I love living here, but this culture is not for everyone. I've seen many Americans come here starry-eyed, only to return to the West, defeated.
Maybe the best compliment I've ever received came just a few weeks ago. We were meeting with several Israeli Messianic leaders from another ministry. The president of that ministry is a native-born Israeli. He said that the only American Messianic Jews he could relate to were his friend Seth, who was there, and me. This brother knows everybody in the Messianic movement because of his position. "He's from Tel Aviv. He doesn't wait for the pedestrian light to turn green before he crosses the road." (not like those fryers in Jerusalem! 😂) I felt a sense of pride that I have truly become a part of the people of Israel.