Only in Israel

Shifting back to the real purpose of this blog, this post is about moments that could only happen in Israel.

Recently I got a call from my insurance company to upgrade my life insurance.  For the most part, this is a pretty standard conversation.  This kind of conversation is often hard for me because the guy always speaks so fast and listening to Hebrew on the phone with a diverse and unusual vocabulary such as illness and other life insurance-y terms is also a struggle.


“Hey, slow down.  My native language is English.”

“Oh, sure.  No problem.  I’ll speak slower.” He doesn’t.

But he’s really nice about explaining things that I don’t understand.  He doesn’t translate; he explains things in simpler Hebrew.

When he gets to the parts about what my benefits will be if I get cancer or any other accidents occur, he throws in a few has v’halilas. This is a phrase that more or less means “God forbid” or “Heaven forbid.”  (There are a lot of discussions about the origin of this phrase, but suffice it to say its roots come from the Bible and other explanatory ancient texts.  But in Modern Hebrew, it’s simply understood as “God forbid.”)

“If you should, has v’halila, get an illness – and, of course, you should always be healthy, that’s the most important thing – then the policy …”

He also has to confirm that I’m currently healthy.  I say that I am and get a toda l’el (thank God).

By the end of the conversation, we’ve blessed away all potential illnesses and been grateful for good health.  And as a closing, “of course, you should be healthy, happy and live a long life.”

And this is where I fail my Israeliness test.  The common/correct response when getting good wishes heaped upon you is to respond, “Amen.” Ah, but the American in me still runs the auto-pilot and I say “thank you!”  This leads to a confused pause, but since I’ve already explained that my Hebrew isn’t that great, it’s just seen as a cultural faux pas.

The time that I did say “Amen” it seemed more appropriate.  It was the evening before a holiday and my internet went out.  I called the internet company and the Russian customer service guy tried absolutely everything to get the internet stabilized.  We must have been on the phone for an hour.  The holiday was about to come in and he had to go home at some point.  I was already at home hoping to stream TV shows during the holiday.

And then at the last minute there was a miracle.  The internet worked!  And my Russian customer service guy joyfully declared she’chechiyanu v’kiy’manu v’higianu l’zman ha’zeh! And my automatic response was “AMEN!”

[The she’chechiyanu is a prayer that you say at a joyful occasion, among other uses – (Praise and thanks to God) for giving us life, for sustaining us, and for allowing us to reach this season.]

There’s no reason for me to believe that either of these two guys on the phone were religious.  And their invocations of God in life insurance and internet service didn’t lead me to think that they were religious either.  They were just Israeli, using the vernacular of Israeli society.

And to that I say, “Amen!”


The in-between time

How do you go from the depths of despair to the heights of happiness in five minutes?  Is it a form of manic-depressive disorder?  Is there a switch that they install in your brain when you make aliyah?

Back in the early days of living in Israel, my emotions and grief on Soldiers and Victims of Terror Remembrance Day were dialed way past 11.  On my first Remembrance Day during my kibbutz experience, I cried all day – after having cried the whole day on Holocaust Remembrance Day the week before.  In fact, my Hebrew teacher asked me to leave class because my outpouring of unfiltered emotion was just too much for her to bear.  Later in the evening, we were all supposed to gather at the main field of the kibbutz to have a closing ceremony for this sad day.  More tears and choking back sobs.  Honestly, my love for Israel was quite dehydrating.  And then everyone was waiting, murmuring to each other in quiet conversation, but just standing there.

Five minutes passed.

And then the fireworks began and everyone was laughing and cheering and they headed off to the biggest, wildest party of the year for Independence Day.

What the hell!?!?!

Today, the switch is working better.  I get it.  Soldiers who fought to protect us and this land died so that we could live.  We honor them and then we not only should, but we are obligated to live and celebrate life.  And this week, I stood for the sirens and enjoyed the fireworks.

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Fireworks 2017 – it’s really hard to catch fireworks well with a phone camera

But what about those five minutes?  As I was thinking about it this week, it seems to me that we are always in those five minutes.  We just don’t notice because we are not switching between the depths of despair and the heights of happiness.  It’s pretty exhausting to be at either extreme, but day-to-day life in Israel is that in-between time.

When an Israeli athlete wins a medal and you hear HaTikvah, there’s a swell of emotion – and we are in those five minutes.

When the internet company representative works on your internet just before a holiday and says the Shechechiyanu prayer of thanksgiving (in a Russian accent) when it works – we are in those five minutes.

When you take pride in Israelis helping wounded Syrians or building mobile hospitals in Haiti – we are in those five minutes.

When the insurance representative says “Tfu, tfu, tfu, that you should always be healthy” – we are in those five minutes.

When you hear Hebrew in unexpected places around the world, and you feel suddenly at home – we are in those five minutes.

When the veterinarian who made a house call for your cat takes a few minutes to say afternoon prayers in your living room – we are in those five minutes.

There are no substitutes for Remembrance Days and Independence Day and they’re important, but we ought to remember to declare our Zionism and love of Israel in those in-between times.  We don’t need grand gestures and emotional extremes every day; it’s those ordinary everyday minutes that are the most special if we just take a moment to pay attention.


Only in Israel moments?

Another season, another reason, for makin’ whoopee…

In the family values corner, we have a hotel ad playing on the fact that it is a leap year.  In Hebrew, they say a “pregnant year” rather than a leap year, so one hotel in Jerusalem decided that that would be the basis of their promotion.  “Make babies in our resort on February 29 and you’ll celebrate your life events at the hotel, on us.” (For the article and whole video ad see here.)

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Wedding crashers?

A couple from the US came to Israel to have their wedding and for various reasons many of their guests couldn’t attend.  Nearby another group was celebrating a bat mitzvah.  The guests of the bat mitzvah saw that the wedding lacked guests and so joined in to bring a little life to the party.  Wedding crashers, you say?  Not in Israel.  When a bride and groom are married, the guests are there to perform the mitzvah of simhat chatan v’kallah, rejoicing with the groom and the bride.  Guests provide the joyful spirit, dance with the bride and groom, give their all to make the couple happy on this very special day.  (For this story, go here.)

Hipsters in Zion

I read a blog post written by a woman who suggested that early Zionist leaders could have been hipsters.  They had pretty awesome beards.  The author went with Herzl for looks.  I don’t know what she was thinking with A.D. Gordon.

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But when I first saw the headline, I thought she meant these artist renditions.

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Hi-tech history

The Dead Sea Scrolls are getting even more digitized.  Just imagine:  Some guy wrote stuff down 2,000 years ago.  Those scrolls were put into pots and kept in caves.  Someone accidentally came across them and – long story, short – they ended up in a museum.  Scholars study them.  People visit them.  They were digitized and visible online to anyone with an internet connection.  This new project is upping the digital ante by making a whole new virtual environment to work in to decipher mysterious elements of the scrolls.


Copyright: Shai Halevi – Source.

And what do you do on school field trips?

Oh, you know, find 3,400-year-old artifacts.  How about you?

Surprisingly, some of the biggest and most important finds in Israel were found by children on school trips or hiking on their own.  The nice part of the story is that the child and his family turned it in to the Israel Antiquities Authority.  He got a certificate for good citizenship and IAA officials visited his school.  Will it inspire him enough to become an archaeologist some day?  I hope so!


Copyright: Clara Amit – Source.

And that was another side of Israel for this week.