An Amateur's Guide to Israeli Women (And Men)

They'll give you their number and tell you to call, then turn out to have a regular boyfriend. They'll invite you for dinner with the family on the second date. For newcomers, dating locals can be something of an enigma.

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It’s a balmy weekday evening, and two young Jewish-American men are sitting outdoors at Port Said, the hipster bar-restaurant situated in a parking lot behind the Great Synagogue of Tel Aviv. The discussion: Women. And more specifically, sabra women, and how to begin to understand them.

The men, both fourth-year students in Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Medical School English-language program, have, between them, almost a decade’s worth of practice in trying to figure this out. That’s years’ worth of evenings ordering up chasers at the Dizzy-Frish bar and trying out their pick-up lines. It’s years’ worth of nights strutting their stuff on the dance floor at the Galina or Clara clubs. And it’s years’ worth of lazy Shabbat afternoons surfing the local Jdate and OkCupid sites. The men both have what they believe will be a lifelong caffeine buzz from the number of coffee dates they have been on, and more familiarity with this city’s frozen yogurt and ice cream spots than they could have ever imagined possible.

And they have a lot of tips to impart. Caleb, who asked that only his first name be used, knew plenty about women when he arrived in Israel four years ago. But what he did not know much about − he will be the first to admit − was Israeli women.

“It was a week after I got here,” says the 28-year-old from Gladwyne, Pennsylvania, “and I was out on the sidewalk, near Nehemia Street, painting a picture of my friend Ricky’s motorcycle. A girl walked by and stopped.” She was a waitress at the HaKovshim cafe, and she liked his artwork, she told him. She gave him her number.

“Just like that,” says Caleb, pausing and pushing back his tortoiseshell glasses. “Five minutes. She gave me her number, told me to call her, and walked away.”

“That’s Israel for you,” explains Simon, who hails from Beverly Hills, where his Persian immigrant family owns a successful dry-cleaning business. Simon, who, like Caleb, did not want to be identified by his full name, first came here on a Birthright trip, right after graduating from UCLA in 2004. He loved it. He returned for a lot of reasons, he says, among them, in no special order: the medical program he got into, the beaches, the nightlife, Zionism, sure, and, of course, “the girls.”

“I had this vision of meeting a beautiful Israeli and getting married to her,” admits Simon, repeating an oft-heard sentiment among internationals here, men and women alike.

Caleb, for example, admits to similar dreams. “A dark lady with dark eyes,” like his Sephardic Egyptian mom − that was his vision, he says. But Caleb’s first experiences with dating, let alone finding a girlfriend, not to mention a wife, were daunting. The first problems became evident way back at the beginning, on the Nehemia Street sidewalk. Up until right before leaving for Israel,

Caleb had been in a three-year relationship − with his former French professor from Emory College, six years his senior, no less − and so he was, he knew, a bit rusty at the dating game. But he still knew the tricks. Or so he thought.

“I waited three days, and called her,” he relays. “That’s what we do in America.”

“And that was a big mistake. An amateur’s mistake.”

“Total amateur move,” agrees Simon.

“I never thought of myself as someone who had a hard time getting girls to go out with me back in the States,” says Caleb. “But in Israel, during my first months, I would get girls’ numbers, but when I called them they would always turn me down. I could not understand what was happening. Self-doubt was creeping in.”

It took some advice from an Israeli guy − someone Caleb struck up a conversation with at his local hummus joint − to understand what he was doing wrong.

“You do not wait, my brother. If you like an Israeli girl you call her immediately,” the hummus guy told Caleb. “And you kiss her immediately too. On the first date.

Or, if it’s going well, 20 minutes after you meet. Boom.”

“It’s true. I have watched the guys here,” says Caleb. “They have game. They don’t break eye contact. They create crazy sexual tension. They go for it.”

“You have to be dominant and aggressive in Israel,” adds Simon. “The Israeli guys are so aggressive that this is what the girls have come to expect.”

“It took us, like, a year to figure this out,” sighs Caleb.

Flirting with the boss

The next thing to be aware of, say the men, after the golden “act immediately” rule, is that, even if, and when, you set a date and go on it − the local woman in question might already, well, have a boyfriend.

“So, when she finally finished being upset with me that I took three days to call, she says: ‘Okay, where do you want to go?’” says Caleb, back on his story of the Kovshim cafe waitress. “And I am like, ‘I have no idea, I just got to this country this week,’ So she makes a suggestion: ‘Meet me by the rocks between Jaffa and the Clara [club].’” She said she wanted to do some yoga on the rocks. “So here I am, meeting this beautiful 19-year-old by the rocks at night to do some meditation. I’m thinking, ‘I was a religious studies major. I can talk to her about Buddhism.’”

But the dream date, Caleb admits, did not quite end the way he expected. “We are walking along, and some guy − her boss at the pet store where she had a second job, who is like 40 or something, calls her.” The waitress took the call, and spent a good 10 minutes flirting with the guy. “It was bizarre,” says Caleb.

“This is a very common thing,” explains Simon. “There seem to be a lot of Israeli girls who have a long-term boyfriend but who are ‘on a break’ − and see an American guy as the good interim answer.”

“Sometimes, they are not even on a break at all,” notes Caleb. “But they think ‘Americans − they might not be here forever.’ They assume you are not serious.”

“It is only when you assure them 500 times that you are in Israel to stay, that this dynamic changes,” says Simon.

“And that’s when they get very serious and can’t stop talking about ‘where is this relationship going?’” adds Caleb.

Caleb’s waitress saga goes on, a tale full of rejected advances: with the waitress’ roommate, who fell for Caleb; with the pet shop boss, Zion, who threatened his life; with the roommate’s diamond-dealer boyfriend; and a cameo appearance by attractive, identical Moroccan twins, who he says took his breath away.

“At the end, I am like, ‘Okay, fine. You are all crazy,’” says Caleb, concluding the story and ordering up a beer. “That was my first dating experience in Israel. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced in the U.S. Or in my life.”

Meet the family

If it should come to pass that things pan out better than this − as they began to do, in time, for Caleb and his friends, one needs to be prepared, say the guys, for Israeli dating-scene surprise No. 3: the family.

“Israeli girls invite you to Shabbat dinner, and you end up meeting their whole family by the second date. It’s an interesting phenomenon,” notes Caleb. “It takes a while to get used to this. In the U.S., if can take months, even a year, before you meet someone’s family.”

Grandparents will ask all about your bar-mitzvah Torah portion and what synagogue you went to, and aunts and uncles will ask to know, over and again, if you intend to stay in Israel forever. “This is normal,” says Simon.

“Sometimes you have to fib a little [and say]: ‘Of course, I am staying forever,’” says Caleb.

The good news, agree the two medical students − now joined at the table by a third friend, Michael from Miami Beach, another medical student − is that all this family time does not seem to put a damper on that very important ingredient of dating: sex.

“You might go to Shabbat dinner and then sleep with the family’s daughter in their house, that very night. That would never happen in the States. Can you imagine such a thing?” says Caleb.

“But despite all the hype about how much sex is happening in Tel Aviv, I think it’s much easier to have a one-night stand in the States,” says Michael, putting in his two cents. “Here, you need to go out more than two or three times, and maybe for a Shabbat dinner, too, before you end up in bed.”

“Depends,” says Caleb.

For many new arrivals, the local dating-game rules and customs end up being too different, and too much to deal with.

“I got tired of chasing the Israeli girls around,” says Simon. “I found dating here to be a regressive thing: The first date is the best, but then it goes downhill. The girls don’t pick up the phone. They are busy. They want to discuss the relationship.”

Simon and Michael both say that, at the end of the day, they have had more in common with the international women they were meeting.

“With Israeli girls, conversations drop off. We ask them about where they went after the army, and tell them what college was like − but then we often get stuck,” says Michael, who is now dating an American he met on his Birthright trip prior to moving here. With the international crowd, Simon adds, he has to make less of an effort. There are more cultural connections, and a whole slew of shared local experiences to build on, not to mention − more often than not − a common mother tongue.

Just the weekend before, Simon expands, he had hung out with some British women who had just made aliyah. “They were looking for jobs and also for second-hand furniture. I had some ideas,” he says.

The small group went for tapas on Ahad Ha’am Street, and then for drinks at the Deli on Allenby, where they later danced to Depeche Mode in a smoky room until the wee hours. They bumped into other internationals they knew. They had a laugh. They drank.

He kissed one of them. Got her number. It was easy, and familiar.

“I thought about aliyah,” says Simon, “but I am realizing that, even thought this is fantastic place − I could not live here.” He would not make enough money as a doctor, he says, and it would be hard to support a family. And, well, he now has a vision of his future wife being American.

“The women here are sweet − and real. But I just know that an Israeli woman would dominate my life,” he says. “I don’t think I could handle it.”

Sort-of-good news for boy-watchers

Just in case anyone mistakenly thought that dating local men might be a simpler feat than figuring out how to win over a sabra girl’s heart, Jessica Fass, a 30-year-old transplant from Los Angles, has a few words to the wise. The sort-of-good news, says the Chapman University graduate, who has been living in Tel Aviv for two years, working 9 to 5 at AOL, and moonlighting as a stand-up comedian, is: You don’t have to make too much of an effort.

“I mean, guys start talking to you when you are walking down the street,” she says. “That just does not happen in L.A.” And no, it’s not only because no one in L.A. is doing much walking down streets, she protests − it’s just the Israeli way of doing things. “It’s perfectly normal for a guy to just join your conversation if you are with a friend − or to interrupt you if you are talking on the phone, or cut in line in front of you when you are waiting for something − and then ask if you want to go for coffee.”

The other sort-of-good piece of news, Fass continues, is that one does not have even to get dressed up for this sort of stuff to happen.

“In the States, you would not be caught dead with your hair crimpy, or with paint on your shorts. When you go out, you have to look pulled together,” she says. “Here, no one cares as much.”

So, there’s relatively good news, but complications may come later. “Usually guys here pick you up because they want to practice their English and be friends,” she explains. “Or because they think American girls are easy, and want a one-night stand.”

Or both, she adds.

“Sex, friends − it all gets mixed up in Tel Aviv,” says Fass, who is trying to make a Web series about an American woman living in Israel and looking for a Jewish Israeli husband.

“They tell you they love you here almost right away, but then break up with you and just want to be friends. Or friends with ‘benefits’ ... It is a sin city and a carefree place, this Tel Aviv,” notes Fass, admitting she has more than once received that classic Israeli booty-call text from a guy “friend” at 3 A.M.: “Awake?”

Sex is popular in this town, she notes, getting ready behind stage for a stand-up night at the Xoho cafe, a popular hang-out for Americans that serves up chocolate chip cookies and vegan sandwiches.

Fass takes the microphone and, after a few jokes about mangling Hebrew phrases, not being able to commit to aliyah, and the impossibility of understanding the rules of the beach game matkot, launches into a tale about Sachar, her ex-boyfriend.

“He was always, like, ‘Jessica, you have to come over!’ And I would be like: ‘Sachar, you don’t have anything in your apartment. You don’t have a TV, you don’t have a computer. There is no food. There is nothing to do there except have sex.’ And he would be, like: ‘Exactly. Exactly!’”

They ended up just being friends, says Fass. And he has moved to Virginia, anyway − living the American dream. He sometimes texts, late at night, to flirt a bit, and to chat about the American women over there. He doesn’t understand them at all.

Tel Aviv pub life: Iron Dome in the morning and partying at night.Credit: Daniel Bar-On
Jessica Fass. Has a few words to the wise. Credit: Moti Milrod

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