Departures, Arrivals: 'Israeli Men Are Polite to Me Because I Am a Foreigner'

This week at Ben-Gurion Airport: A Tel Aviv-based singer and actress says she's sick of being asked if she's Jewish; two best friends recall the high times they had in Amsterdam.

Tamara Rottenberg sits on a tall chair at Ben-Gurion Airport.
Tomer Appelbaum

Tamara Rottenberg, 28, lives in Tel Aviv; flying to Amsterdam, Holland

Hello, can I ask where you are heading?

To visit my family.

What are you doing in Israel?

That’s the second question people always ask me.

What’s the first?

“Are you Jewish?” And then they always say: “But you don’t look Jewish.” Then I ask “How are Jews supposed to look?” And then I get some very discriminating answers.

You really don’t look very Jewish.

My father is Jewish and was born in Amsterdam, and he’s the one who brought us here. I came here from the time as a kid, and went on Birthright – it was a superb experience. Since then, I’d come here for vacations and parties. I’ve always felt at home in Israel. When I’d go back to Holland I would miss Israel so much I would cry. And then I tried to find modeling agencies in Israel and when I found one, I made aliyah, 2 and 1/2 years ago.

Since then people ask what you’re doing here?

Every day. I should just hang a poster on myself with all the questions and answers, which are repeated ad nauseam, and say: First read this and then talk to me; enough is enough, don’t ask me such questions! Think of something else! I’m sure an Israeli man could deal with that sort of request.

Do Israeli men behave nicely?

Israeli couples can be very tough on one another. I think Israeli men are very polite to me because I am a foreigner. Aside from that, here they take you to dinner and to the beach; at the beginning it seemed so romantic to me. In Amsterdam, men will at the most take you to a bar to drink with their buddies. They’re lazy. In Amsterdam, there are too many beautiful people and everyone is looking for better and bigger. Pardon me for speaking like an 80-year-old woman, but I think there was a time, before social media, when people were more content with what they had.

Do you miss Amsterdam? 

I’d like to say that I will stay here, but I also want to find love, and it's hard here. I don’t want to generalize, but Israeli men are temperamental. And there’s also the language barrier. It's hard to express yourself in a language that isn’t your mother tongue.

And maybe it is hard to find love.

Those who look, don’t find. That’s what I think. That is my experience. When I need attention, they run away. If you are happy being with yourself and are not sending signals that you need them, then they come running after you.

Sounds like you live in Tel Aviv.

I do. I love Tel Aviv. Right now I’m working in an office at a boring job to make ends meet, and trying to do creative things in my free time.

Like what? 

I am a singer and an actress. I was even on “X-Factor” with my best friend, but they threw us out early on. Since then, we’ve performed at a wedding at the Ronit Ranch with our band, which is called Foxy Amsterdam. There is a great creative scene in Tel Aviv. Its hard to get into it, but I don’t have any complaints. 

Did you have some?

I’ve changed a lot. I didn’t feel at home in Holland. It’s a little hard to explain, because the grass is always greener on the other side. If you are born in Israel, you want to leave, if you are born in Germany, you want to leave it. Many people think that Amsterdam is fantastic, but they experience it as tourists.

Getting high.

Israelis talk a lot about legalizing grass. In my opinion, it's actually alright that it isn’t legal. I think that in spite of the drugs, Amsterdam lives very much in a box. Conservative. And people there constantly complain. They don’t enjoy anything.

People in Israel enjoy life more?

Here I learned how to enjoy the little things: walking to the beach, the sunrise. People in Israel are full of life, they give 1,000 percent. Work hard, play hard. I don’t think it's easier here; obviously there are also bad sides to living here, but every city has its bad sides. I can deal with it. I moved to Tel Aviv alone, and did not flee. Lots of people make aliyah and leave. I’m a very social person and care about people. I like to make them laugh. That’s my goal in life. 

Bat Hen Barbiaro and Tal Hinkis, two young women hold on to a luggage cart at Ben-Gurion Airport.
Tomer Appelbaum

From left, Bat Hen Barbiaro, 27, and Tal Hinkis, 27, lives in Hod Hasharon; arriving from Amsterdam, Holland

Hello, can I ask where you traveled?

Tal: To Amsterdam, for a concert. It was a Groupon deal. Concert and hotel and a flight at the worst hours.

Bat Hen: We landed there at night and had to wake up at 2 A.M. for the flight home.

Tal: But it was fun.

Who performed?

Tal: Florence and the Machine

What sort of music do they play?

Tal: You can’t really define it. Maybe indie. Moving into mainstream. In my opinion it is unique. There’s no other band like them. I am an ardent fan.

Bat Hen: I am a non-ardent fan. I went because of Amsterdam.

How was the concert?

Tal: We were swindled on the seats. We thought we’d be in front. We were in the back and couldn’t see a thing. You know, we watched the video screens.

Bat Hen: That’s Groupon for you. You shouldn’t trust them, there’s always a catch.

Tal: But aside from that, it was amazing. The playlist was cool. She sang the famous “Check It Out,” and also “Ship to Wreck,” which I love.

Bat Hen: And there was also ... nu, what’s the name of the song I like, the quiet one?

Tal: “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful.” It was such fun.

What did you do after the concert?

Bat Hen: Way too much shopping.

Tal: Primark is an accursed place. We also did a lot of touring. We got lost twice. 

Bat Hen: One time we got on the wrong train and tons of Dutch people helped us. There was one hunk who talked with us for 20 minutes ... In general I’d say that they are good people, nice and gentle. Everything is calm there, everything is laid-back.

Tal: It’s all thanks to the grass. (They laugh) 

Bat Hen: And the day after the concert, we were in this little town, old-style, you know, and we got lost. We walked and walked and it was raining hard. We got soaked. But it was nice, we went out anyway. The homes there are exposed to the street, you see everything from the big windows, families sitting down to eat, the Christmas trees. It was an experience. 

Tal: We are used to getting lost together, so we didn’t take it too hard. We knew it would happen.

How long have you been friends?

Tal: Since the army, we served together in air force intelligence. We were a big group, but it’s broken up. 

How did you stick it out?

Bat Hen: When there’s a connection, there’s a connection. It’s also a matter of character. We look as if we’re different, but we aren’t. I look more like someone who is calculating ...

Tal: I look more extroverted, but we have some shared traits. 

How are you alike? 

Bat Hen: In being modest, shy. We fool around a lot, but also know how to be serious when it’s needed. 

Tal: And also, the creative mind is something that we share. 

Have you ever had a fight? 

Bat Hen: You can count on one hand all the times that we’ve fought in the nine years that we’ve known each other. 

Tal: And I’m tough – I no longer have any contact with any of the girlfriends with whom I traveled abroad before. It’s hard for me to be with the same person 24/7. I love my “alone time”; I need my space. I get fed up very quickly with people when I go abroad. 

Bat Hen: Anyway, we went to a cafe. We don’t smoke, but we tried it. 

Tal: We said that we’d try cookies and in the end we just bought a candy.

Bat Hen: It had a horrible taste. Revolting. And it made me feel lousy. But it had a good effect on Tal; she was laughing the whole time. 

Tal: I had attacks, I couldn’t stop. 

Bat Hen: And then we went back to the hotel room. I was lying on the bed and I heard sounds and whispers. Somebody tried to open the door and I was sure they were aliens who wanted to kidnap me.

Bat Hen: And I didn’t tell her until the morning, because I was afraid that I would feel even more stressed if I admitted to it. 

Tal: But there really were noises from the next room over.

Bat Hen: I think that I was way out there in La La Land.