'To Be an Israeli, You Have to Serve in the Army'

Arrivals / Departures: An Israeli-American starts a life in the Jewish state, away from his family; a hairstylist returning from New York says that while Israelis are nasty, Americans are square and irritating.

Eli Rappoport.
Tomer Appelbaum

Eli Rappoport, 22, lives on Kibbutz Yehiam, flying to Baltimore

Hello, can I ask what you’ll be doing in the United States?

I’m going to see my parents. I’m doing army service, in the Paratroops, and I got special leave.

Nice of them. Are you originally an Israeli?

I was born in Israel and moved to the United States with my parents when I was 7. They live in Baltimore, in Pikesville, where all the Jews live.

Why did you come back?

I decided to do army service. I have a lot of family here – uncles, aunts, my grandfather. I decided to come and start a life here, and to be an Israeli you have to serve. So, why not? I always wanted to be in the army, not necessarily the Israeli army. I thought of enlisting in the States, but then I’d be protecting Afghanistan. In Israel, at least, I get to protect the place itself.

Did you come alone?

I came with a group of lone soldiers who came here together. Before the army we all have time to get used to life here – three months when we’re all on kibbutz. There’s a neighborhood for all the new immigrants and we live together and do everything together until we go into the army. To get used to Israeli culture. Also we do some intensive Hebrew lessons.

Did you get used to the culture?

In America everything is blanketed, nothing is said straight out; for example, people say, “I’d appreciate it if you didn't do that.” In Israel it’s, “Stop doing that or there’ll be trouble.” What bothers me is that Israelis are always in a hurry. They’ll stop for a coffee and a smoke but then they’ll hurry off, and then things don’t get done properly. Not everything is organized here, there’s lots of bureaucracy, which is nonsense. But I think it’s a country that works, despite all the lack of organization. And actually it doesn’t matter how disorganized it is, people still do what needs to be done.

Tomer (the photographer): Did they teach you about chutzpah?:

I learned about that before! It’s helpful in getting what I need.

Sounds like you’ve adjusted.

The army was more of a culture shock than I thought. To start my service and understand that I have no control over what I do from day to day – that’s the big change. The rifle was a shock. I remember picking one up for the first time and thinking, “Wow, this is a real weapon.” I’d never touched a firearm before – maybe a pistol on a shooting range, for a minute – but it’s not like you carry it with you all the time. I also did a Hebrew course in the army, and because I’m a little older, I got instructions from a girl of 18, my sister’s age. And I’m not 18 anymore. I notice the immaturity.

What did you do before coming here?

After high school I took classes in college and worked in electronics online at Amazon. I also traveled every four months, a different country each time, until I got here. This is the first time I’ve been away from home for seven months, and that’s a long time for me. I’m happy to see my parents, I miss my bed at home. The first thing I’ll do is give my parents a hug and go upstairs to my bed.

Are your parents Israeli-Americans?

Americans who came to Israel. They’re religious, ultra-Orthodox. I’m not religious. I went to a boys-only school until the end of high school.

Doesn’t sound like much fun.

It wasn’t. I was a teenager and was only with guys, and there’s a whole gender out there that I didn’t talk to at all. I started to eat non-kosher at the age of 13 and to leave religion and do what I want. Today I have no problem with religion. I don’t keep kosher or observe Shabbat, and my life is easier. Whether I believe in God or not is a complicated question.

Do you believe?

I think so, but I have questions.

Are you now at least talking to girls?

It took time for it to become normal. For a long time it was embarrassing, because it wasn’t okay for so many years, when everything was just boys, so I went in the opposite direction. There was a time when I hung out only with girls and that’s how I got over it, but sometimes the shyness still pops up.

Sigal, Roi and Nataly Yosef.
Tomer Appelbaum

Sigal Yosef, 22; Roi Yossef, 21; and Nataly Yosef, 23; all live in Ashdod; Roi is arriving from New York

Roi: Wow, is it ever hot here!

You look a bit stunned.

There were 700 little religious kids on the flight. They keep needing their diapers changed. And I had wine poured on me and hot coffee was spilled on my leg, as well as the vodka I was drinking. At least there was both hot and cold.

What were you up to in the United States?

I lived in Manhattan and worked in the salon of Valery Joseph, my uncle. I went for four months and there was a plan to stay for life, but I came back. Walla, there’s nothing like Israel.

Did you come back for good?

As much money as there is abroad, and as much as life is good, there’s nothing like Israel. That’s a fact. Maybe in another year or two I’ll move to L.A., but in the meantime I want to move to Tel Aviv, with God’s help, and move ahead.

As a hair stylist?

Not only. I’ve been working since I was 14 in the salon of someone my mother introduced me to. For two years I worked for him – cleaning, washing hair – without being paid, only tips, which people hardly give. But I’m not in this for money – I love it. I get up for work in the morning with a smile. But my future is doing events, styling and fashion. The makeup attracts me more than a salon. In Israel I did more, abroad I was stuck in the salon for 24 hours. To work in production in America you need papers and a Green Card, it takes years.

Is that why you came back?

Not only. It’s tough when there’s no family, no friends, no going out. Everything has to be planned a week ahead. It’s not spontaneous like, “Let’s go to the beach” – everyone works. As much as Israelis have a nasty nature, Americans are square and irritating.

What kind of salon was it?

Fancy clients, the whole upper crust there goes to salons and they pay plenty – $800 for a haircut and a blowout from my uncle, and $400 for the other hairstylists. My uncle also has a salon in the Hamptons and I worked there, too. I won’t say that he’s not a good hairstylist, but he met a woman and she came into the business with him and manages all the salons for him. Five salons and she’s also his wife.

What’s it like working with family?

It’s not fun the way people think. If it’s not family, you feel more comfortable. For example, they brought me in and gave me a place to stay for two months. That’s another reason I came back: I wasn’t so independent there.

What’s happening in New York salons these days?

They don’t do super-smoothing and straightening; the hair there is thinner than in Israel. You have to know how to work with that kind of hair, but it’s easier and faster to work with it. Bottom line: In New York it’s the same approach for everyone. One does a wavy blowout, the second one does the same. They don’t do anything new. They do simple blowouts, the simplest haircut, and that’s what they pay for. The bob cut is in fashion now, and also the ombre and the blaze. 

What are ombre and blaze? 

The streaks and coloring, French peroxide, that’s blaze. Color that gets brighter gradually. Like my sisters have. Downtown they also do more lively colors.

Tell me, what’s the deal with the socks and the flip-flops?

That’s my style.

Even in Ashdod?

I don’t care what people think.

Nataly: He’s the only one in Ashdod who dresses like that. Tell her about BenEl Tavori [a singer].

Yes, tell me.

Well, I was walking with one black Vans shoe and one red one. And somehow BenEl Tavori was walking by and he said to me, “That’s really gorgeous.” A few months later, he was interviewed and photographed with one shoe of each kind. I was at home and thought, “Ah, he got that from me.” And then I saw him at a club and said to him: Hey, it’s me, with the shoes idea. And he said, “I don’t remember you.” Jerk.

Give me a styling tip.

Nataly: He always tells me that in fashion there are no rules.

Roi: No tips. Everyone has to do what they like.