Guide to the Perplexed Israeli (In America)

Amy Klein
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File photo: An IDF soldier holding an Israeli flag.Credit: Ilan Asayag
Amy Klein

Hey, you! Yes, you in the torn Israeli Army Golani T-shirt…

I know you’re excited to move to America (of course, you’re planning on going back to Israel in a few years), but on this Israeli Day of Independence, here are some pointers on how to adapt to living in the US of A.

1. Israel is Amazing

We Israelis all know that our country is the best on earth: The beautiful beaches! The Tel Aviv bar scene! The majesty of Jerusalem! The cucumbers! But here’s the thing: No one else wants to hear about how much better everything is in Israel, and how they do everything wrong in the States. Number one, they’re Americans, so they like it here. Number two, you chose to come here, so you should try to like it too. Don’t begin any more sentences with “In Israel, we always….” Stop comparing and start enjoying America for what it is. Wake up and smell the coffee (even though, I’ll admit, it does taste like the bottom of an ashtray).

2. Up in Smoke

Speaking of ashtrays, don’t bother looking for any in America, where “No Smoking” signs are strictly enforced (unlike in Israel, where people usually light up right beneath the signs.) There are a few places where smoking is permitted – for example, private homes – but if you do take a puff, people look at you as if you ate babies for brunch. Unless you’re in an episode of “Mad Men” or a hipster living in Brooklyn like on “Girls,” do yourself a favor and quit. Now.

3. This is a Line

In Israel waiting in line involves aggressively pushing your way to the front of the amorphous blob, but they have this thing in America called a “line,” which takes the form of, well, a straight line. And people actually wait patiently in them at the bank, the post office and the supermarket. (Bars? Not so much.) In general, Americans tend to follow rules. Something about making their society a better place for everyone or something. As an Israeli, you don’t want to feel like a freier, a sucker, a chump, so you’ll probably spend a lot of time trying to get around the bureaucracy, but trust me: It’s easier just to fall in line. Literally. No one will think less of you.

4. Lost in Translation

You might speak English good (although it wouldn’t hurt to work on det accent), but you probably won’t understand American. When your boss says, “That’s a very interesting idea,” what he really means is, “that’s so ridiculous you should never speak again.” Or when someone says, “We should do lunch sometime…” what she doesn’t add is: “…when hell freezes over.” Ditto on communicating with Americans. In a meeting you can’t say, “That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard,” even when that’s the truth; nor can you tell a woman, “I don’t think we should go out.” Try these Americanisms — “Good point,” “We should do lunch” — instead.) Israelis call it phony, Americans call it polite.

5. On dating and mating

Dating, for Americans, seems to be less like a process which leads to love and marriage and more like something out of an 18th-century Jane Austen novel, where men must engage in brave and costly acts to prove their worthiness for a fair maiden. It’s no wonder American women tend to view Israeli men like something out of “Don’t Mess with the Zohan,” Adam Sandler’s spoof (I swear it was a spoof) of the hypersexualized, overly aggressive, Middle Eastern lothario. Because Israeli men do strange things like tell a woman they like her, or that they want to go out with her again – something the women deem “creepy.” (There’s that Israeli directness again). My advice to you: Act less like Eyal Golan and more like the cool, calm collected soldier Ari Ben Canaan (played by Paul Newman) in “Exodus.” Or just date other Israelis.

6. A Mini Israel

It’s fine to date other landsmen, but if you want to have a successful tenure here – no matter how long it is – venture out of the Israeli community. What’s the point of only eating hummus, listening to Galei Zahal Army Radio and seeing every Israeli film and concert as if you never left Israel? Branch out a bit. Befriend some locals. Expand your horizons, that’s why you’re here, right?

7. You’re an MOT*, even if you don’t know it

Maybe you’ve only been inside a synagogue once since your bar mitzvah, but here in America, if you’re Israeli, you’re Jewish. American Jews don’t distinguish much between an Israeli national identity and a religious Jewish one. They’ll invite you to their Shabbat meals, their Sukka parties (yeah, that’s a thing) and Shavuot lectures. Coming from a country that doesn’t separate between religion and state, you weren’t too crazy about the rituals, but give it a try: You’ll find it’s a very different religious experience than the one you grew up with. And you might even like it. A little.

*Member of the Tribe. As in Jewish.

8. The Call of Home

Every Israeli Independence Day, as you mingle at yet another Israeli party making small talk and eating canapés, you find yourself more and more missing the smell of the mangal (barbeque), the crowded beaches and the absolute revelry that overtakes the country on Yom Ha’atzmaut. Every year, you tell yourself you’ll go back home soon—as soon as you cash out your business/get your doctorate/meet “The One”—but one year, you won’t be able to ignore it. You realize it’s time to go back to Israel. Just in time too – you can finally teach Israelis how to stand in line.

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