I’m finding it incredibly easy to live in Israel. Compared to other countries I’ve lived in, Israel is just accessible.
1) There excellent infrastructure, from well-constructed buildings, to an operational government, to (most importantly) good roads. Those of you who know me probably know of my intense love for public transport, born out of an almost complete lack of mobility when I lived in Kurdistan. In Kurdistan, buses ran to some places sometimes. They’d leave when they were full, which meant you could be sitting on a half-full bus for 2 hours until gradually all the passengers abandoned hope and left for home, deciding that the trip wasn’t worth waiting all day for, leaving you sitting alone on a bus which had no chance of leaving and beginning to think that spending the weekend in your apartment with a cup of tea actually did sound like quite an exciting adventure.
Israel has trains and buses to everywhere. Direct, connecting, multi-staged. You can get anywhere. And if there’s a leg of your trip that you somehow can’t complete by public transport, you can hitchhike the rest of the way. Despite what everyone says, I’ve found hitchhiking in Israel (if you’re smart about it, of course) to be easy and relatively safe. I’d probably use it for short distances, although last winter I did hitchhike from Eilat to Jerusalem without a problem.
Israel is a small, and the network of roads spiderwebbing the country is fabulous.
2) You can do anything here. Seriously, anything.
Yesterday I took the train (LOVE trains!) down to Tel Aviv and I ran the 10K in the Tel Aviv Marathon. My cousin here is a windsurfer/cyclist/hiker, and there are surf/sail/paddleboard lessons on my kibbutz. There’s diving in the Red Sea as well as in Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast, huge expanses of beaches, and even a ski resort on Mount Hermon (when Israel gets enough snow – this past winter was miserable). All the hiking trails – ALL of them – are marked, and there’s a train running the entire North-South distance through the country, called the Israel National Trail, which I want badly to hike this fall.
And that’s just a fraction of the outdoor activities.
There are clubs and bars in the cities, concerts and plays, schools, markets, historical sites galore, and all the culture you can stand.
Needless to say, I don’t get much sleep nowadays.
3) Israel is FRIENDLY and HOSPITABLE. This is not a combination I’ve often found. Many places are one or the other. Kurdistan was extremely hospitable, and extremely unfriendly. Kurds would give me gifts (here’s a past post about Kurdish gift-giving), and readily invite me into their home for huge meals and conversation (like the time I was adopted in Halabja). Kurds show up at others’ homes without announcement, so you always have to be ready to entertain. It’s very social, and long meals and guest-pampering are some of the core elements of the culture. Yet, despite feeling welcome in their homes, I never felt like a had a real Kurdish friend. I was too much of an outsider, and I often felt more like a curiosity than a friend when I was invited into a Kurdish home.
The United States, on the other hand, is quite friendly but not all that hospitable. We are very polite and don’t often say was we mean, instead trying to get what we want through a manipulation of subtle verbal cues and body language. If someone is straightforward, they are often labeled “bossy” or “aggressive.” (Mind you, I did grow up on the West Coast, so some of you East Coasters might disagree with me.) But rarely do Americans invite a stranger into their house for a meal, or even have people over spur-of-the-moment. We prefer to prepare our homes and ourselves, and put on a presentation for guests. We deeply value our privacy, which means that unexpected guests are often unwelcome ones.
In Israel, it seems like entertaining guests is a priority. Everyone crashes on everyone’s couches, and everyone has food and an extra set of linens set aside for guests. I feel genuinely welcome in Israeli homes, even if my connection with the host is tenuous at best. I’ve been adopted by a family on my kibbutz, after I complemented my now-momma’s Rudy Project sunglasses and we got to talking about bike racing. Now I go over to her house twice a week and eat, play with her kids, watch Israeli television, and she even entered me in the race I ran yesterday. I men some distant family in Tel Aviv, and I’m currently staying with them for the weekend. Now I know most everyone – cousin Mendy, his wife Ronit and her parents, Mendy’s 3 children and their partners, and his 4 grandsons. I had Shabbat dinner with them last night, and Shabbat brunch with them 2 weeks ago.
I am quite conscious, however, that this isn’t a blanket hospitality – I have a distinct advantage in this country because my mother is Jewish. I share this quality with nearly the entire country, and this recommends me to Israelis. As my coach told me and some young men (both ulpanists and kibbutzniks) last week, “We are all Jewish. So no fighting here. We are all family.” And I can’t lie, I love being accepted as family. But while I am deeply enjoying this unique experience of travelling without feeling like an outsider, I am aware that it often hinges on my Jewishness. And I’m not sure how I feel about that. For now, I am so busy with school/work/running/friends/travel that I am setting aside the issue. But “just don’t think about it!” is never the best solution to a problem. It’s a mind problem to chew on for a while, until I get the chance to explore other parts of Israel, not only the well-to-do Jewish communities I have been in so far.
But so far, being a month into my life here in Israel, I am happy. Busy and tired and sore and over-socialized, and extremely happy. And be assured that, of course, I’m well taken-care-of.