69 reasons why I love and support Israel

Happy Birthday, Israel

1. Because visiting Israel for the first time changed my life
2. Because no matter where you live you can be at the beach in an hour
3. Because if you need a 2nd mother, you will always find a good Jewish ima
4. Because the fear of being a “freier” makes you stronger
5. Because you are never alone
6. Because there is never “between the lines” in Israel
7. Because of the noise of the “matkot” (though I fear you will hit me once)
8. Because the word “Mishpaha” (family) really means something to you
9. Because I can say I am Christian and be welcomed at the most intimate Shabbat dinners
10. Because visiting Israel made me an atypical Eastern European
11. Because of “hummus chips salad”
12. Because of that incredible strength that lies behind you all
13. Because I can go from a street that is 2000 years old to a street that is 2 years old
14. Because we can curse and then be best friends in the next moment
15. Because taking a taxi is like going to a spiritual shrink
16. Because when there is “azaka” and I am alone, I know you will take care of me even if you don’t know me
17. Because you fall in love with me that I can order my coffee in Hebrew
18. Because Israeli women are intimidatingly strong
19. Because every name has a meaning
20. Because I will always feel safe around you as you either was a soldier, are soldier or just about to be one
21. Because you are the most innovative brains I have ever met
22. Because you welcome multikulti but don’t let go of your culture
23. Because you raise your kids to aspire and be confident
24. Because I can sit in a coffee for hours and you won’t kick me out
25. Because I can ride a camel on high-heels and you will get me
26. Because eating healthy is so damn easy
27. Because you continuously take me out of my comfort zone
28. Because I can have meaningful conversations
29. Because being around you makes me confident
30. Because of those sunsets
31. Because you gave me my boyfriend
32. Because you remember how far you have come
33. Because you appreciate life every day
34. Because you live in constant terror but it does not make you resentful
35. Because the more I learn about your history, the more Zionist I become
36. Because Zionism isn’t a curse word, we just call it patriotism in Europe and you are finally catching up
37. Because I can go to a shabbat service and you will fix up my Bible when I hold it upside-down
38. Because you dance on the streets as there is no tomorrow
39. Because you pushed me to learn more about myself
40. Because of your “mangal” culture
42. Because of Gaga dance
42. Because I envy your community sense (even if you deny having that)
43. Because you guys are helpful
44. Because you taught me if I want something I need to ask for it (bluntly)
45. Because you gave me more dreams
46. Because without knowing you I wouldn’t be in NYC now
47. Because of driving through the Negev is something incredible
48. Because of Shlomo Artzi (and Idan Raichel, and Rita, and Idan Amedi and…)
49. Because you made me aware of so many things that I didn’t see before
50. Because you made me a more grateful person
51. Because Judaism is spirituality and you don’t need to be an orthodox Jew to let it touch your life
52. Because Ben-Gurion was a genius and you all should get to know his story more to appreciate him (even if he was a socialist)
53. Because you know how to charm a woman
54. Because supporting you makes me the target of anti-semitism and that makes me understand you even more
55. Because the moment you say “yallah”, you become half Israeli
56. Because you have this beautiful chaotic disorder that everyone follows
57. Because there is nothing Jews would like more than a good argument – and that is so refreshing
58. Because being Jewish means something else to each one of you and yet you are all so similar
59. Because of the Kotel
60. Because of those incredible views of nature
61. Because of Waze, Wix, Viber and all that
62. Because you let me be me
63. Because you are few against many and you never give up
64. Because you won over 22% of all Nobel Prizes
65. Because Israeli women prove that you can have it all
66. Because Israel has more museums per capita than any other country in the world
67. Because everybody is a potential president – as you all always know better
68. Because when you say hi, you actually say peace on you
69. Because I keep on wishing I would be one of you

What did I miss?

What happens when a Christian enters a Shabbat service? Tears!

Originally published on The Times of Israel 

I was thinking which pants to put on: the dark leather one or that black one that isn’t so tight on my body. I went with the second one.

It was a chilly Spring evening as I walked through Central Park, up until 68th Street. Turned left, walked a few more steps and as I saw the building I stopped before entering. I had too many feelings messing with me. Suddenly the security guy told me: “Shabbat Shalom,” opened the door, ushered me in and there I stood: a Christian in a synagogue entering her first Jewish service.

At the entrance, there was a man and a woman welcoming everyone and handing a Bible to all. I automatically stepped towards the woman. Not sure why I did that. Maybe because I often have no idea what level of Jewishness I am entering to when I meet Jews. It really is an issue.

She looks at me, smiles and hands me a Bible. I wasn’t sure what to do. Frankly, my first unconscious thought was ‘this is not my Bible; I don’t know what to do with yours.’ So I quickly told her: “Well, look, I am not Jewish, I’m here as a Christian who is on a journey.” And boy, that felt awkward. I felt more confident on my first dates than entering this Shabbat service.

“Welcome!” She was smiling even more by now. Then she directed me towards the chairs and explained that I could sit ANYWHERE I want. “Except on my chair, my dear, don’t sit on my place there.”

OK, I thought, she is really cool, I’m safe.

The service had already started as I entered and I wasn’t sure how this whole thing was going to make me feel, so I sat in the last row. It also gave me a good view of the synagogue, and I wanted to look around and observe.

And to observe I wasn’t shy of.

As I sat down, the first thing I did was to open my phone and…and then it hit me: ‘you idiot, you’re at a Shabbat service.’  I looked around rather embarrassed, but I concluded that nobody saw it. I felt relieved. And then the lady from the entrance appeared from nowhere handing me another Bible that she opened for me somewhere in the middle: “Here, this the song now. You can see it in Hebrew, then in phonetic and then here, in English. Enjoy.” With that, she left and I then realized, she did see me touching my phone.

I finally found my place and looked at the Bible, then looked up and saw that there is a whole band and it suddenly seemed that I was at a Klezmer band concert, not a religious service. I looked down to the Bible again, and there, I had my first epiphany: ‘Ah, this is what it means when they tell me “I speak only ‘Service Hebrew’.’” You know, I never understood when Jews told me they didn’t speak Hebrew just service Hebrew. I was like how is that even possible? Tonight, I understood and tonight I was fluent in (Service) Hebrew for a full hour.

The cantors (who lead people in singing,) had such beautiful voices that I sat there mesmerized. In Christian services, we would have a person accompanying the songs on a piano, but apart from a Gospel service in Harlem, I didn’t think services can be actually joyful and not sorrowful. Meanwhile, people were walking around, welcoming each other, and singing. And I was trying to sing too, and I can only imagine how bad I actually sounded. While they were reciting the Hebrew songs, I quickly read the English translations and it didn’t feel strange. I felt quite OK and I thought to myself:  ‘I’ve never felt such a comfort in any Christian service.’ As I write this down, it hurts a little. But then again, why would I lie to you? Or to myself?

I was a regular church-goer until I turned 15 when I stopped going. My grandfather was the priest, and I always felt that all eyes were on my brother and me whenever we were at the church. I was observed how I sat, how I prayed, what I wore. I was questioned why I am not attending Sunday schools; I was humiliated at the Bible class because I could not prepare enough as I was doing ballet professionally. So I decided, I didn’t need church for me to have a conversation with God. I stopped going to church services but I never stopped believing, and whenever I needed a moment of silence, I would enter any church that had an open door.

Here, as a complete stranger both in town and in the community, I was free. I didn’t need to satisfy anyone.

And then the rabbi arrived. The rabbi was a she. My thoughts took over again; I don’t recall attending any service with a woman priest. She was really casual as she was talking about the injustice in our lives and the Torah. She was great, and I liked how she talked to us as if we would be friends not sitting somewhere ‘below’ her. I remember my church visits as a kid; I always felt it was a theater with hierarchical stands and pitches and grandiose arm movements, and I often needed my father to translate what the talk was really about.

So again, I liked this rabbi.

In the midst of it all, I saw a girl, checking her phone. And not only was she checking her phone, but she was also wearing a mini skirt without tights. And when I say mini, imagine MINI. I wasn’t sure what to do with this picture. Then I turned to the left, and I saw that guy reading something on his phone. I really wanted to tell them, you know guys, we are at a Shabbat service – but of course, I didn’t.

The rabbi left, and frankly, I missed her punch line. I was too occupied with these weird acts and mobile phones during Shabbat that I actually missed the rabbi’s point about the injustice. I really wasn’t proud of myself at this point.

A new song started, and I was so clumsy that I actually opened the Bible upside down and backward. Never mind. I asked my neighbor where we were: “Page 248.” – She said. I go to page 248, but it was clear that we weren’t singing the song I found there. She came to my rescue and said “the other page 248”. If I was even following something until now, I lost it all at this point. What to make of two 248 pages in one book? Later, after the service, I learned that it was one for the Hebrew and one for the English counting. Yeah, not confusing at all.

Then I saw the first woman in a yarmulke. Learned about it, but never saw one before. And then I saw the first man without it.

The rabbi told us to rise. So we all rose. This we do in the church as well, but only if you sit on the ground floor, if you sit on the elevated floors, you don’t stand up. And as my family was always up there, I was rather jealous of those sitting down as I felt they had some special role that they needed to rise.

We started to sing a new song. It was beautiful. I got goosebumps all over my body. Then suddenly people took a 180-degree turn, and from the last row, I became the first and 80 people were looking at me eye to eye. So seeing that this is no game here, I followed the wave diligently, and I turned, now starring at the wall. I assume we turned towards Jerusalem. Correct me if I’m wrong.

The service continued with a prayer to the sick; the rabbi read the names we pray for in the community. Then we prayed for the recently deceased ones. And while due to the page issue, I didn’t find any of the prayers, there was something comforting in the community litany. To tell the truth, Christians do this too.

Before the service ended, we had one more song for a great Shabbat: “Unwind for 25 hours, and welcome Shabbat with love.” – said the rabbi.

And man, that last song broke me down. I saw that old couple holding hands, that mother caressing her son, and I don’t’ know why but tears started to flow on my face. I didn’t only weep, but I really cried. I cried, and I couldn’t care if anyone even sees me. I cried not knowing the why.

I put back the Bible to its place and left the room with everyone else. The same woman who welcomed me now handed me a little plastic glass with a red juice in it. I tried to ask her what this was for, but she was passing by too quickly. There was a short prayer outside of the service room, and then everyone shouted Shabbat Shalom and drank up the liquid. It wasn’t wine, as it would be for a Christian service, and I still don’t know what it meant, but that was the end of my first Jewish Shabbat service.

Then the woman appeared again: “Did you like it?” 

“I loved it.” 

She didn’t answer, and I was wondering again if it was appropriate to say this at all.

Then a guy stepped to me and asked: “Are you new here? You looked a little lost.”

All I could say was: “You have no idea… I’m a Christian.”

“Oh, welcome, it doesn’t matter. Hope to see you soon.”

The Homeless Who Offered Me His Food

I ordered my coffee in Hebrew. I speak a confident kitchen Hebrew. And I know many questions in Hebrew for which I don’t understand the answers yet.

But comes this homeless showing me a coin and instead of begging for money, he sits down on the chair beside me while he is chewing one of the chicken wings from a plate he carries in his left hand. In his right hand there is that coin.

He looks at me: “Metuka (my dear) ma ze (what’s this)?”

He really disturbed my thinking as I was I just outlining a project in my notebook.

And then I saw it was forint. It was Hungarian forint. What are the chances that a homeless walks up to me, a Hungarian, with a Hungarian forint?

“Ah, it is from Hungary.”

“How much does it worth?”

“Kzat meod (very little) I answer.”

“Kzat meod?”

“Ken, slicha.”

“Where does it say Hungary?”

(note that he actually thinks about the words I’ll understand)

“It says, Forint and that means Hungary.”

“At gara be Hungaria? (Do you live in Hungary)”

“Lo, aval ani Hungaria. (No, but I’m Hungarian)”

“So please keep it!”

“And he offers that 200 Forint he was holding.”

“No thank you, please keep it.”

Then he asked me about why I’m in Israel and I know all the handy words like work, boyfriend, love it here.

A perfect Hebrew 101 conversation in which both parties win: He enjoys my company, I enjoy practicing my Hebrew.

But then, I needed to leave and I ask for the chesbon (bill).

I tell him beteavon (enjoy your meal) as I am about to leave. He just started his second sauce-riched chicken wing.

“At rotza kzat? (Do you want some?)”

“Lo, toda raba. (No, thank you)”

And I left with far too many questions about that chicken wing.

Let’s visit Mitzpe Ramon!

Mitzpe Ramon is a village in the Negev Desert, South of Israel. If you pass by the Negev, you will see how the Bedouins are living all around. The village itself counts 3-4 thousands of people and gets busy by local and foreign tourists.

Why do people go to Mitzpe Ramon, a seemingly deserted village?

Because it hides Israel’s unique geological treasure: the Makhtesh Ramon. The 40 km long, 2–10 km wide, and 500 meters deep Maktesh – or crater – was not created by a meteor as you would assume. But it was formed by water.

Breath-taking views, plenty of fresh air, intimidating silence. That is the Ramon Crater.

Though it is in the middle of the desert, the city has a supermarket, fantastic restaurant-like eateries (using local farm products) and an outstanding visitor center with English-speaking staff.

But today, I don’t want to talk too much, enjoy the views.

‘The Settlers’: And How This Documentary Fails To Bring Value

Originally published on The Times of Israel on 3/12/17

I’m not sure who Shimon Dotan was aiming for. He certainly couldn’t convince me. But then again, what did he try to convince me about? Let’s discuss Shimon Dotan, Romanian-Israeli filmmaker’s new movie, The Settlers.

When you do a documentary film, you must have a punch line in mind. Or not. But then you get what I’ve got after watching The Settlers: nothing really.

In fact, I left with a bad mouth taste. The only thing I could think of was how biased this movie really is, and perhaps it serves nothing more than a self-fulfilling cinematic work. (Which, I can accept, after all, we all need a creative outlet.)

And as I don’t like thinking alone and I usually don’t leave any event without interviewing a few people, I asked two guys how they felt about the movie. They were both Jewish – and that is what I wanted, to talk with Jewish people about this.

One of them was raised as an observant Jew but never been to Israel before. As he said, however, he was taking the current Israeli situation very seriously, and the movie showed him how complex this issue really is.

I really love talking to strangers, and see how their eyes tear up as they start talking about Israel; a country they have never visited yet.

The other guy told me, the movie made him lose all hope that there is a way to make peace and the 2-state solution is clearly an utopia. Hearing that I am from Hungary, he asked me if I find any kind of parallelism between my history and Israel. Clearly, he was talking about the Russians.

“They came to occupy you, no?”

“Depends on who you ask: according to them, they came to free us.”

And that is what Dotan’s movie is about: stretching the definition of what is occupation, what is a settlement, what is a held zone.

The whole movie is one-sided. Intentionally. It was the aim. To show the Jewish side. It only brings in four Palestinians for a quick snapshot, but it shows an extensive layer of Jewish sub-communities who breathe and live for their ideology.

“Are you a settler?” The movie starts with Dotan asking the same question over and over to different Jewish families. Some struggles to answer, some take pride in being part of the settlement movement.

What bothered me the most is that if Dotan – who is evidently representing the left wing’s views in Israel – wanted to produce a documentary that shakes things up, why didn’t he do it?

If I’m already on the left side, he didn’t show me enough.
If I’m on the right side, he certainly didn’t change my opinion.

While the cinematography offered a peaceful 2-hours dear escape to Israel, the narrative was lukewarm.

Halfway through the movie, I set myself up for a challenge and decided to continue watching it as if I would have nothing to do with Israel, if I would have never been there, wouldn’t live with an Israeli.

It didn’t work.

Dotan couldn’t tell me why Israel deserves the apartheid story.

My only fear is that if this movie – that is widely praised by the New York Times and others, – is watched by people who dislike Israel, how much harm it does?

Dotan lined up a strong ideological Jewishness by interviewing the forerunners of the Gush Emunim, and today’s far-right grassroots (the hilltop youth movement) who want Israel all the way till Iraq, picturing Israel as a group of fanatic people who pray, fight and conquer lands.

Obviously, this is not the way to go. And while I personally am against fanatism – from which the movie displays a lot – that is the minority in Israel and not vice versa. And as a documentary maker Doran has a responsibility, and he can’t or shouldn’t assume that everybody knows this and that his movie won’t fuels hatred even further. I need to note here that the movie is screened in New York exactly during the Israel Apartheid Week around the US Colleges that, by itself, fuels hate and anti-Semitism. Innocent mistake or a conscious decision? We’ll never know.

The only place where The Settlers brought some value was towards the final scenes:

Israel can’t have it all. Israel can’t have democracy, ideology, and a full-fledged stretched state.

So what is the solution then?

The movie is filled with maps, dates, documents, and first-person sources, with a clear narrative that the settlements are the cause and reason for today’s troubles. It mentions the government’s push and pull games, by not approving and not disapproving the settlements. It brings up Yitzhak Rabin, the only Prime Minister who clearly did something against the settlements to establish peace; but it doesn’t mention Netanyahu and his current expansion of settlements at all. (About this I would ask Dotan. Why not?)

One thing is for sure: even if you have strong values, you need to test yourself and if it means watching a 2-hour movie that brings you to uncomfortable places, let it be. The Settlers was good enough for that.

 


And something to add: as I was exiting the theater a woman handed me over a piece of paper. I hoped it would tell me something about the movie. But no! Instead, it was the usual propaganda paper that I get at every event where BDS is present. It didn’t make the case any better. The movie was already on your side, value my freedom and let me go to a cinema without getting political propaganda.



“Really? A Jew?” – 5 real life snapshots beside an Israeli

What do you do when your taxi driver displays three Palestinian flags in his tiny car and then asks you: “where are you guys from?”

I tell you what you do, as I’ve learned during the last 5 years: you don’t answer the truth. And that hurts. And it makes you upset. But this is what you do.

Here are 5 snapshots from the last years that I lined up a year ago. The list grows each day.


Originally published in the Times of Israel on 11/24/2015

***
Being The Girlfriend of Him is not easy. No, not because he would show some very Mediterranean traits now and then, or because he could eat za’atar and Tahini for breakfast, lunch and dinner, or not because he cheers for this weird basketball team called Maccabi. (Weird means: I found the word entertaining).

No. Living with Him is not easy because his passport states: Israeli citizen.

Since I have 10 minutes, I share with you 5 recent conversations just to give you a glance at my life, at our life and what it means to be with an Israeli when you’re not an Israeli, and you’re not in Israel. (You know only 5 because writing takes longer than talking. Otherwise, I would just give you the 10.)

***

Four months into our relationship, one of my best friends – thought, believed, hoped, since then gone best friend – pointed me the question: “Really? A Jew? You needed to get together with a Jew?”
I never saw him again. He never called again.

***

“Yes, my boyfriend is from Israel”.
“Tov-tov, but you [sic] ima Jewish?”
“No, my Ima is not Jewish.”
“You must convert then.”
“I must?”
(Subway talk in downtown Manhattan with an Orthodox Jewish man (!))

***

“Watch him.”
“Why?”
“Because he is OK for you not being Jewish now, but once he puts the ring on you, he will want you to be Jewish.”
“No, I know he won’t.”
“So then his Mother will for sure, they are the worst.”
“His Mother passed away, she will not. And even if she would be alive, she wouldn’t.”
“Well, you know, but I would be very careful”, said my Jewish-hater Jewish classmate at NYU.

***

“Yes, we live together”.
“And his name is this?” (the clerk points on my boyfriend’s ID card)
“Yes, that”.
“Where are you from Sir?” (suddenly, I stop being important)
“This is my file; I think we can focus on me”. (I insist assertively, as I learned)
“But Sir, you’re not European, right?”
“I am British”, says my boyfriend, who indeed has two passports.
“But, you are not British for sure. Where are you from?”
“I am from Morocco”.
I see how my boyfriend is controlling himself, and yet, his little vein on the top right corner of his head gets thicker and thicker.
“Ah, salam aleikum – says the bureaucrat at the local, Belgian commune with pride.

When we leave, I am mad at him. Not the clerk, but my boyfriend.
“Why do you lie about yourself?”
“I don’t lie.”
“Yes, you do. You are not British; you are Israeli, be proud of that.”
“Yes, but this is your file, and I didn’t want to give you trouble.”

I am still mad. Not at him, but the clerk.

It’s not the first time he does this. I mean, it’s not the first time that my boyfriend becomes Marrocconian for a few minutes. He says Morocco, because he’s some roots there, and it eases situations when needed. And it’s needed.

***

“I would take out Hebrew from your CV”.
“But why?”
“Because it can close doors for you.”
“But what if I don’t even want to enter those doors?”
“What do you mean?”
“What if I don’t even want to work in a place where I can’t talk openly about my next visit to Israel, or that my boyfriend is from Israel.”
“So, get prepared for some closed doors, my dear.”
(Said an HR agent in midtown Brussels)

***

And for the last four years, I am preparing for those closed doors. And they do come. But what nobody told me that I would get some other doors opened. And perhaps, I’m happier this way.



Let me tell you something about Judaism

The first time I visited Israel we went to a Shabbat dinner to the brother of Mr. D. Let’s call the brother Mr. N.

Mr. N. and his family live nearby Jerusalem and are an observant Jewish family. I’m not sure they know, but I was really nervous before the dinner. It was my first Shabbat where I knew there would be praying and where I really shouldn’t be touching my phone.

They didn’t know me, but they did know I was a Christian. That Shabbat dinner was something I’ll never forget.

Five years passed and Mr. N. is still among the first people to help me or offer help whenever he sees an opportunity.

And here you need to learn a word with me, and that is MITZVAH.

While it literally translates as ‘command’, I prefer to say it means doing a ‘good deed.’ According to Judaism: “Mitzvot have a practical benefit for the person who does them as well as for the entire world.”

I’ve always felt that giving was more fulfilling for me than receiving, but now, as an #AlmostJewish, I got into mitzvot.

So when Mr.N. told me he had a friend who was going to Budapest to propose to her girlfriend and needed some help, I took up my part of the mitzvah. The guys had a beautiful engagement in my hometown and are planning their wedding.

But the circle isn’t full yet.

Once the engagement was sealed with a ‘yes,’ the groom told me if I ever needed help, he was here. So when I realized I wanted a logo for my site, I felt I needed an external eye as I’m too much involved.

I asked him if he could draft me something. I told him I liked hamsa.

A week later he sends me a hamsa with a beating heart.

So guys, go and do a good deed today, call it a mitzvah, or not – Christians have similar commands in the New Testaments, but I don’t think we have a name for it -, just do good.

I know it was a long story to show you my logo, but this is part of Judaism. Part of my Judaism.

And now, tell me what you think about my new logo?

Did I just catch her praying after the bathroom?

Just before my first class at the Grad school, I bought the book Judaism For Dummies. As dumb as it sounds, it’s actually genius. And while I avoid reading it on the metro during my tiresome commuting minutes, I am reading it everywhere else. Yes, including the bathroom. (And here I need to mention in brackets that in Europe I’d not read the book in public because the title says Judaism;  in  New York, I’m not reading it because it says Dummies, and revealing the slightest version of being a dumb in NYC, is not something you do. You can decide which excuse is better.)

This book is frenetic and exactly what an almost Jewish person (aka not Jewish, but wishing to be one) needs to read. But you know what, I think most of the Jewish people should read it too as it turns out sometimes I know more about Judaism than my Jewish friends.

One thing is for sure, most people in my Jewish circle had their jaw dropped when I asked them: ‘Why do you pray after the toilet?’

‘What are you even talking about?’ They asked with less interest than I’d expect. After all, they are Jewish; I am not.

‘I am talking about that you guys pray after using the bathroom.’

Silence. So I explained.

Observant Jews whisper a prayer after their visit to the bathroom that says “Thank You, God, who formed human beings with wisdom and created them with openings and orifices. If one of these orifices were ruptured or one of them blocked, whoa – it would be impossible to stand before You and survive. Blessed are You, God who heals all flesh and acts wondrously.”

I’ll admit: I smiled when I first read about this.

So I quickly looked up if Christians have any similar prayers that I don’t know of, but the only remotely close search result that came up was: is it disrespectful to pray on the toilet?

Well, I don’t know how my grandfather, who served as a priest until his retirement, would answer this, but if you want to hear my take on it, I say, there is no place that is disrespectful for a prayer. In fact, I made a pact with God when I was 14: I’m not attending Church anymore, but I’ll talk with you every day. God said: ‘OK my child.’

Asher Yatzar (meaning, ‘that was formed) aka the bathroom blessing whisper might sound an act of a far too religious person (but again, what is too religious anyway?) and if you are a secular or a non-believer, it might be something that you would just roll your eyes at. But if you’re someone who thinks of himself or herself as a spiritual person, this prayer is absolutely in line with everything today’s new age gurus teach you.

From Louise Hay through Deepak Chopra to Tony Robbins, they all say the same: be grateful. Stop the running, and in-between your routines acknowledge the miracles of life. And you can laugh, but being able to pee without help, without pain, without an effort is a true gift. (If you have ever had a kidney infection, you know exactly what I am talking about).

So as I was reading about Ashe Yatzar, I thought OK, I might not pray in the Jewish sense, but sometimes I do think about it how lucky I am to be healthy and be able to go to the bathroom without too much of a hassle. (Not counting the hassle your roommates give you during morning hours.)

But then today, just before class, there was this girl. She whispered something as she was walking towards the classroom. And I stopped her because I wanted to know if she got the job she applied for. She was a little hesitant to stop – and I was even thinking why is she talking to herself? But then she did stop, and she did answer me. She got the job.

I said mazal tov, and I went to the bathroom as my routine preparation for the 2-hour-long-no-break classes.

It was only on the R line on my way home when I realized: ‘Oh, shoot, I think I just caught her praying after the bathroom.’

And there, between City Hall and Cortland Street, I was once again in my delicate balance between embarrassment and naivete. Embarrassed because how could I interrupt her prayer? And then naive, since how should I know? I am just an Almost Jewish.

You think I am overthinking it? Perhaps. But this is why I am here. My only question is what do I do when I break someone’s prayer? Do I apologize? Or do I just shut up and walk away?

I don’t know. Do you?

Am I a ‘freier’?

I was just on my way home from a lawyer visit about how to move to Israel as a Christian when I saw an event: The Secret Ingredient Workshop – How to feel local and create the life you want in Israel organized by Citizen Cafe TLV

They say when you’re in line with your authentic self, synchronicities appear in your life. Since I had one of those days when calmness and clarity overrule all other things, I took this as a sign. So I registered.

I was running late. Like very late. And the sheer irony is that while heading to a workshop aiming to introduce me to how to feel local in Israel, I was just thinking how local I felt already. Driving up from Netanya, I honked, I cursed, I ‘yallah’-ed, I broke all possible rules. (And I loved it). And then I was late, which I would never be in my culture. (And it felt just right). Then I ordered my tea in Hebrew. (And it was a little triumph). Then I felt that inner confidence as I entered the unbearable humid but cozy café room. (And it was genuine). Then I texted my Israeli boyfriend: akol besseder motek – all good my dear. (And it was just business as usual).

As I sat down, I felt as I was about to have a coffee with my friends. Except that everybody was drinking tea. Ten women and a man. And some great vibes around. All of us with a special journey behind and a special story on why we were in Tel Aviv. To be frank, I was expecting everybody to be an alien like me. But it turned out that I was the only alien. Yet again. The only one, who was not yet living in Israel, who does not have any Israeli roots, who is not even Jewish, and who, therefore, can’t be in love with Israel because of pure ideology.

However, all this didn’t matter. Not for me at least.

This lifestyle workshop is the brainchild of Tamar Pross, whose quick recap of her life revealed a versatile, frank, and inspiringly bold woman. She started to talk with passion and confidence. Funnily enough, these are my automatic two words when I try to describe Israelis: passion and confidence. And soon enough, I learned how correct I was.

Living with an Israeli for four years (by now six), traveling up and down the country for the 10th (now 16th) time, making business with Israelis, having Israeli friends left me curious as to what new she could still tell me.

We began by exploring other cultures from an afar glance. I’ve majored in cultural differences, verbal and non-verbal communications, so once again, I was keen to learn something new. From a British-rooted attendee, we heard how we should prepare for a high-level meeting in the UK. Be concise and to the point. Don’t be late, dress appropriately.

Clear-cut. Nothing striking for me, a European. Moving on to France, a French-born young guy told us that today there are no crucial cultural differences when it comes to behavior and rules at meetings. (I need to admit, living around French and French speakers for years, I couldn’t agree. There are crucial differences between a Hungarian and a French interaction. But we were not there to discuss my intra-European matters).

Tamar took over, and things got exciting very quickly. ‘Living in Israel is like living in the Jungle,’ she said, ‘the strong survives the weak doesn’t.’ And it hit me.

The constant strength-showing that I feel around me. As unconscious as it is, it is everywhere. I often joke with my boyfriend (or Mr. D. as he likes to be called in my writing) that he must be afraid to starve because he is eating as if we would be in some sort of competition. And then Tamar interrupts my aha moment: ‘What would an Israeli do if there are three people for one bowl of soup?’ I answered quickly: ‘It would be a who-can-grab-it contest.’ I referred to the story my boyfriend told me about his culture shock upon returning to Israel as a child.

While in Europe kids would queue well-mannerly for their turn during school lunch, in Israel, kids would cut the queue with a motive that the ‘stronger I am, the faster I get to my food’. My answer was not fully accurate, though.

‘Israelis are very tribe people‘, continues Tamar. You are either their friend or their enemy. If you are in their tribe, they will find the way to share the bowl of soup with you. If they connect with you, they will be the first to help you. And it touched me closely again.

Ever since I am coming to Israel, my boyfriends’ friends became my friends. When I moved to New York, they were the first to help me. When I started my magazine, they were the first to support it. Whenever I am here, they reassure me that I would be fine if I moved here. They would make sure I was fine. This kind of belonging to a tribe is what I miss in my own culture the most. We walk over each other so easily. But after all, it all makes sense if we recall history. While Israelis need to survive from the moment they are born, Hungarians were forced to spy on each other for over 50 years under the Soviet era. And some things just doesn’t disappear in a few generations.

‘Have you heard this word, freier?’ – Tamar asks me with great excitement.

‘Nope,’ I shake my head.

Freier, that best translates as mug or sucker is the core essence of Israeli culture. You never want to be a freier, and so each move you take you think of the mantra: I get this, and he loses that.

It is not to say the Israelis are aggressively seeking to screw you up, but it is certainly something not to get surprised by. There are no travel guidebooks that wouldn’t tell you that if you go to a shuk (market), you better start a negotiation on the price. But what travel books don’t tell is that this unwritten prize-fight stretches beyond the za’atar shopping.

As one person put it: he sets up a yearly freier-budget. That is an amount of money that he puts aside for being screwed. As Tamar concluded: “you either accept these things, or you can try fighting them, but fighting them will make little sense.” And though, I did not know the word itself, I was familiar with the concept. Hungarians are no different. We need a freier budget, too. We just forgot to name it.

“What would you advise to someone, who goes for a meeting with an Israeli CEO?” we continue our cultural sightings.

“Be super-confident,” I said. “Here, you all act so confidently that it is already intimidating.” We laughed. And it was true. You have to have a go-getter attitude. Otherwise, you get lost in the jungle. Confidence, in Israel, is a feature you are born with. From the moment you arrive, you have a sense of ‘temporality.’ You are born into a tribe whose right to exist is questioned each and every day.

Rules are here to… ‘break them.’

It was something that we needed no explanation on. It is not to say, Israelis are breaching legal clauses day after day, but it does mean that there is no strict guidance for life. As opposed to my very Eastern European culture, where manners, values, customs are taught and checked upon from very early age, in Israel, people tend to be more authentic. They leave the superficial shell and see through you. They simply radar your authenticity. And this is something I value greatly but also find undeniably challenging. I am not only coming from a post-communist country, but also from the world of ballet dancers. Both of which engraved in me the urgency to satisfy others, fulfill society’s rules and all in all, to act in a way that is required.

After a 2-hour stirring discussion, Tamar drew some conclusive points:
Accept: you can battle or accept. But you are surely better of with the latter one.
Don’t take things personally: a honking on you while driving, a heated sentence while you are shopping, a passionate gesture while you’re talking to a stranger, is not about you. It is about them. This is part of them. And that’s all you need to know.
Make it personal: listen carefully and relate. Ask the questions you want to ask, break the wall that makes you either a friend or an enemy. Being a friend can win you opportunities. Being a friend gives you entry to the tribe.
Knowledge: order impresses Israelis. Know about it, and build on it.
Be authentic: If you have the gut to be who you are, you are going to be OK!

And finally, remember, that coming to live in Israel is the greatest empowerment you can give to an Israeli. For a nation, who feels that the big world is out there, and who questions why would you choose to live in a country where so many things are going on, when you have the whole world out there, your answer is a mirror. A mirror that reflects what deep inside everybody knows: because living here is sexy!

I left the workshop with several aha moments. I left with things I might have noticed before but was unable to define. I left with things that I might have known but was unable to connect the dots of whys. I left with a better understating of my relationship with my boyfriend. I left knowing why every meal with him is a struggle for survival. And I left knowing that now, I can either accept his fight-for-my-life-eating-habits or fight it. But I am certainly better of with accepting it.

Do you have a good ”frier’ story to share? Leave a comment and I’ll share it on AlmostJewish Facebook page!


Get in touch with Tamar if you want to know about her upcoming programs!