Thursday, February 4, 2010

Every day occurrences in Israel can be either frustrating or endearing - or both - depending on your mood or how many such "occurrences" you have endured in any given day. On a sweet day, one smiles, shakes his head and mutters "...only in Israel".

However much communication in Israel is done without words - a look, a shrug, a gesture, (yes that one too), so when things are over the top maddening and totally inexplicable, we say nothing, but with a half amused, half resigned look on our faces, we simply shrug that characteristically Israeli shrug accompanied by a palm up wave of the hand. The message ? "Hey, i can't explain it either, but this is Israel...get used to it!!" Even then, the prickliest sabra (a tenacious cactus that is tough on the outside but soft on the inside and a commonly used word for those born here) will still have a "but I love it anyway" look on his face.

Thousands of books and blogs have been written about "only in - or hey, this is - Israel", mine numbered among them. But today, to lighten your heart a bit, here are a couple of recent endearing stories that I experienced ...of the "only in Israel" variety.


Israeli bus stories are some of the most hilarious of Israeli stories. I wrote about one awhile back where some woman in the seat across from me kept screaming that I looked like a comedienne (Nov 25, 2008).

My favorite, though, of my own personal autobus experiences remains the one where a young mother handed her baby to an old man on the sidewalk while she loaded the stroller onto the bus. This is common practice here, we are all mishpacha (family) and both men and women often give their babies to someone to hold while they pay the fare, position the stroller, seat the older children.

In this case it was to someone on the sidewalk BEFORE boarding the bus. Unfortunately, once the woman was on the bus with the stroller, the bus driver slammed the back door shut, and took off - leaving the old man on the sidewalk with the baby. Needless to say the entire busload of people became hysterical, screaming, REGA NAHAG, REGA NAHAG !!! (WAIT DRIVER!!!) It was a couple of blocks before mother and baby were reunited, amidst the cheering and laughing of a very nervous group of passengers. In fact, we all broke into applause at the happy ending, much like we do when the airplane sets down in Israel.

But I digress. My recent "this is Israel" experience happened as I was coming home from work the other night. I was waiting for my 2nd bus in the midst of freezing cold and dumps of rain and hail in downtown Jerusalem. As it pulled up and I boarded, I encountered a group of 10-12 yeshiva boys gathered in the front of the bus, engaged in animated conversation with each other and the bus driver. It was a bit of a push (literally) to get to a seat (applying the body techniques I learned in "Jerusalem Bus Riding 101"), but I made it to one half way down the aisle.

The animated conversation up front began to take on a different tone, when one of the boys turned to the passengers and nervously pleaded (in English).."does anyone know the rooot?" (Now I'm originally from the American midwest, and anyone knows you pronounce that "rowt!", nachon?) I waited for someone to respond and when no one did (perhaps the English???) I spoke up and said yes I did, we were on King George and the bus would soon turn right at the Prima Kings Hotel. Gratefully he relayed the information to the group, and I noticed that one or two of the boys continued to talk with the bus driver.

Seemingly a bit panicked the boys continued to ask me every few seconds, now what? what next? Finally I said to them, "Look I can continue to give you the route of the bus, but if you want me to help you find what you are looking for, you will need to tell me where you are going." "Oh, no," they replied. "WE know where to get off, it's the BUS DRIVER - HE doesn't know the route or where to turn next!!"

OMG! I laughed and moved to join the yeshiva boys at the front. Turn by turn we directed the driver - my English to the boys, translated to Hebrew by one or two of them to the driver. My stop was just before their intended destination, somewhere on Shay Agnon, and something about a game they had to win that night!! I have no idea whether or not the bus arrived at the Talpiot garage.

Just before I got off, one of the boys turned to me, with a big grin on his face and said "I guess it's only in Israel that this could happen, right?" I smiled back and said, yes, for sure...only in Israel!"


I was to meet my friend Yarden for coffee one morning last week...he has omg offered to help me with my hebrew. (and boy do i need help with my hebrew!!) But the weather wasn't so good, I had a cold and so when we spoke that morning we agreed to postpone it til the following week. The reason Yarden gave me however, was that he had had no sleep and was really exhausted.

So when I happened to see him later in the day I inquired about his sleepless night, was it something bad, or something fun, like a loong party? He looked at me and said, "You know it was supposed to snow last night, right?" Yes, of course, everyone was kind of looking for that snow (which didn't happen by the way). "Well, he continued "When I thought it might snow, I was up and down all night...I was too excited to sleep."

I mean, how utterly charming! My only in Israel heart melted.

His sentence reminded me of one of my favorite commercials when I lived in America. The "I'm too excited to sleep" little boy and his daddy before going to the Magic Kingdom, Disneyland. It was so popular it ran for a few years.

But what Yarden's statement really said to me was to remind me once again, that underneath the chutzpa and toughness, there is a sweet simplicity and almost innocence here that is uniquely Israeli. It is hard to describe. It's sort of the mush of the sabra...the soft inner part.

When I say innocence I don't mean naivete. It is an unpretentiousness and the ability to still to be a bit in awe of the simple things of life - snow in Jerusalem, a string bridge that seems to float in the air, your mom's kubbe.

There is more "magic", if you will, in Jerusalem than in Disneyland, with all due respect to Mr. Disney's legacy. And the magic we have here is of a different kind and our presence here is for a different purpose.

Things happen here that we can't explain, both good and bad and we are always in survival mode. Sometimes we are too on edge to sleep, too cold to sleep, in too much pain to sleep. Perhaps because of that, and because we know only too well how fragile life is, when the simple things of life do occur, we embrace them and marvel at them....and are"too excited to sleep".

As the sounds of war grow increasingly louder once more, this is a good thing to remember.

Not Jerusalem, but Mt.Hermon..IDF soldiers play in snow
Photo AP Feb.4, 2010

My Jerusalem Neighborhood 2008

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