There is an elevator in Bikur Holim Hospital that has the dimensions of a coffin except that you can stand up in it. Not for the claustrophobically challenged. When someone else joined me in this confined space I was acutely aware of disproportionately increased discomfort. We pinned ourselves to opposite ends of the lift in a vain attempt to "keep our distance" and not to violate each other's personal space. It got me thinking. Life in Jerusalem is full of close encounters, much closer than anything I've experienced before. Crowds can be found everywhere in the world, but here no acknowledgement is made of the existence of that invisible no-go zone also sometimes referred to by psychologists as "intimate space." It is well known that in England and in northern Europe it generally approximates to about arm's length, which is where we keep everyone except for family and "close" friends. People regard us as a bit stand-offish. In America the zone is much reduced, in Russia it is even less and here in Israel it is imperceptible. The recognition of this phenomenon has enabled me to re-evaluate much of Israeli behavior that I normally label as "downright rude." They are always in the way and never give an inch to let you squeeze by. They stand idly obstructing entrances to shops, buildings and buses with no intention of entering or exiting. Even a loud "sliha!" (excuse me!), which would in the old country remind all before you to scatter, produces not a twinge of movement. No one stands back, everyone holds their ground. You need to give a good barge and a shouldering before you can get through. The crowd seems to cling around you like the froth on your coffee. There is not only the absence of an interpersonal zone but also an inverse force at work. Like a vacuum. Any interpersonal void, a space where there is no one, will quickly be filled. In a flash they are on top of you, in your face, under your feet… even under your skin. On some of the buses, the newer ones with the bluey-green upholstery, there is a ridiculous small double seat - scarcely room for an adult and a child. Don't sit there. If you do you'll soon find an ample Israeli determined to claim the few spare centimeters without a murmur of apology. They wedge you in so firmly that you begin to fear for the blood supply to your lower body. But of course there is a flipside to this lack of social constraint. When I tripped and went sprawling on the sidewalk there were spontaneous, generous hands putting me back together again. And when holding a heavy bag on the bus, a seated lady tugged at my arm and offered to put my bag on her lap! And when a moving tekes (ceremony) brought copious tears to my eyes an unknown hand pushed a tissue in mine. Of course, the closeness brings a warmth, not just bodily heat, but an emotional bonding - a real sense of togetherness. Here our joys and sorrows are shared and there is no better way to express that care than with the physical contact of a hug. The quick peck on each cheek so prevalent now among middle-class English, in emulation of their chic French counterparts, means nothing. An uninhibited all-embracing Israeli hug… now that's something else.

Relevant to your professional network? Please share on Linkedin

Think others should know about this? Please share