Only in Real Israel

The quintessential Only in Israel spirit could be seen when President Shimon Peres swiftly phoned Arik Ze’evi to comfort him.

INDEPENDENCE DAY barbecue 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem /The Jerusalem Post)
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem /The Jerusalem Post)
I closely follow, and occasionally contribute to, a Facebook group called “Only in Israel” – or OII to its FB members – which is, in itself, a very Israeli concept. Last week, one post in particular caught my eye.
Yael Webb Parnes wrote: “OII are there certain things that can totally define ‘what is the real Israel to you’. A brand new Oleh [immigrant]… asked me where he could find what I called ‘The real Israel.’ Her answer was: “For me the real Israel is not so much a certain type of people, but more a feeling or an atmosphere. It’s a few old men playing shesh besh [backgammon] and eating sunflower seeds outside a kiosk.
It’s people lighting their gardens with tube lights. It’s people carrying dishes of food for a family dinner on Friday night. It’s fruit trees in the garden. It’s the rugged country side on the way to Jerusalem. It’s the beautiful deserts and the feeling of the strength of our country and our people when you visit them. It’s the whole country celebrating the holidays together.”
Writing a biweekly column called “Real Israel,” I couldn’t help but be intrigued. I quickly commented that: “The real Israel is home: it’s being surrounded by a family which is often annoying but is there for you in an emergency and celebrates all the happy times and events together. You know what it is when you see it and miss it when you’re away from it.”
To which Leonie Lachmish replied: “So true, Liat, and I think that’s why Israelis seek each other out anywhere and everywhere abroad (and always find some!).”
Leonie also noted what she described as the “reyach shel Shabbat (The scent of Shabbat) all over the country on Friday and people wishing each other Shabbat Shalom as of Thursday.”
And that is definitely a part of it. Logically, I realize that my neighborhood on Friday afternoons doesn’t really smell of flowers, freshly shampooed and showered kids and kubbe – the ubiquitous meatball delicacy beloved by the mostly Kurdish Jewish residents – yet that’s the impression I get, maybe because I know that almost everybody has filled a vase, washed and readied for Shabbat and prepared special dishes.
Other comments added to the mosaic: K.E.’s impressions of what comprises the real Israel include: “A bank clerk going to make a shiva [condolence] call to one of her customers, people wishing you Refua shlema [a blessing for good health] when you call in [sick] (G-d forbid), making friends with the person in line behind you at the supermarket while paying for pre-passover shopping, a couple making a u-turn to give a family with young kids a ride home late at night... Israel flags everywhere.”
While A.S.Z. noted: “It’s having to explain to my kids who are traveling in the US and London that they can’t just talk to any stranger, and that they should be careful not to wear clothes that have Hebrew or the word ‘Israel’ on them. And being able to remind them that Israel is the safest place for Jews and that everyone here is family.”
Ellie Lavi believes the real Israel is “everything you all said... and so many of the things posted here. For me: that people still get up for the elderly and pregnant women.
that I am always offered help with my double stroller, the bus driver who pulled over so my daughter could peepee, the cab driver who came to the hospital days later to get paid on my trip to the hospital while in labor. the people who give you advice on your child/ren whether asked or not...”
Shelley Wartski and Rachel Selby both think the sound of doves cooing in the early morning is an essential part of the real Israel, while Zara A. Winstone succinctly noted: “The real Israel is not defined by places, it’s more of an idea and an attitude to back it up!!” In her original post, Yael pointed out that in her opinion Tel Aviv (commonly known in Israel as “The Bubble”), “is NOT the Real Israel.” And I agree with both Yael and Zara: The real Israel can only be found in Israel, but it’s not a certain place; Having a flower vendor wish you “Shabbat shalom” in a Jewish neighborhood abroad might remind you of Israel, but it’s not the real thing. You don’t have to be here to know what the real Israel is, but you do have to be here to feel it.
OF COURSE, much of the elusive definition of the real Israel lies in those Only in Israel moments. My truly OII (if not OMG) experience last week was combining the collection of gas mask kits at the distribution point in the local shopping mall with buying back-toschool supplies.
I turned it into an extra-super Israeli affair by taking a number for the gas mask line, going to the stationery store opposite, and coming back in time for my turn. The only un-Israeli thing was that the queue was extraordinarily organized.
I thought that this might constitute the unbeatable OII experience but when I posted it online, I came across a status update by Jason Pearlman, commenting on an Only in Jerusalem phenomenon: “Last night, Siyum HaShas [the celebration of the end of the seven-year Talmud study cycle], today Jerusalem Mayor fires Ramadan cannon, and the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade... that is what I call an eclectic city.”
Ultimately, I guess it is the people – and not the places – that make Israel Israel.
Hence I award judoka Arik Ze’evi a small consolation prize after his devastating Olympic defeat, when the European champion lost in just 43 seconds to a German opponent. The depth of Ze’evi’s disappointment was clear to all when he cried during an IBA interview, trying to explain the stunning loss that knocked him, at age 35, out of the world of competitive judo forever.
The quintessential Only in Israel spirit could be seen when President Shimon Peres swiftly phoned Ze’evi to comfort him, telling him: “Arik, you have had many victories and brought much honor, but sometimes we are struck by defeat. The true measure is not to be downhearted; I know this from my own life. Be proud of your achievements and now go on and inspire others to follow you.”
Many competitors can expect to be congratulated by the head of state for winning a particularly important event, but only in Israel would the elder statesman call up an older sportsman who had so spectacularly failed.
Failed participants from some countries fear what faces them on their return; I bet Ze’evi couldn’t wait to get back home, to the real Israel.
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