5 Elements of Israeli Culture and Mentality That I Will Bring Home

By Desiree Eslamboly, Masa Israel Teaching Fellow in Petach Tikvah

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Say what you want about Israelis- they’re brash, they’re pushy, and they’re bluntly honest – sure. But there is a reason why, when visiting, it only takes a few short days to fall in love with their country. And I’m not convinced that it’s solely the land that captivates people. After living here for only 4 short months, I have landed on 5 different elements of Israeli culture and mentality that I will be bringing back with me when I return to the United States.

 

1. Israeli Hospitality

Time and time again I am floored by the hospitality and generosity of Israelis. If I got even just an agorot (the Israeli equivalent of a dime) for every time I received an invite from an Israeli to join them for a meal, an outing with their family, or a tour of their city, I think it’s safe to say my humble monthly stipend would be double what it is now. Israelis have an incredibly special way of instantaneously making you feel like family. I have spent the past 3 out of 5 days at my host teacher, Rosi’s, house, and whether I was there eating homemade shakshuka or taking a nap on her sofa, I’ve been fortunate enough to feel right at home while 7,500 + miles away.

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Desiree (right) with Rosi and her co-teaching fellow Josh

Rosi always says something that I think perfectly encapsulates the Israeli mentality. “If there is room in your heart,” she begins, “there is room at the table.” Sure, Israelis may not have the most ostentatious lifestyles and they definitely don’t preach the “bigger is better” mentality that some Americans cherish, but their hearts know no boundaries. This mentality is something I fully intend on bringing back with me to the States.

 

 2. Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say

This one is a bit harder to adapt to life in the U.S. Israelis have earned a reputation for being brutally honest- and rightfully so. I can always count on an Israeli to give me their honest opinion, whether I actually want to hear it or not. Israelis refuse to sugar coat their thoughts. At times, this can be difficult to digest, but it is something I’ve come to appreciate. As Americans, we have been socialized to skirt around issues in order to avoid offending others. There are many times when I find it hard to voice my opinion or stand up for myself, and being in Israel has made me realize how refreshingly genuine it is to hear pure, unadulterated honesty.  While it may take some time for me to find a happy medium between Israeli honesty and the American need to be politically correct, I look forward to developing my own communicative style founded on being more outspoken.

 

3. If You Want Something, Just Ask

As I mentioned above, I have trouble voicing my ideas or opinions. Sometimes, even asking for the simplest of favors is a challenge. My fear of rejection is real and has proved difficult to overcome, but being in Israel has helped me work on this. Israelis have no shame when it comes to asking for favors or questioning the rules – so why should I? I know people say this all the time, but the honest truth is that the worst possible response is “no.”

My co-teaching fellow and I had a great idea for a monthly bulletin board that would bring English to the whole school, as opposed to just the kids we work with. Our school doesn’t necessarily have an abundance of free space or resources, so we were a little nervous to present our idea. We felt as though we might be a burden and add more stress to our principal’s life. After mustering up the courage to present the idea to our principal, she instantaneously responded with “It’s a great idea, of course you can have the space!” There was zero reason for us to even be concerned about asking.

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Desiree’s co-teaching fellow, Josh, shows off the bulletin board to students

It seems so obvious, but people will not know what you want unless you voice your needs. As the old adage goes, “ask, and you shall receive.”

 

 4. Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously

One of my favorite motivational speakers, Kid President, once said, “Life is too short to worry about being too short.” We all have our strengths and our shortcomings, but why sweat our weaknesses? I have struggled a lot with learning Hebrew, and I think a huge part of it is that I’m too embarrassed to practice through speaking the language. Every time I begin to speak, all I can think about is how pitiful my attempted Israeli accent is. When it comes down to it, does it really matter?

My students have taught me that experiences are way more pleasant when you can put your ego aside and learn to laugh at yourself. During a recent rehearsal for the school play, one of my students accidentally referred to a character named “Sam” as “Sun.” Watching said student laugh the mistake off, and find it hilarious that he referred to the character as shemesh (the Hebrew word for sun), reminded me that it’s okay to mess up – it’s all part of the journey.

 

5. When in Doubt, Cos Café it Out

Whenever my co-teaching fellow and I face a new challenge, our host teacher is there to help us work through things. Before we tackle anything, though, Rosi always says, “But first, let’s drink something hot.”

Before coming to Israel, there were times when I felt so overwhelmed by stressful situations that I would just let the stress consume me. Cos café – the Hebrew phrase for cup of coffee – in this case represents something more than just a warm drink. By sitting down to drink “something hot” before I take on a new challenge, I’ve learned the importance of grounding yourself. Quite frankly, stuff happens and life goes on. Taking a minute to center yourself before letting the craziness of the world overwhelm you is always a good idea.

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Desiree’s cos café and Hebrew ulpan homework

While my list could go on for forever, these 5 points are definitely tools I know I will bring back home with me. With approximately 6 months left in my program, I look forward to further developing these 5 aspects of being an Israeli and truly learning to #LiveitLikeaLocal.

 

To read more about Desiree’s adventures in Petach Tikvah, check out her blog

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