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Eureka: Clearing Israeli stereotypes
by Joseph Gatt
2018-10-01 08:57:13
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Having spent my entire life with people outside Israel, here's a glimpse at how Israel is perceived and what it actually looks like.

To sum up Israel gets lost in translation around the global media and mentalities, like, a lot. Imagine a French text that would say “birds were singing, fish were dancing, the sun was shining and people were happy” and somehow that gets lost into translation into something like “guns were firing, there were corpses everywhere and there were dark clouds, storms, thunder and heavy rain.”

isr01_400_01So why do texts get lost in translation in the first place? A lot of times translators have their career gig going and are often fluent on their native language but not-so-fluent in the target language. In some cases, the company deliberately assigns the translation to someone not fluent in the target language to anger both the person who has to get the translation done and is not qualified, and to anger the person who can get the work done as he speaks the target language.

So here are a few things that get lost in translation

-Israel is all dry land and no roads and cloudy and streets are full of Palestinian corpses and helpless Palestinians throwing stones at Israeli soldiers while Israeli soldiers fire with assault weapons while older Israelis have beards and count their gold and money.

While comparisons are often bad, a good comparison would be that Israel resembles Australia in many ways. Sunny beaches, uninhibited beach goers, wild parties, work hard – play hard kind of lifestyle, the travel bug, hiking, the desert, the sea, mountains, a weird mountain on which you can ski, sand boarding, paragliding, although in Israel surfing is not as fun as in Australia because the waves are not that great.

The resemblance with Australia does not end there. Egalitarianism, individualism, freedom, party like a rock star until you get married, frequent career changes, age being nothing but a number, an abhorrence for titles, food, drink and dirty jokes being at the center of conversation, raw slang, calling random girls honey and sweet heart, girls playing hard to get and disciplining their boyfriends.

The resemblance does not end there. Expensive imported products, lack of agriculture, expensive real estate, incredibly high cost of living, but hey, a pack of cigarettes does not cost 20 bucks in Israel, at least not yet. And there are talks in Australia about raising the prices of fags to 50 bucks a pack, that won't happen in Israel just yet.

The resemblance with Australia still does not end there. The music concerts, the national passion for sports, fitness and well-being, yoga or martial arts, the national passion for environmental protection and solar energy, recycling, trying to keep cities clean, stores playing Christmas songs in August, graffiti, inner-cities' austere architecture, and yes, always trying to pick up the next healthy thing, be it kale, soursop or pilates.

There are similarities with the temper as well. Openness and kindness, but don't mess with me, beat around the bush, play mind games, try to be a show-off or complain too much. And the pub fights. But the main difference is the security climate, as Israel has to deal with security threats here and there, and the security paranoia spreads to the streets in Israel.

Second thing that gets lost in translation: Israelis are a tribal society that does not welcome outsiders and it is impossible to be friends with a Jew or an Israeli.

The truth: Israelis have a very different concept of friendship. Sure, we can go out for a cup of coffee, or in some cases they can even bring strangers home. So the best way to understand Israelis is to describe what a typical Israeli would do.

After a day of work, or as a student, or during vacations or whatever, Israelis almost improvise whose home they are going to visit. They happen to be in your neighborhood, they will knock on your door. If you're free, they will want to spend time with you, if you're busy, they will understand. They can do the same thing with several people until they land at someone's home who will welcome them for a cup of coffee.

Truth is, you could meet someone at the bus station, in the train, or at an event, and they will invite you to follow up with a cup of coffee at home. You could do the same. You could politely reject their invitation, but a lot of times they will follow through with the invitation and visit for a cup of coffee. How long you stay depends on the quality of the conversation, what time it is and the availability of transportation to get back home. Or, as it happens sometimes, if conversation spreads way into the night, they will invite you to sleep over.

So it's not uncommon for Israelis to walk around a neighborhood and decide to knock on friend's doors unannounced. This is true for both Jewish and Arab Israelis. But dating and marriage is a lot more complicated.

In Jewish culture, there is a big holiday almost every three months. September/October has the New Year and Sukkot, in December you get Hannukah, in February Purim, in March/April Passover, in May/June Shavuot. Add birthdays, weddings, funerals, births, bar mitvas, bat mitvas, the Sabbath, anniversaries, New Year’s Eve, in some cases Christmas, the Russian New Year, graduation ceremonies, the end of the school year, vacation time, promotions, engagements, and random parties, and this means Israelis spend lots, and lots, and lots, and lots of time with their families.

So if I'm an Israeli, I'm probably going to date and marry someone who will spend lots and lots of time with family. So some guy or girl that can fit into the family picture. Israelis tend to invite their boyfriends or girlfriends to their home after dating for like three or four days, and Israelis families tell each other everything, and tend not to be very judgmental.

This whole year-around partying thing explains why Israeli Jews rarely marry Arab Israelis. It's not hostility or lack of trust; it's just that non-Jews would rarely fit into the picture. In fact, European Jews tend to marry other European Jews, Soviet Jews tend to marry other Soviet Jews, Ethiopian Jews with Ethiopian Jews, and Middle Eastern Jews tend to marry other Middle Eastern Jews, simply for convenience purposes. Party planning is a lot more simple when the couple shares a similar ethnic background. Remember, this is not one party a year we are talking about.

Final stereotype: Israelis and Jews are rich, very rich, selfish, mean, cruel, cold, arrogant, self-centered, don't celebrate anything that is not Jewish, full of secrets and keep to themselves.

Where this got lost in translation: A different culture is always a different culture. Arabs won't teach you who they are, Koreans won't teach you who they are, Cubans won't teach you who they are, the French or Americans won't teach you who they are.

A good comparison for the Israeli economy would again be the Australian economy. No Israeli will feel stuck in rags, that's why you rarely hear about the poor. But the poor exist, and the social reasons are complex. The poverty rate is there, but like in Australia, in Israel no one really feels like they are stuck in poverty. But things can spiral down around poverty, say if you take a bad loan or make a few bad decisions in life.

Dead-end jobs exist, but again no one feels stuck in their dead-end job, and Israelis, like Australians, keep thinking about the next move in their career. Israelis, like Australians, can be penny-pinching, checking exchange rates, trying to convert cash into foreign currencies, trying to avoid spending when unnecessary, trying to stick to a budget. Some can overindulge and others can live austere lives.

Israelis are friendly and optimistic, which means that serial complainers rarely make friends. So if you're the glass half empty kind of guy you might suffer from loneliness. Beyoncé and Shakira are big in Israel, so are Rihanna, Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift, Neyo, Jay Z, Justin Bieber and all those big names. Hollywood movies are just as popular, and MTV Israel tends to play North American and European music, to the expense of Israeli music. Jewish and Israeli entertainers are celebrated, but only nuts refuse to celebrate any work of art that is not Jewish.

Arab Israelis are part of the public intellectual debate, and Israeli books go anywhere from “Israel should never have existed” to “the Messiah is coming soon near you” to everything else. If you look hard enough online you can find copies of the Torah or the Talmud, and they are long, tedious reads that few Israelis bother with. As to Israelis being full of secrets, Israelis publish 9,000 books a year for a population of roughly 8 million, when the Arab world publishes 15,000 books a year for a population of roughly 300 million. I'm not sure who's better at keeping secrets. Still 9,000 books a year is a low figure for my money, but is also an indicator that professors aren't pushed into publishing “ink on paper” books like in some countries I won't name. 

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