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8 American Habits I Lost When I Moved to Israel

Israel Student Work
by Stephanie Kempker Sep 30, 2015

1. I stopped using Sundays as an excuse to lay around and be lazy.

Now that I live in Israel, I’ve been forced to give up any attachment I once had to Superbowl Sunday, unless I want to use a vacation day. Basically, Sundays are the American Monday here. I had to learn get back to the office grind with all of my colleagues — from Cellcom workers to Hamashbir Lazarchan employees — a day before the rest of my friends back home.
In America, Sundays used to be my favorite days of the week, but I don’t mourn for them anymore. Friday’s Shabbat dinners have quickly filled the void — mainly with tabbouleh salad, selek yarok, and bishbash.

2. I stopped feeling indifferent about where I was from.

I can count on one hand the number of people I know who have served in the US military. I’ve never been very patriotic, and I probably complain more about the US than I compliment it.

I had to learn fast that sort of apathy doesn’t fly in Israel.

Israel has a strong patriotic culture; people are proud of their country and their heritage. Each one of my Israeli friends has served in the military. Their patriotism has rubbed off on and I love the bond they all seem to have with their military buddies, whether they served in Golani or in the Paratroopers. Participation in the military and patriotism is such a part of the Israeli identity that every introduction will always include a discussion of where someone served.

3. I realized I didn’t always need to be intensely independent, there are people around who want to help me.

In the US, any problem I had, I solved it myself. If I needed someone to watch my dog, I found a dogsitter. If I needed to move everything in my apartment, I paid my friends to help me do it. I never expected a ‘handout’ and I never wanted to inconvenience anyone.

In Israel, problems are shared between friends and family. There is always someone willing to lend a hand to help me. I know that every Israeli friend I have would be willing to drop their fun Friday night plans in order to help me move to a new place — whether I’m moving from Ben-Yehuda to Dizengoff street, or all the way from Haifa to Beersheba.

I’m even hard pressed to find a paid dog sitting service here, because everyone I know is too happy to help me out.

4. I stopped expecting to drive forever in order to get somewhere interesting.

It takes just 6 to 7 hours to drive across the entirety of Israel, from the resort city of Eilat to Metula in the North. If I want to down arak with grapefruit in Tel Aviv, go vineyard touring in Golan Heights, desert camping in the Negev, or visit the Western Wall in Jerusalem — it’s all just a short drive away from where I am.

And actually, that old American habit I used to have of needing to drive at all is pretty irrelevant in Israel. Buses and trains snake across the country, and larger cities like Tel Aviv and Haifa have great public transportation. I wouldn’t even want to drive a car in Tel Aviv anyway, the parking is awful.

5. I gave up believing that a group decision could be simple.

When I go into Café Café restaurant, I’ve come to expect that even something as small as deciding which table to sit at will be a discussion. The positives and negatives of various tables will be debated, and I’ll likely change seats at least once.

Even decisions that seem tiny and insignificant to outsiders, are worthy of argument in Israel. I’ve listened to long debates about the best way to grill, the best place to park, what, specifically, to wear to a certain occasion… Just deciding between getting to Eilat from the Dead Sea or from Beersheba requires a moderator.

6. I let go of the expectation that church and state should be separate.

Israel is a Jewish state, and while all citizens have equal rights regardless of faith, some old school religious rules do exist. For example, public transportation doesn’t run on Saturday, the holy day of rest. I don’t have a car, so if I want to get somewhere on a Saturday, I’m either walking or I’m out of luck.

Also, interreligious marriage, for example between a Buddhist and a Jew, cannot be performed in Israel because the marriage system is religious only, and a secular system does not exist. Because I’m not Jewish, and my fiancée is, we’ll need to get married outside of the country in order for our union to count.

7. I realized I couldn’t really eat whenever I wanted to, and that had to be okay.

In Israel, I can’t always quench my 3 a.m. burrito craving. The whole American 24/7 fast food, eating whatever and whenever we want thing, hasn’t been replicated in Israel.

I’ve had to get used to a lot of food rules here. Religious restrictions dictate what items can be served together — no meat and milk, for instance — and many restaurants abide by these restrictions in order to meet the needs of their customers.

This also applies to religious holidays, when most (or all) restaurants in an entire city will close. If it’s Passover, no one will sell bread — not even Ariel bakeries. If i have a pizza craving, too bad. Pizza Fadel will be closed for the duration. I’ve learned that if I need some starch in my life other than Matzo, I’d better stock up before Passover starts.

8. I stopped being so territorial about my food.

In Israel, I’ve had to learn how to share. Back home, I would look through a restaurant’s menu, decide what sounded good to me, and order it, for myself. If I felt especially generous, I might offer a bite to my friend.

This isn’t possible in Israel, unless maybe if I’m at Aroma.

Even at home, where most meals happen, food is generally served “family-style” and individual plated meals are rare.
At restaurants, from Avazi to Shipudey Hatikva, a bunch of communal dishes are decided upon (after arguing over them of course), and they’re all shared between everyone.

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