That noisy group sitting around the table, sharing a home-cooked meal and speaking something that sounds like guttural French? Yup, probably Israelis. If you get to know them, they’ll usually break down to twos or threes, but it’s not unusual to see 10 or 15 Israelis hanging out together, at just about any decent travel destination. It’s not an organized tour, it just happens. So why?
We’re all one big, happy family.
Not really. But by the age of three-to-six months, the average Israeli baby is in gun (that’s daycare, not an Uzi) until age five, when they enter the school system. After approximately 12 years of sometimes-questionable peer relation building comes the pièce de résistance: military service. That’s another three years (two for women) of intense bonding through shared physical and mental challenges — brothers and sisters in arms, literally. By the time they set off to travel, being together in groups is just…normal.
It’s nice to be with people who ‘get it.’
The Israeli-Arab conflict must be the most-publicized, least-understood issue in world politics. It engenders everything from apathy to rage. People who have no connection to or clear understanding of the situation will take to the streets to demonstrate on one side or the other (well, usually one side). It’s hard to say which is more tiring — the well-meaning “What is going on over there, anyway?” usually followed by about 30 seconds of vague interest in the reply, or the more aggressive “How can you guys be so awful to those poor people?” from someone who has already decided on the answer before asking the question. A healthy debate is always welcome, but that involves a level of knowledge and understanding that most people just don’t have — though it would be great if they did.
It’s a matter of trust.
This is a bit of a paradox because inside Israel people relate to each other much like they do in most countries — they lock their doors, car alarms are ubiquitous, and the used-car salesman is guaranteed to be a wannabe con-man. But outside of Israel, the only person an Israeli can really trust is another Israeli. He will think nothing of leaving his cell phone on the table (of Israelis) while he goes to dance. Sharing a room, joining a group going anywhere, even lending money is no question. It sounds naïve, but it works.
It’s the siege mentality, or is it safety in numbers?
Israelis grow up in a small world, surrounded by enemies. Contrary to its ‘size’ in international headlines, the country is actually quite tiny — 20,700 km2 (about the size of New Jersey) with a population of just over 8 million, 75% of which are Jews. Luckily, the climate is varied for its size and the sites are world-class, but Israelis can’t ‘get out’ much. Our neighbors hate us — some to the point of wanting to wipe Israel off the map.
Of course, we can and do fly to countries that are more hospitable and welcoming, though there is never a guarantee that you won’t run into an impromptu anti-Israel demonstration or swastika-tattooed skinhead anywhere in this world. Just when you think you’ve really connected with the abuela frying empanadas in the middle of nowhere Peru, she realizes that you killed Jesus…and it’s all over. Nothing brings people together like being hated and threatened, and when you grow up with that, it just stays with you.
The ‘mainstream’ in Israel has a really strong current.
Maybe it’s because the country is small and kind of isolated, but people tend to go with the flow. That is not to say that Israelis don’t think for themselves…as the saying goes, “Put 10 Israelis in a room and you’ll have 11 opinions.” But let’s face it, we all drink the same coffee! When it comes to food choices, activities, attitude, we tend to have a lot in common. Doesn’t everyone want to be with people just like them?
We’re in good company.
Israelis, especially the traveling ones, are fun! They tend to be adventurous, down to earth, resourceful, intelligent, and curious travelers. They aren’t the nicest people you’ll meet — politeness isn’t really a thing in Israel, but get to know them and you’ll find a warm, trustworthy, entertaining bunch of people.
The truth is, they aren’t all in groups. Quite a few Israelis travel alone, often to more-adventurous destinations. In fact, I would argue that the best ones are traveling alone…but I’m biased.