6 First Impressions of Israelis

Israel is full of sand and salt - and critters, creatures, and conflict.

Americans get a distant glimpse of it all on CNN, or Fox News, or Facebook, but the sights from within Israel’s borders provide a much different perspective than what we see through the screen of a TV.

In reality, the United States media only gives snippets about the Palestinian Conflict, and they’re terse, biased, or just plain wrong. Those snippets also don’t tell us about the Ethiopian immigrants struggling for equal rights, or the PTSD running rampant through the veteran populace, or of the Palestinian civilians who live in fear of both the Israeli soldiers and their own governing bodies, too.

From the inside, the view’s crystal clear, and to learn the real Israel, we should learn her people. Here’s 6 first impressions.


1. Israelis won’t sugar coat anything - not unless they’re powdering jelly doughnuts.

They’ll tell you exactly what they’re thinking. Are they happy? You’ll know. Are they annoyed? You’ll definitely know. For an American, this lack of overintentional courtesy is somewhat refreshing; people in the US like to tiptoe around their interpersonal issues by using passive aggression, and everyone else has to try try and interpret what they want to say.

Not in Israel. You’ll know when you’re wrong, and you’ll be told at a volume heard through walls.


2. On the surface, it doesn’t seem like Israelis have manners (but they do, and they’re the manners that actually matter.)

They won’t apologize if they bump you in the supermarket. They won’t wave when you let them walk through a doorway before you.

But, they’ll be there for you when you need them. They’ll invite you over for Shabbat, feed you until you’re ready to burst, then thank you for letting them treat you.

And, if you ask for directions, they might roll their eyes, but they’ll get you where you need to go — sometimes they’ll physically leave their shops to walk you there.

The tribe mentality is pervasive, and around every corner, a Jewish mother is waiting with a meal and a sweater.


3. Lots of Israelis are angry with the state of their nation.

They shake fists at the Knesset and curse the corrupt politicians who’ve left Israel overpriced and financially overburdened.

But, Israelis also take great pride in their country. They are a tribe, and they love their people dearly. They stick close to their families, even after they’ve built their careers, and when they move away because of military service or school, they keep in close communication. Those values reign supreme, unlike in the US, where individuality is the paramount.

Much like in the US, however, Israelis can be hypercritical of their national politics, and in these days of war and corruption, it’s probably good that they are.


4. Israelis are an eclectic ethnic bunch.

They are Arabs and Palestinians, or Polish and Russian immigrants, or pretty much anything else.

They aren’t all Zionists, and lots of them are secular spiritualists who’ve never set foot in a synagogue.

There’s a misconception that all Israelis are Jews and Jews only - an idea the American media loves to proliferate - but this fallacy only adds to the stigma that Israeli Jews and Arabs each face.


5. Give an Israeli a schedule, and they’ll probably look at it once, then arrive ten minutes late for the meeting.

It’s not personal, though. Unlike in the States, there’s more leeway with plans, if plans are ever even made at all.

For Americans who live by the clock, this can be lead to nailbiting and stress, but it also allows us to sit back and break bread instead of pulling sixty-hour work weeks.


6. Israelis drive like their face is on fire and their foot is bolted to the gas pedal.

They’ll stop if you’re crossing at a crosswalk, but they’ll inch their bumper up to your hip and bleep a horn without any real reason (other than annoyance. How dare you cross where they’re driving?).

For a culture that shirks the concept of timeliness, they sure seem to be in a hurry when they’re behind the wheel.


Our perspectives are everything.

But our perspectives are influenced by what we see in the media and what we hear from our family and friends.

Unfortunately, Americans and the American media do an awful job covering the details of Knesset corruption. They definitely don’t tell us about the hordes of stray cats that leave poop on everyone’s doorstep.

Those are the things you only discover when you’re on the inside. Those are also the things Americans need to know if they are to understand their complicated Middle-East ally.

To learn Israel is to learn her people, and to learn Israel’s people is to learn her critters and cultures and conflicts.