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Understanding Israelis – A short guide on avoiding unpleasant situations

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Have you thought about how to get a hold of Israeli culture?

Understanding Israelis and talking to them is one of the best ways to get a hold of cultural aspects when you do Aliyah. It might be surprising to know that there are many cultural differences between Israelis and people everywhere else.

You are excited and have the desire to be accepted by the local population and start making friends and business contacts. While it might take some time for you to get acquainted with Israelis, which would make life a lot easier, there are certain tips to keep in mind that you are sure to benefit from.

Below, you will find 5 valuable tips that will help you understand Israeli culture in order to avoid unpleasant situations. Be aware! You may need to brace yourself for your journey here in Israel!

1. Israelis are very direct and don’t mince words

In contrast to many European countries where there’s a cultural need to be polite and avoid hurting each other’s feelings, here you won’t find any of that. People speak, loud and clear, whether it’s called for or uncalled for. It doesn’t matter what it is. Even if you are trying to discipline your kid in the street, someone mind come over and give you unsolicited advice (or complain you are being unfair).

It might not be justified, it might hurt, but that also doesn’t mean it’s a personal attack. It’s just the way people behave, being real and expressing what they feel is right.

This can be a good thing though. When Israelis ask you how you are feeling, they want to know the good, the bad, and the ugly (if you can share), because they genuinely care.

And people expect you to be real as well.

2. People are proud of their choices

Whether you’re discussing the government, religion, or education, everyone feels passionate about their positions and doesn’t appreciate it being challenged. Well, some Israelis would accept the challenge, but things can turn a little unpleasant as Israelis can have quite a temper (that’s why Israelis are called “Sabra”, the prickly cactus plant).

So, you may want to sit this one out and let locals let off some steam with their frustrations or whatever issues they have. Or you may choose to engage in a debate. But know that won’t end anytime soon.

Again, it’s not personal, it’s just the way people debate.

3. There’s no one-size-fits-all

To understand Israelis means knowing that no matter the demographics you are talking about, you are still bound to find a lot of diversity. For example, you may find people who are on the outside completely irreligious and still be praying fervently every day. You may find that not all Charedim dress alike or have the same Heimishe sense of humor you’d expect.

Knowing that people have contrasting personalities will save you from many faux-pas, as people might look at you annoyed when you express surprise at the things they do or how they think.

In their view, nothing about them should be surprising, but that’s one of the things that davka makes Israelis so surprising.

4. People are very proud of the IDF

Whether you agree, support it or not the Israel Defense Forces hold a special place in Israelis’ hearts. With the exception of a few religious groups, everyone is expected to go to the army and proudly serve their term there. This means that one sure-fire way to get into a fight here is to criticize the IDF for whatever reason. It’s not worth it.

5. Everyone loves the Land

That’s right, whether you are religious, secular, dati leumi, Noahide or non-Jewish, it doesn’t matter. Most everyone loves the Land. It might sound like an exaggerated claim but most people coming to Eretz Yisrael feel like they will never leave it. It’s their life and soul, and the source of their joy.

So, consider the many difficulties and frustrations people find when moving here (costs, finding a community, getting used to the bureaucracy, and so on), and you will see that only those who truly love the Land can withstand it all and settle here. This means that people feel they have as much right to be here as anyone else, and that’s not something up for questioning.

In the end, Israelis can be tough, but once they get to know you, and you get to know them, they are among the friendliest people on Earth. And you will probably see that many of them are willing to go far and beyond what’s expected to help their friends in need.

It’s just that it takes some time to truly understand Israelis.

But once you do, life becomes a lot better.

Picture of Chaim Apsan
Chaim Apsan

Chaim is the Interactive Media Coordinator of Olim Paveway. Having made Aliyah 8 years ago, he now works writing articles and taking care of the technical aspects of the website.

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