Israel is a place of organized chaos and once you know the rules of no rules, you can get by barely scathed. Most of the quirks of Israel can be learned through experience, but there are some aspects of this somewhat complicated lifestyle that need some face-to-face explaining. That’s where I find myself thinking about the women of Israel. The women that I’ve met in Israel have shaped many of my experiences and taught me a lot about the behaviors and mentality of this unique country and culture. So, in honor of the American Mother’s Day, I want to highlight three women, each at a different age and background, and attempt to recognize the importance of these women to me and on a larger scale, the success of Israel.
As an English teacher in the school where I work, Revital proves that women can be super heroes. Every day, she walks into the teacher’s room with a weary smile as if she had just run a marathon. I’ve learned it’s not so much of an over exaggeration. With five girls under the age of thirteen, of which two are 2-year-old twins, this woman does more from 6-8 in the morning than I do in my entire day.
Revital is what people in Israel refer to as “dati”, or religious. She keeps kosher and Shabbat. Because of this, her wardrobe is dictated by a modest code of skirts that stretch past her knees and shirts that cover the elbow. Although many religious women cover their hair after marriage, Revital keeps her long, espresso locks free for the world to see.
As an English and homeroom teacher, Revital has a class of 32 students for subjects like History, Hebrew, and Math as well three classes of 4th graders to teach during their English lesson. On top of all of this, Revital takes time out of her day to help me with things I want to accomplish during my time here. She has taken it upon herself to help encourage the kids in a reading challenge I’ve given the students and also works with the chorus that will be singing in the English school play at the end of the year.
After my third time visiting her family for Shabbat dinner, I learned another important thing about Revital. She is the kind of teacher I want to be. And I don’t mean the kind of teacher that works in a school. I don’t even mean the kind of teacher that a mother is to her children. I mean to say a teacher of kindness. Revital has such a way of kindness that radiates; it’s this unstoppable force that you can’t help but cave into. I watch her interactions with her husband, her kids and her coworkers and try to find out how to be a person that somehow teaches kindness without giving a single lesson.
Women like Revital have created a strong role in the culture of the Jewish Israeli people. She is a model of what it means to be religious, tolerant, aware and kind all at once, which in today’s modern Israel can be like an oxymoron at times. But through conversations about the Holocaust, Israel’s latest operation and her time in the army, she has given me a better insight into the mind of a religious woman in Israel. I owe much of my understanding of Israel to her.
After spending only a few hours with Vered on the beach, I wouldn’t say that I know this woman well, but like many of my Israeli interactions, meeting her made a lasting impression.
After being introduced through a mutual friend, I fell in love with this woman’s demeanor from the start (her adorable sons, Michael and Orni, didn’t hurt either). They had come to the beach on Shabbat to enjoy the sun and sand in Eilat. Although it was a bit chilly (75° F), they made the most of it by bringing a soccer ball, classic beach buckets and a game set for matkot, a popular Israeli beach pastime.
After giving the kids a good run around, I eventually tired from the rambunctious play in the ocean and sat in the shade with the amused mother. Vered was enjoying a day with her boys, but indulged me in the borderline nosy questions I was prodding her with. I feel like my dad more and more each day.
I wanted to learn how she felt with two young ones, knowing that in just over a decade she would be sending them to serve in the Israeli army, a requirement for all Israelis after high school. Her answer was interesting, but in my opinion, not a big shocker. If I were in her shoes I would probably feel the same.
She eloquently spoke about her early years as one who recently graduated from army service. She felt proud of her service and felt it necessary for future generations to do the same. Yet, with a bloodline of her own now, she felt a shift in her thinking. It’s not that she wants to defy the system, but from what I understood, she is hesitant and scared. In Israel, everyone knows someone who has been injured in a number of operations and wars in the region. Her sons would quite possibly be a part of that.
As I continued to listen to her talk about her travels around the world, I could hear a story that echoes much of what I’ve heard other Israelis speak about. The Israeli people have, in my opinion, the best outlook about the world. They believe it’s meant to be traveled, seen and enjoyed. Yet as much as they love seeing the world, they consciously choose to plant their roots in Israel, despite some of the less desirable traits of the country i.e. conscripted army service and a stressful economic situation for the lower and middle class.
It’s a major difference I have come to find with the culture here and back in America. Adventurous, warm and curious women like Vered are choosing to be in Israel even though there are very real and very concerning issues surrounding this country. Some say that they stay because of some Zionist mentality they picked up from their parents, or because Tel Aviv is just plain amazing, but the essential reason stays the same – Israel feels like home to them.
What a loveable, eccentric, free-willed woman. Noya is the quintessential Israeli twenty-something, filled with light, love and everything beautiful. Noya and I met one of my first weeks in Israel, where she was our waitress at a local watering hole. A couple of American girls and I sat at the table hoping to talk to her and get the scoop on the local scene. If you’re ever around Noya, you would understand the kind of pleasing energy she emits and know why we felt the urge to talk to her.
As a student at the local university, Noya knew the Be’er Sheva scene like a champ. She knew the “code” that the university students lived by. And besides giving me awesome haircuts and making delicious gnocchi, Noya has been there to talk about what any twenty-something girl wants to talk about, dating. Her insights on the dating scene have given me a lot to chew on during my time here. There is just a different set of rules and you have to know them if you want to play the game.
Meeting the family isn’t a huge deal, but going out to dinner is a BIG deal. Being exclusive is exactly that, it’s extremely exclusive. There is no in between here. You are either dating full force or just, well, fooling around. She explained to me about my “predicament”. How my American status made me, let’s say, more desirable for a fun experience, but not much more than that. Marrying in Israel is extremely difficult already, and getting involved with an American just makes it that much more complicated. And that’s not even getting into the language barrier.
But through all of the interesting, fun and disastrous dating experiences, Noya was there to hear about it all, always willing to pop open a bottle of wine and just be an ear. She has given me the true pulse of young people in Israel. Their ideas about success, dating and relationships all work in different ways that help me understand why people are the way they are here.