While waiting for a train the other day I was making small talk with another American doing research in Israel. His efforts to converse were well intentioned, but poorly executed. He was a probably autistic physicist.
He sort of barked at me without direct eye contact: “I’m really liking it here in Israel. But my main complaint is, when I’m walking around, I step in so much dog poo.”
Okay, there is moderately more dog poo on the sidewalks here, but not an excessive, unavoidable amount. I have not once stepped in shit in over ten months in Israel.
“Really? Hmmm, you got to watch out for that.”
He gestured to shoes he had stuffed in the side water bottle pockets of his backpack.
“That’s why I bring these extra shoes. In case I step in poop.”
This is why I love talking to probably autistic physicists.
Dog poo is not one of my primary complaints about Israel. In fact I would welcome more dog poo if it meant more dogs and less stray cats. I have other complaints about living in Israel. They are mostly trivial and comical, and very tweet-able.*
Caption: See! Too many cats!
But before I fill another blog postwith gripes and absurdities of living in Israel, I ought to mention things I like about it. This is a non-comprehensive list of general things I like about living in Israel. It does NOT include appeals of visiting Israel or particularities of my living and working conditions. This is a list of good things that if you moved to Israel, you could like too!
Starting with the fact that…
1) Pomegranate juice is no big deal.
I’m not being snide. The ubiquity of pomegranate juice epitomizes a bigger “good thing,” which is that it is cheap and easy to eat healthy. What is considered nutritional luxury food in America is affordable and commonplace in Israel. The vegetables taste good—good enough to eat a salad of just chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, and lemon juice. In America you would have to douse that in 1000 calories of Ranch dressing to make it palatable.
On both sides of the ocean, my meals often consist of hummus, carrots, sliced fruit, cheese, and toast. My friends call it an Annelia dinner. It’s not because I’m healthy. It’s because I find the whole rigmarole of food preparation abhorrently mundane. I don’t want to spend my time shopping, schlepping, chopping, braising, baking, letting the casserole dish soak, and storing the leftovers in appropriate sized Tupperware.
In America, Annelia meals are wrongly perceived as diet food. I’m not ano, I’m just lazy! In Israel, Annelia meals are totally normal. I’m not ano, I’m justeating like the locals!
Caption: Yeah, I’ll order a lychee pomegranate juice from this stand and it’s no big deal.
2) On a similar note, exercise is socially acceptable. My Israeli friends will be the first to admit that the Jews aren’t renowned for athletic prowess. They’re more suited for Noble Prizes than Olympic prizes. But, Israelis do care about fitness and maintain the means for it. There are Western-style gyms, yoga studios, and Pilates classes. People run and power-walk on the streets, which is not the case in many places that I travel. The only person I ever saw running in Belgrade was stealing a purse.
That said, you might have to share the “very fast” swim lane with an old Russian woman breast stroking so slowly that she might literally be doing a dead man’s float. The two “slow” lanes are completely empty, but she chose to join your lane because that’s what Israelis do.
On the outdoor exercise machines, you might be attacked by unsupervised yeladim [children] who are using them as a playground. They’ll squirt you with orange soda, point at you, call you “Hamburger!”, and run away.
You might be scolded for “sweating too much” at the gym. And you’ll certainly, nearly be run over by a car that’s driving on the sidewalk while you’re running.
BUT, no one is going to think you’re weird for exercising—or at least trying to.
3) You can get things done eventually.
I know that I moan a lot about how inefficient and insubordinate the service industry is here, but tasks are achievable. It will take three visits to the customer service desk. You will need to speak with the manager. You will have to “go Israeli,” meaning that you cause a scene until you get your way. But then, you usually get your way.
Unabashed persistence really pays off here, and that’s probably a valuable lesson for me as I continue with a career in academia.
4) It’s a great place to visit.
Shit, I wasn’t supposed to talk about visiting Israel. Well, it is a great place to be a tourist, even as a resident going for a day trip.
For a tiny country—a smidge bigger than New Jersey—the landscape and ecology of Israel is remarkably diverse. We’ve got deserts, coasts, and even a precious little ski mountain. The Dead, Red, AND Mediterranean Seas. Who hasn’t wanted to float in the Dead Sea since you first heard about it in third grade Social Studies class? And all these natural attractions are within a 3-hour drive from Tel Aviv.
Caption: The breathtaking and barren Negev Desert.
Caption: Living the dream, floating in the Dead Sea.
Moreover, the preservation of cultural heritage is unparalleled. Humans of diverse ancestry have been roaming this territory for the past 100,000+ years. They have left an incredible record of history and culture. Roman bathhouses and Neanderthal burials. Islamic mosques and Jewish synagogues. The destruction path of Nebuchadnezzar and the death march of Jesus. A lot of great falafel stands. This is a land of densely concentrated human culture that is (mostly) well cared for and packaged for tourists.
So in conclusion, come visit me. We’ll drink a pomegranate juice and it won’t be a big deal.
*Of course I have some serious issues as well. How could you not in such a contested, ideologically charged land? However, I am here because of what happened here 40,000 years ago. I’m qualified to publicly opine on Neanderthal-modern human interactions, not Israeli-Palestinian relations. I’ll talk about the latter over a beer, not on a blog.