Rethinking the Conversation

If nothing else, MASA’s new ad campaign appears to be a catalyst for a much needed discussion. Feel free to join in.

an excerpt from Elana Sztokman’s blog, for Serious Jewish Women:

MASA, Money and Manners: The Yawning Gap between Israelis and American Jews

Last night, a 16-year old boy shared with me some insights from his recent experience of switching to an all-American school in Israel. “Our classes are conducted all in English,” he said, “but that wasn’t the best part. When kids wanted to talk, they raised their hands first! Now that was surprising!” As if to say, in his entire repertoire of experiences in Israeli classrooms, he has never seen kids actually raising their hands to talk.

His comment underscores the depth of cultural differences between Americans and Israelis. The Israeli culture of discourse, full of constant interruption, heavy gesticulating, and unsmiling, un-nuanced interactions, can be quite jarring to many Anglo immigrants (though those of hailing us from New York perhaps shouldn’t rush to judge.) I’d say that this first week of the school year is arguably the hardest week for Anglos in Israel. The change in culture can be overwhelming. People accustomed to advanced planning, thoughtful communication, overt attempts to ameliorate parents, and a certain orderliness of the system, have a great shock when they first encounter the Israeli school system. Here, if you don’t persistently ask questions, you may never know anything. Bus schedules are not laid out until after school starts. Invoices are served as little post-it notes stuck into the bottom of the child’s school bag. Information is so scattered and planning is so haphazard at times that it seems like a miracle that the system operates at all.

…For Anglos in Israel, this is hardly news. Americans and other Anglos coming to Israel – whether as Olim, MASA participants, or potential investors – struggle with cultural differences on a daily basis.

…when the MASA ad comes out telling Americans that they are “lost” unless they come to Israel,  some of us might understand that this is fairly typical of the way Israelis talk. It’s direct, unambiguous, tactless and irreverent. To Americans, it feels like a huge slap in the face. Anglos who have been here for a while probably think, yeah, that sounds about right.