First Impressions of Israel

Israel’s a strange place. Coming here it’s like trying to play a game that you don’t know the rules to. You walk out onto the sidewalk and you’re already paying attention so that a bike or even an errant parking car doesn’t bring an early game over. When you go out in public, it’s not uncommon to see cigarettes, or even more strangely, ashtrays for cigarette smokers available at the beach or in a restaraunt. You have to plot out extra time for the handicaps you’re playing with, since going to the store takes much longer to find the items you’re looking for. Language barriers, new laws, different street signs to orient yourself around, new characters that act in an unfamiliar manner.

Security is a way of life more so than an inconvenience here, keeping the game going as entrenched rules rather than options. Everyone has a military background, and every building has someone carrying a gun. Kind of ironic that it makes me nervous considering how many guns there are in the U.S., but you rarely see them in front of you waiting for your morning coffee. It’s not just a stark contrast, but a visually violent one to where you just came from. The reality that you are in a different place, with different rules, and different consequences. When you start playing a new game and don’t know the rules it can be turned to your advantage as well. It means that you can bend them in ways that those who know the rules can’t. Push boundaries that others won’t or don’t realize they follow.

The game even looks different. The colors are all so different, it’s like looking through a filter of tans, browns, and yellow-greens. The buildings are often missing windows or have iron lines running down the outside. Bright colors and out of place strings of plastic jump out at you as a shock of color among some of the stores and restaurants that lie shoulder to shoulder, and line either side of the smaller side streets. The sounds match the colors, when birds chirp in strange pitches and rhythms. Drivers talk to each other in perpetually resounding honks in the evening, but during friday evening silence pervades most of the back streets, with only voices from Shabbat meals and friendly gatherings, rising up and breaking the peace.

The social games are entirely different as well. It’s harder to tell when someone is joking or serious since they’re delivered so dryly. Aggression here is normalcy. Even just to get a place in line for supplies at the grocery store demands a step forward, no one will take the time or pause to let you in. It’s a faster paced game in every way, and you have to move fast to keep up with the pace. Counterintuitively, it’s also completely relaxed. You play the game at your own pace, working and playing alternatively on the beach. Calm evenings smoking and watching games, sitting in the evening light, sharing a meal. It’s hard to keep up with the shifts that constantly occur, between fast and slow. Hard rules and soft rules.

So far the rules are vague at best. I don’t know what the rules are for myself as opposed the other characters around me. It’ll take time. But the only way to learn the rules is to play the game.

(Photo Credit Lior Yedidya)

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