Posted by: Anna | October 30, 2010

Israel Surprises Me

We have been in Israel for about 5 days now. It has not been what I expected. Rather than focus on any specific destination, or activity, I just thought I’d share what has surprised me – my expectations versus our reality so far.

We spent our first couple of days in Tel Aviv, as you may have seen. We are now in Haifa, in the Northern part. In no particular order —

  • It’s so modern, mostly. Remember-we haven’t been to Jerusalem yet. However, you have to remember that Israel is a 20th century invention in its modern incarnation, and that the kind of modern civilization it is today certainly is 20th century in its creation. Tel Aviv is so modern…not all “ancient” at all. I was really expecting ancient. But when I reflect on the history, modern makes sense. But emotionally it is a little disappointing.
  • There is a lot of trash here. And cats. I think the trash probably attracts rats, but the numerous wild cats eat the rats, and also trash. It’s not my favorite thing.
  • Everyone speaks English, and it’s quite easy to get around. We have found that it works just fine to set out somewhere with instructions from the hostel staff, then to just ask random people or bus drivers how to get back. Things generally work in a logical manner. It’s a nice change from Russia.
  • It is expensive – like London or western Europe, at least. We are finding it harder to stay on budget here than in Russia, especially with food.
  • The food is delicious – hummus, falafel, shawarma (what we would call a gyro), pickles, pita, even weird sweets made of nuts are all good. The grocery has all of these things too, which is nice. And there are little carts everywhere selling fresh squeezed juice, especially pomegranate. Mmmm….
  • The weekend here is really only one day – Shabbat (Saturday). If you have 2 days off per week, the other one is Friday. Our Monday is their Sunday.
  • Mandatory military service for three years, starting at 18. I want you to think about the 18 year olds you know – wouldn’t it be a bit odd if every time you went on a bus, or a train, or anywhere, you see an 18 year old carrying a machine gun…just on their way somewhere. Not patrolling or anything. It’s quite odd. I know I’m getting old because they look so young. And often men have reserve duty for years after that. Less often women..and even if they do, it ends when they turn 38 or have their first baby. Reserve duty depends on your military position.
  • It’s narrow. Basic geography here, I know. But it’s only about a 20 minute drive East to West in some parts. That is so odd to me, as a Texas girl.
  • Other locations considered for a Jewish state were Texas, Uganda, and somewhere in South America – I think Argentina. Think what a different political discussion if the Jewish state was located in West Texas….
  • The Israel we have seen is like taking a Western European country and mating it with a Middle Eastern City. A strange amalgam of both. I say this having never been to any other Middle Eastern city, so just based on my assumptions. And you know what they say.
  • We have lots of discussions about American politics. Even the checker at the supermarket here wanted to discuss Obama’s presidency with me. Healthcare has apparently been well-covered in the foreign press, if not accurately. It seems that people overseas don’t understand our healthcare debate. We keep hearing about how they just can’t understand why we wouldn’t want universal healthcare. We keep insisting it’s more complicated than that, and that there are good arguments to be made within our system for not having universal healthcare, regardless of your position on the issue. There are logistical hurdles and economic hurdles. I have figured out perhaps why they think there is no way we wouldn’t want universal healthcare. People think that if you get a gunshot wound, and you don’t have health insurance in America, that you just go home to die. When we explain that you can indeed go to the hospital and they will fix you up even without health insurance…they are shocked! No wonder they don’t understand the debate over health insurance. Of note here, people from other countries inevitably know more about American politics than I know about their country, and sometimes more than me! They also speak more languages. Not exactly the kind of thing to make me feel like a smart, educated adult.
  • The weather is gorgeous. Don’t come in the summer – sounds like it would be stifling. But it’s lovely now.

We start what will probably be a whirlwind of religious sites tomorrow – it is going to be the most jam packed sightseeing we’ve done so far on the trip (sites per day). Wish us luck and lots of energy!



  1. Anna – what great insight you expressed regarding this country and their people. Were you uncomfortable talking about our healthcare issues? Or did you enjoy trying to explain it? Texas was being considered a country for Jewish people? I had no idea! In fact, many things you mentioned were a surprise to me, as evidently they were to you. Like you, I would have expected “old” rather than consistently modern. Did you sense a constant military presence? I ask because of the 18 year olds carrying guns. Your comments make me view our country’s acceptance of various cultures in a different light. It gives one pause about the plight of others. I truly love the way you write and express your thoughts. I will be interested to hear more after you view the religious sites. Take care. Judy

  2. Anna & Tommy – It is the morning after the elections so pride for America is running rampant for me. Not that the Republicans had a big day (which they did) but the intricacies of what that means. It means that the voters can speak and be heard. That long time incumbents can be booted out. That we believe in the power of our economy and what that means for the American dream and are not satisfied when we think we are not living up to that promise. That both parties are accountable to a large pool of independents that keep us all from straying too far from our shared values or too far left or right. That the children of immigrants, like Marco Rubio, can not only have a piece of the American dream but help remind us what it means from a seat in the U.S. Senate. That freedom and elections matter.

    Your insights about Israel are meaningful contrasted with that.

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