Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Home is where the heart is

Two (unofficial) facts:
 1 The vast majority of North Americans that immigrate (make aliya) to Israel do not stay there (here) more than two years.
2. The North Americans that do stay here would never consider going back to their former home unless extreme circumstances required it.

I have lived in Israel for more than twenty four years.  When I visit the States to see my parents, I feel like a foreigner.  I simply have no desire to return there and would probably not go there at all if my parents were not there.  I am not alone in that feeling among my fellow “expatriates”, an aptly sounding word linking to the concept ex-patriot.
The interesting issue is the cause of this phenomenon.

Some people would think that the continual wars fought here cause people to leave. Actually, many more people come to Israel than emigrate due to the local conflicts. 

Life is not always easy here.  However, like everywhere, people struggle to make a living, raise their children, and keep their marriage together.  Young people worldwide have great difficulty buying their first apartment or house.  Educational and economic opportunity is much more dependent on individual circumstances.

If it is not the daily grind that drives away or attracts people, the cause must be more psychological.  Unlike many places, including most of the United States, there is a strong sense of collective in Israel.  While everybody has his or her own life, that life is linked with one or more tribe.  A person’s identity is linked with religion, ethnic group, and/or physical place.  You are identified by your allegiances and, consequently, with all the other tribe members. An Israeli cannot be completely autonomous.

Of course, this situation has distinct advantages.  Children don’t walk around unclaimed in the streets.   Every tragedy receives sympathetic ears.  Nobody eats alone on a holiday. People give freely and willing to the community.  If you desire the sense of belonging, you can find it in Israel.

However, being part of a collective gives everybody license to participate in your life and express opinions about it.  If you buy a new car, first people will say “tithadesh” or “mabruk”, meaning congratulations.  Then, they will ask you about where you bought it, the price, and the reasons for this model, and justifications for buying a car instead of using the money for something else they may find more appropriate. They also feel free to criticize the choice of color and accessories.  In other words, you live in a community where everybody affects everybody.   This can drive you crazy if you let it.  Many immigrants and sabras, native-born Israelis, leave the country to have the privilege not to justify their existence. 

When people ask me why I have stayed here, I am left with only one answer:  Home is where the heart is.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Evanu Shalom alechem

Hebrew, being an efficient language, gets maximum value for its words.  The word שלום [shalom] is defined in a Hebrew dictionary as peace or hello.  In practice, the wary translator has to take context into account when rendering this word into English.

When greeting someone, it does mean hello, but sometimes is used in parting, when it can be translated as goodbye.  In an argument, when someone says shalom, shalom, s/he means to say that the discussion is over.

When leaving any town in Israel, there is a sign that says סע בשלום [sa beshalom], which can be translated as either Godspeed or have a safe journey, depending on the desired style.  If someone sends דישת שלום [drishat shalom], they are sending regards.  Of course, Shalom is also a name, as in Shalom Hanuch, the singer.

By the way, the title is name of a Hebrew song, meaning “we brought peace to you.”

I hope you יצאת בשלום [yatzata beshalom] from this post, meaning you got away unscathed.  So I all can say is “SHALOM”

Monday, June 10, 2013

Tennis Localization

Tennis is a global game.  Unlike most sports, even the rules are identical worldwide.  What does vary is the language and terms used on the court.  You can know where you are by listening to the language of the players.

 Israeli has its own peculiar linguistic environment.  First, there are the necessary terms of scoring.  Since English is quite influential here, many players use the English terms: out instead of חוץ [hutz]; deuce instead of  שוויון [shivion]; and set point instead of  נקודת מערכה [nekodat me’oraca].

Secondly, there a few wonderful religious phases that can be applied to tennis situations.  For example after a service let, a player can say פעמיים כי טוב  [pa’amayim ki tov], meaning “twice because it was good” referring to third day of creation when the phrase “it was good” is used two times.  Similarly, if a player wants two serves to warm up before starting the set, s/he can say “ שתיים לאליחו  [shtiyim le Eliahu], meaning two for Eliahu in reference to the custom on Pesach to leave a cup of wine for Eliahu.  Admittedly without holy roots, a lucky shot can result in a comment like  יותר מזל משכל [yotar mazal me sechel], meaning more luck than brains, the Hebrew equivalent of better lucky than good.

The real Israeli influence is felt in curses, a mandatory part of any sport. In the case of Israel, the localization is internationalization, i.e. people curse in all languages.  You can hear Hebrew, English, Russian, Arabic, Rumanian, and Yiddish, sometimes more than in one in the same sentence.  Since the person is speaking a foreign language, there are no holds barred in terms of the words used, which is a bit embarrassing if you actually understand what is being said.  Even a mild “oops” comes outs as oy vay and oy givald sometimes.

So, playing tennis is not only an athletic experience, but a cultural one also.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Israeli Negotiating Strategy

Every country has its ways of arranging matters.  These tactics receive names that may seem alien to non-resident even if the technique itself is familiar.  Israel is no different and has a plethora of terms.

If people use a מצליח [nazliya] tactic, they simply ask for what they want even if there is no basis in fact or status to attain it.  If the other side is so foolish as to agree, you  have succeeded, the meaning of the word in Hebrew.  If not, no harm is done.

Another tactic is חזק על חלשים  [Hazak al halishim], literally meaning strong to the weak.  When one party has a clear advantage over the other in terms of strength or position, it can force its position without any resistance and appear to be very strong.  Of course, the term implies that the same bully can become the victim if the tides are turned.

Another proven way of succeeding is Vitamin P.  The letter P refers to the Hebrew term פרוטקציה [protekziya] or connections.  In other words, personal connects work when personal skill is not enough.  It is not always appreciated by others, but is considered a major tool for getting jobs and promotions.

One of the most amusing tactics was personified in the movie Sallah Shabati, sometimes called the  הפוך על הפוך  [hafuch al hafuch], meaning the opposite of the opposite.  The theory is that if the other party insistד on opposing any offer no matter no reasonable it is, you can trick it by asking for what you don’t want, thereby attaining your original goal in a backwards manner.  In that movie, Sallah Shabati wants to receive an apartment.  When his requests and demonstrations don’t work, he changes his tactic to refusing any apartment.  The government then insists that he must accept an apartment.   Two negatives make a positive.

Finally, there are questions you are not supposed to ask.  These are שאלות קידבג  [she’elot kitbag] for some reason.  The term is relevant where actual policy is different than official policy.  So, if you ask if there is a certain fee for a service, for example, you will have to pay it while if you had said nothing, nobody would have charged you.

So, when in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, or even Ashdod, it is helpful to understand the negotiating lingo.

I would be interested in hearing of your local terms.