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I recently went into a little convenience store one night. The young man behind the counter, probably in his early 20’s, was unbelievably handsome. He rang up my things and asked me in English, “Anything else?” I responded, “Just your love.” He looked at me blankly. Little did I know that “anything else” is about the only English he knows. Hebrew… Oh, Hebrew. Had I only known you!
There’s always culture shock. Even in my times in fellow English-speaking countries (although, I swear at times they were toying with me) such as England, Wales, and Scotland, there is culture shock. Of course it’s wise to study up on a new land and culture before heading there, but there are little things about life that I would never think to wonder about. Like, I wish someone had told me that you’re hard pressed here to find coffee that isn’t instant. That has been the number one hardest adjustment for me, believe it or not. Midol and Monster energy drink are non-existent, which has been a hard adjustment for everyone AROUND me. And there are all of about 2, maybe 3, kinds of cheese in the dairy section at the grocery store, none of whose names contain words like “cheddar” or “jack”. These are not flaws; just things I wish I had known.
If it's got to be instant, it's got to be... whatever this says...
I have never really experienced culture shock the way I always imagined it to be. I think I adjust pretty well. My situation was something different from culture shock. It wasn’t cultural differences or language barriers that affected me. It was something else, but we’ll come back to that.
Part of culture shock can be the language. In languages that do not require transliteration (languages based on the Roman alphabet with no symbols involved – like English or Spanish) a person at least has marginal hope of being able to find their way through some things. Not in Hebrew. Even if you learn the alphabet and can sound out a word from reading the symbols, you still probably have no idea what the word means. I still go to the grocery store and don’t know half of what is what. The language is a complete puzzle. This makes trying to figure out bus routes, websites, where the shampoo ends and the body wash begins, and everything else a challenge. Day after day, it can compound into a frustration that builds to a point of being lost and helpless until it is somehow worked through.
At first, I had also wished I had known that it would be basically impossible to find a Christian church service in Israel. They exist, but there are so few of them, and depending on where you are in the country, it is nothing short of a feat to get to one. It was and is some degree of struggling, but I knew I had done the right thing by coming here. At this point, now I’ve been through it and I laugh about things. At first, it was harder. But there was something else going on.
Thankfully, some things are always identifiable!
When I first got to Israel, I had gotten very sick and had to go to the emergency room. That is when my problems began. I realized that it wasn’t so much how different things are here, but that the enemy was leveraging all things combined – new land, new culture, foreign language, no friends, just arrived, everything uncertain, then being terribly sick on top of it all – to make me miserable when I was in my weakest state. A very deep and heavy darkness came over me, and I was drowning in it. Gilgamesh had nothing on me (“The Epic of Gilgamesh”). I had far more inner turmoil than I ever let on. It was a very dark time. I knew I wasn’t regretting my decision, and I knew I would never turn back. I also knew that what I had to do was make it through somehow. Somehow… But how?
The only thing I knew of that could help me through that really rough period was God. I asked God, “What am I going to do? I have no place to go. I need to hear something that is going to help me through this.” God said, “You need the truth.” I said, “Actually, I need something that is applicable to the situation at hand, thanks.” He said, “You need the truth.” Clearly, I had no options. I couldn’t learn Hebrew overnight. I couldn’t adjust to a new culture overnight. Worst of all, I was so sick and my darkness was so awful. I desperately needed the darkness to end, and fast. I had to have peace somehow. So, I asked God for the truth.
Thank God for pictures! Honey mustard, indeed.
He told me that there is nothing I can do or not do to be worthy of anything. He told me I already am worthy of everything He gives because He sees me through eyes of righteousness. He told me He sees me that way because that’s what the cross did for mankind and I accepted it. He told me I can’t BE holy, so stop trying to achieve it somehow by doing right things and trying not to do wrong things through my own efforts. He told me that only He is holy and all I have to do is believe in who I am in Him and His holiness covers everything for me. He told me He is not an angry God just waiting for me to stop sinning so He can finally work in my life. He told me I don’t have to try to “be good” or “be righteous”; that I can’t be, and He knows that, and that’s why He died for me – because we can’t save ourselves; we can’t “be right” in His eyes by what we do – He does it in us. He told me I don’t have to try to please Him. He told me there isn’t a way that I have to be in order to be eligible or worthy or good enough now to receive miracles and blessings from Him. He told me I already am eligible, worthy, and good enough to receive every good thing from Him because I believe in what He did for me. He told me even more truth than this, but in the end He told me peace is mine. It just is. And like that, the darkness was lifted. I was still very sick for many days, but I was a new person.
I guess in some ways I am in some kind of culture shock because I can’t speak Hebrew worth a dime, which is no help at all. Rather than be the “dumb American”, I walk around in public saying, “Mi scusi, mi scusi”. Everyone thinks I’m Italian, and the pressure’s off. I’m not completely used to the low context communication style. I have a ways to go in matching my Israeli counterparts in being more raw in manner than I am used to. And it will never cease to amaze me, no matter how long I am here, that there is no concept of being in line. If you were behind me when the bus came along, don’t try to push on before me. But that’s life in Israel. Culture shock perhaps exists in that there are things I do not get used to, but the peace of the Lord is mine because He freely gives it to me.
(For those who are interested in what this message of truth is and where I found it, I began listening to Bertie Brits on-line at Dynamic Love Ministries.)
Can you tell which is which? It's worse in the store with shelves and shelves of it all!
I took this on November 21, 2012 - the day a bomb was thrown onto a Tel Aviv bus.
Somewhere along the lines when we’re kids someone tells us not just to believe whatever people say; not just to take someone else’s word for it, but to find out for ourselves. As you get older you have to start to back up things you present. Likewise, as you get older, if you’re in the habit of just believing what people say and make no effort to know the truth… something is wrong there. Funny, though, how when it comes to Israel, it’s not only acceptable, but if you don’t just believe what people say, even if it’s on the news, then there’s something wrong with you.
When I was about four years old I remember becoming aware of a plaque my mother kept tucked into the bottom left corner of the big mirror that went along with the big dresser in my parents’ bedroom. The plaque was a thin, black plastic rectangle, unassuming, that said in big, green block letters “SHALOM”. I had been seeing it all along, but at that age moments of cognitive realization have random breakthroughs. One day I became very aware of it and asked her what it was. I have this memory, but cannot recall from my then 4-year-old mind exactly what it was that she said. All I recall taking away from it is that it had something to do with Jews and peace and somehow I knew I love the Jews. That was 30-some-odd years ago. To this day, my mother still has that plaque tucked into the same corner of the same mirror in a different bedroom all the way across the country from where that memory was formed.
Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Tel Aviv.
I had another experience when I was four years old. I was sitting on the floor in front of the door to the carport trying to put on my shoes. My little 4-year-old dexterity wasn’t developed enough to counter whatever issue my shoe was giving me and, for the life of me, I couldn’t get it on my foot. I threw the shoe down and exclaimed, “You stupid shoe!” Just like that my mother came running into the room and said incredulously, “Emmy! Don’t you ever say that!” I looked incredulously back at her and said, “What? All I said is ‘you stupid shoe’.” My mother almost lost it laughing. She was barely able to choke out, “I thought you said ‘you stupid Jew!’” I just stared at her. Even with the plaque incident (though I really don’t know which one happened first) I didn’t even know what a Jew was.
And again, 30-some-odd years later, I find my Irish self living in Israel.
I grew up in the Pentecostal Charismatic Christian church. Biblical history is a big thing. My parents would read Bible stories for children to my brother and me every night. Looking back now, I have no idea when or how I became aware that so many of the people in Bible stories were Jews. I don’t recall anyone ever stating it, but maybe they did. I don’t know how else I could have put it together as a kid. In any case, that Jews were a part of my life was life as I knew it. I’m glad for that. As I got older I learned of the horrible, incomprehensible act against the Jewish Diaspora that was the holocaust. As I got older still and took an interest in actively pursuing an understanding of what was (and is) happening in the Middle East (to put it quite broadly), I became keenly aware of the State of Israel.
Israel is a name I knew, a place in the world I was aware of, I could connect it to Jesus, connect it to the Jews, connect it to the Bible, but I was otherwise pretty void of knowledge and understanding regarding Israel. All that changed, and here I am, living in the solitary bastion of freedom and democracy in the region.
Breathtaking Tel Aviv by night and by day.
Just a few days ago, I completed and received a certificate of achievement recognized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the State of Israel. This achievement and certificate are a pride and joy. It was earned from the Ambassadors’ Club at my university, the Inter-Disciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya, in conjunction with the pro-Israel foundation Stand With Us. I sat through many speakers such as Prime Minister Netanyahu’s PR spokesman, Mark Regev, and former Israeli Ambassador to the UN, Gavriella Shalev, as well as the likes of the founder of Palestinian Media Watch, Itamar Marcus. These people and others personally showed me Israeli pride, what it means to be Israeli, what Israel means to Israel, and gave me a foundation in how to speak about Israel and be an ambassador for the State of Israel in the face of ignorance, blind hate, and opposition.
Am I a Jew? No. Am I an Israeli? It is impossible to live here and not become Israeli, though I will never have that hair! Assimilation is not only unavoidable, but it is enjoyable. Am I a Zionist? Absolutely.
The awesome Negev Desert, full of wonders.
The number one thing that so many speakers at the Ambassadors’ Club pointed out that is crucial for people in order to understand Israel, and what is happening “over here”, and to really have a true personal sense and foundation of the existence of this land, is to come here. See it for yourself. One cannot come to Israel and not begin to develop a sense of what this land means to the people and why it is imperative that the State of Israel exists. Not just for Israelis and Jews, but for the region and the world alike. With that, one of the top things so many of the speakers encouraged us, as amateur ambassadors for Israel, to do is to invite people to come to Israel, to see it all for yourselves.
A beautiful neighborhood street of Ra'anana.
So, I invite you to come to Israel, not just to walk where Jesus walked, but to understand the importance of this tiny strip of land in the middle of a region that is riddled with instability and uncertainty, and sometimes disdain for this Zionist neighbor. One stroll up and down one busy city street, any city, and you are enamored of the culture, the shops, the breads and nuts, the fruits and vegetables, everything that is so different, and everything that is so familiar. And that is just every day life, let alone the famous sites like the Dead Sea and Old City.
I will take the liberty of saying that no one has ever come here to visit and regretted it. Even if a person believed every misrepresentation, dare I say lie, about Israel, if that person would come here, it would all melt away. A new vision, a new heart, and the truth would grow in their place. Politics, the media, the United Nations… don’t look to these places for truth about Israel. Whether you are a lover and supporter of Israel, or a skeptical opponent of Israel, I both invite and challenge you to come to Israel and see it for yourself.
The Dead Sea. I took this myself! Looks like a postcard.
When I first started writing blogs for Travelujah, I thought, yeah, I’ll have a blog done every week, no problem. Oh, but it’s been a problem. I’m so busy!
The point of that is really to say that here in Israel, life happens. Life doesn’t come to a halt because a rocket was fired. People don’t go indoors and live in fear. Things don’t shut down. People don’t shut down. The only time anything shuts down is regularly, every Friday, on Shabbat! But Shabbat is another story… The fact is that life is happening here in Israel, and life is a busy thing. I’m busy living it in a place where people back in the States ask me whenever I want them to come and visit, “Is it safe?” Well, no, but I thought you could at least have some interesting stories to tell when you get home – if you make it home, that is. Of course it’s safe. I live here. Every day. I’m having life here. And it’s keeping me very busy!
Sushi with friends from school on a Friday night after shabbat ended!
Not once have I felt unsafe. Not even in the time I have spent in the West Bank have I felt unsafe. Not when rockets were being fired from Gaza, not when Israel had to bomb a weapons convoy going form Syria to Lebanon, not during Pillar of Defense, not when air raid sirens have sounded, not when I’m walking down the street at night, not when I’m sitting at a dark bus stop all by myself, not when I’m on the bus or on the train, not in any of the day trips and tourist places I’ve been in the country, never. Not once have I felt unsafe. Not once have I felt fearful.
Peaceful sky in Herzliya. Not a care in the world... except for finals...
Beautiful Sharon Beach in Herzliya. The world goes on...
It is hard to comprehend when you’re in Israel how small the place you are in is. As I’m walking around every day, I have no concept that I’m in a tiny country. It goes from a windy northern border with Lebanon and Syria, to lush with trees and cool shade, to rocky, grassy hills with grazing sheep, to the Dead Sea, to rugged, baking desert complete with camels. Israel is an amazing and diverse strip of land. So many stories happened here. So many feet walked this land. The roots and histories of so many peoples come from here. Sometimes, in the middle of what I’m doing, I look around me and think to myself in amazement that I still can hardly believe I am here.
Metulla in the north. Behind us is Lebanon and Syria - where life truly is a wartorn battlefield. We can stand here in Israel and smile.
I have many peaceful moments in my apartment in Ra’anana. I’m not far form the marina of Herzliya. I could go to the ocean several times a week if I really wanted to. I can walk around my own city and see an abundance of beautiful plants and flowers. When I’m at home studying, I relax with homemade tzatziki and homemade fizzy lemonade, open the windows and let the breeze flow through the room. The birds are always chirping away outside. I can hear them outside in the morning as I’m waking up. I can hear them now in the evening as I sit writing this, and I am reminded of Matthew 6:26:
“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”
What’s true is true everywhere, no matter where you go. God reminded me of that when I first got to Israel. He said, “All of this is mine, no matter where you are, and nothing changes just because you are here.” What He meant was that I need not worry about anything being in a new country, knowing no one, not even able to name one Hebrew letter. Matthew 6:26 is not about food; it is about God caring for us. Period. And even in the heart of an unstable region where Israel seems to stand alone, I can, and do, walk the streets, ride the bus, lay in the sun on the rooftop, and sleep at night with peace that, indeed, I am safe.
Medreshet Ben Gurion - the beautiful desert outlook from where David Ben-Gurion is buried.
People live here, after all. Israel is not a war torn and rough living environment. Neighbors are up on their rooftops grilling at night. City lights can be seen from the patio. Beautiful dresses are displayed on mannequins in store windows. Women go get their hair and nails done. People go out for gelato and pizza. It’s life. We’re living it here in Israel with nothing to fear. I can still hardly believe that I am here.
Living life! Safe and sound. Out with friends for my birthday.
Christmas in the West Bank