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The two faces of Israel: Inconsiderate or problem-solvers?

CM 21/04/2021


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Two faces have I; one to laugh and one to cry. (Lou Christie, 1963)
My friend Avi tells the following story. He drove his family up north for a hike on Yom Ha’atzmaut. As all the regular parking spots were already taken, he parked his car on the side of a steep hill. After the hike, when he got in his car to drive away, his back wheels got stuck in the mud and he slid dangerously close to the edge of the hill.
He decided not to take any chances and so he called his towing service. They told him that since it was a holiday, it would take them about three hours until they could get to him. And – they said that he wouldn’t be covered by his insurance, since he wasn’t in an accident and didn’t have a flat tire; it would cost him NIS 700 for them to move the car one meter back on to the road. For good measure, they berated him for parking in such a dangerous spot.
What to do?! He didn’t want to pay that much money and he certainly didn’t want to wait around for three hours. So he got out of the car and yelled, to no one in particular, “Can someone help me?” People were hurrying to get home, and no one seemed ready to come to Avi’s aid.
But then he had an idea. He asked, in a loud, plaintive voice, “Does anyone here know how to get a car out of the mud?”Immediately, several of the other drivers rushed to his side. “Of course we know what to do!” they said, and they proceeded to lecture him on the art of parking before they took over the wheel. It took some time – the different helpers first argued among themselves whether to drive forward or to go in reverse, or to do both by rocking the car back and forth – but they eventually succeeded in dislodging the car and putting it back on the road. The helpers each gave Avi a high five and declared this might just have been the best part of their day. 
I OFFER this as a nutshell glimpse of our amazing little country. On the one hand, Israelis can be gruff, stand-offish and downright inconsiderate. You may wish a stranger “Shabbat Shalom” and he might flash you back a curious look that says, “Do I know you?!” He might move right past you in line at the bank or post office, as if you are invisible. But if you are clearly in need – especially if you appeal to his or her sense of superiority – then you have nothing to worry about; you’ll get quick assistance, and a lecture to boot.

How often does a young mother walk her baby in a carriage, and passersby stop to tell her, “Cover that child – the sun is too strong!” or conversely, “Take that cover off, babies need fresh air and sunshine!” And if a father crosses the street against the light while walking with his little ones (many Israelis, alas, suffer from a vision ailment known as “stop-light blindness”), he will undoubtedly be berated by anyone and everyone for being a terrible role model to his children, whose precious lives he is recklessly endangering.
Israelis love to give advice. After all, we are the “how-to” nation; we know how to solve every problem and aren’t afraid to share our wisdom with anyone who’ll listen. We can win a war with a gun that doesn’t fire (the famous Davidka) and we can manufacture water out of thin air (the Watergen “Genny”). The story is told about the elderly Israeli who heard a lecture about the Six Day War from a participant and yelled out to the officer,“I could have done it in five!”
Where does this “two-faced” Sabra phenomenon come from? Why are Israelis so very hard and stubborn and intractable, and yet at the same time they can be soft and caring and generous?
I want to suggest an answer to this riddle. It requires us to understand the mindset we acquired throughout our history. In all our many sojourns in the Diaspora, we learned two basic essentials for our survival: be tough and be wary. We often were at an automatic disadvantage, denied the same basic rights and privileges that others had. We were barred from guilds and universities and many areas of employment. We generally had little or no access to the seats of power, be they political, military or social. And so we had to fend for ourselves, carefully guarding whatever we had and making sure our family was provided for and safe.
At the same time, we were wary of those around us. We were never sure who we could trust; which of our neighbors were true friends, and which were prepared to sell us out if and when the situation went south; who looked upon us in respect and admiration and who in jealousy and dislike. And so we “circled the wagons” and kept our relationships close and intimate, revealing as little about ourselves as necessary. Only when we were sure about those we felt would not harm us did we show our warm and generous side. Until then, we stayed insular and insecure.
THAT EXPLAINS why, at first blush, we may seem unconcerned and uninterested in others. But as soon as there is a connection, a commonality, a cause, we change our spots. We let our defenses down and we offer a helping hand – especially if it gives us the opportunity to show just how clever and creative we are. 
Luckily, we are such a small community and bound together so tightly that we quickly dissolve the degrees of separation between us and find that connection. It may come via the schools at which we’ve studied, the places we’ve lived, a mutual friend or relative, or by way of that great equalizer – the army. In milliseconds, we can discover a common denominator that turns a perfect stranger into an acquaintance.
Consider the beggar who knocked on the door of a house and asked for assistance. 
“I don’t know you,” said the owner, “I only give to those I know.” So the beggar waited a bit, walked around the block, then came back to the house and knocked again. “I told you I don’t know you!” said the irate owner. “Of course you do!” said the beggar, “we spoke just a few minutes ago!”
So the next time you see a fellow driver stuck in the mud, or senior citizens struggling with their groceries, don’t wait to play “Israel Geography;” just jump right in and help. After all, we really are one family, aren’t we? 
The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana. 
jocmtv@netvision.net.il

Source: Jerusalem Post

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CM

The host of Coffee Mouth Scare Crow Show and CEO of 452 Impact, Inc. Here is food for thought. Romans 6:23 "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." John 3:16 "For God so love ed the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall be saved."

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