Sunday, June 21, 2015

The American-Israel Divide

In less than one week, I will celebrate my 18th year anniversary of moving to Israel.  There are days where I feel fully integrated into Israeli culture and society, and days where I question my sanity of staying in this country another day.

For example, on Shabbat Raphaela took our weekly walk to the Valley of Gazelle's near our house, for our weekly Shabbat picnic lunch.  Sitting quite close to our picnic spot were two families, and one mother was discussing - actually shouting loudly, a crime we Americans are often accused of - her son's upcoming birthday party.  She proudly declared that her son would "hit the jackpot with stupid presents," and that he would never get the chance to use any of them.  This mother had planned on exchanging all the gifts toward the purchase of school back packs for next Fall.

When the boy heard this (obviously for the first time), he complained loudly that they were his gifts for his birthday, and that she didn't have a right to confiscate them for something as practical as school supplies.

The mother replied that he has no choice in the matter, that she planned on earning back her investment in the party, and he had better suck it up for the good of the family.

At that moment I felt more Israeli than American, in the sense that it is a practical approach, and realistically, this boy would not play with most of the presents he would receive for more than five minutes.  On the other hand, the birthday-hater in me sympathized with him.

And now for the American experience.

A decision had to be made in Raphaela's Gan by all the parents, except that no one  - including the teachers or the Parents Committee - would take responsibility for the project.  Naturally I, being a political science major, enthusiastic facilitator (I should get therapy for that trait) and the token blunt American, took on the job of polling all 34 families toward coming to a decision.

The parents had from Friday through the end of Sunday to text a simple "yes" or "no" to my phone, so that only I would know their opinion, without retribution from the Kindergarten staff.  By the end of the voting period, less than half the Gan population had voted, and even getting that result was like pulling teeth.  I suppose this echoes the nature of real national elections, so I shouldn't be disappointed or surprised.

The American in me, that proactive person who believes that you get involved and defend the cause in which you believe, just doesn't understand why no one seems to care, why humans are content to allow others to make decisions for them.  You could argue that Israelis live life-and-death decisions almost daily, and are therefore willing to take a back seat on the smaller things, like their children's education.


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