As a “tourist” in Israel there were a few instances that stood out in my mind as “Israeli” and as foreign in relation to the sheltered suburbia life I lived as an American Jew in what I call a modern-day Jewish ghetto. Israel was language, it was hearing Hebrew at the airport checkout counter and feeling at home already.
Israel was special treatment, being isolated at the airport gate, guards at every direction making you wonder if you yourself are suspicious, it was accommodating, having to switch seats on the flight as to not offend the ultra-orthodox man sitting next to you.
Israel was also proud, since after waking up for breakfast (it’s nice to be blessed with the natural ability to sleep on 12-hour international flights) and shortly thereafter seeing the bird’s eye view of Tel-Aviv, there were no two ways to analyze the uproar of applause. People were literally thanking the pilot for landing at their destination of choice.
As a teenager Israel was being allowed to be outside until the wee hours of the night without a curfew, at least domestically it was safe. Israel was bold’ it was a motorcyclist who stopped at a traffic light and had the audacity to tickle my foot through my open car window. It was also an old woman who could barely walk but could sure as heck cut in line at the movie theater.
All the above became more apparent after moving here and undergoing rigorous investigations by random people representing all walks of life. Here in Israel, your business is everyone’s, from the taxi driver, to the shoe saleswoman, to the woman at the supermarket, to the bank teller and more.
So many mistaken concoctions for one nameThis blatant honesty was and still is apparent in questions like, “How much money do you pay for rent? How much do you get paid at work? Why did you buy that car? Why did you cut your hair, you look so much better when it’s long? Why would anyone in their right mind move to Israel?" Questions asked so rapidly that confusion leaves you no choice but to share your deepest secrets with a complete stranger. But is anyone a stranger here?
I can’t count the amount of times random people helped me here and how many times perfect strangers became close friends, quickly. Or, the innumerable amount of invitations I received for Shabbat and holiday dinners.
But it was also the fact that people understood the meaning of my name. Liat was not just a name that people uttered and mistakenly put an emphasis on the first syllable and not the second as they do in Hebrew. I mean I can understand mispronouncing Shpigler, but Liat – who knew there were so many mistaken concoctions for one name.
Shpigler, a.k.a. – Shipliger, Spiegler, Shpiegl, der Spiegl and so on and so forth was understandable. But here in Israel, people still haven’t stopped asking me if I am related to the famous soccer player, Motaleh. (Sometimes I say I am for the kicks)
Liat means “you are mine” in basic Hebrew and everyone in Israel knows how to say it properly. In a course I took on Jewish folklore at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem one of my professors said a sentence in Latin that completely stuck. “Nomen est Omen” - your name is your fate.
Or, according to Wikiquote, “Literally Name is omen, implying that the name is fitting for the object or person.”
Perhaps that is a factor in why a person would uproot themselves to a place where as the show Cheers ingeniously said, ”Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.”
Beauty, rudeness, paradoxes, defeats, triumphsIn actuality I came to Israel 11 years ago just to join the army and then to go back to school in the States. What makes a person stay after serving with 120 men in the Golani Brigade can be left to interpretation or can be summed up as a certain sense of belonging to the greater good. Israel has its way of crawling into your veins for better or for worse and this series of articles will discuss just that.
As an old-new immigrant to Israel, who has heard the question "why did you come here?" more than "what is your name?" I have immersed myself enough in the culture to feel one with it, and 11 years later am still shocked by the beauty, rudeness, paradoxes, defeats and triumphs enough to view it from the side.
Most importantly, I learned that you can’t be an Israeli without cynicism and you can’t be an American Jew without dreamily and romantically sticking in the “Z” word (shhh, be careful not to say Zionism in Israel). Because I am a little of both, both elements will be apparent.