It’s interesting on this journey around the world as I bounce between countries that are clean and dirty; places where cars stop for people and places where people stop for cars; and countries where you can drink the water or others where you can not… unless you want to spend a lot of time in the toilet.
In the middle of the Middle East lies a country that is much more Western than most of its neighbors. There are palm trees, big cars, newly laid clean sidewalks, and a lot of people shopping and sauntering around in flip flops by the beach. Am I in Florida? Nope, it’s just Israel.
I have to admit, it is a unique place. I am Jewish, but I am not Israeli. Do I have much in common with these people? Some look like me. Some look like friends I grew up with in New Jersey. Many are secular and not religious, just like me. While many also speak English, the official language is Hebrew and everything is in Hebrew… an ancient language that I only relate to the Torah and prayers.
I certainly never thought of Hebrew as an every day ‘want to meet for a cup of coffee’ kind of tongue. But I guess that’s because Hebrew as a ‘common language’ is quite new. Biblical Hebrew was not used for a couple thousand years and then was recently resurrected by one Ben Yehuda, a Zionist who returned to Israel, like many other Jews spread around Europe in the 19th century. He started the movement of making the previously biblical language a secular common-day tongue that would enable Jews from all over the Diaspora to speak in one unified language.
An observation: this is a unique place. Nowhere in the modern world (except maybe some neighborhoods in Brooklyn) is there a place where the majority is Jewish. And there are Jews here from all over the world: Arab countries, the United States, South America, Ethiopia, Russia, Europe, etc.
I guess it’s the flip side of the United States, another country built by immigrants, but where the majority is Christian. Some American Jewish friends of mine said I would just ‘instantly feel at home here’ and perhaps I did. But I didn’t know if it was because I was walking the streets with so many other Jews or if it was because, in so many ways, Israel felt like a town in southern Florida or a neighborhood in New York City. Hip, good looking, young people walked around in the latest fashions, chatting up a storm on their mobiles, and eating at outdoor cafes. It was life like I knew it… well, except for the machine guns.