This post is LONG overdue, but life in Vietnam is busier than expected and Israel feels very far away now.
Anyway, here’s list of things I noticed during my time in Netanya. (Yes, I am aware it was somewhat strange to spend a month in a city like Netanya, but I was in Israel for Krav Maga and Netanya has the best MMA gym).
I will write a post about my experience of Krav Maga and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) soon(ish), but in the meantime please enjoy another random list of observations.
1. Hummus Hummus Hummus
The first inkling I had of the hummus obsession in Israel (besides the ‘Hot Dudes and Hummus’ Instagram page) was when we were given a generous tub of hummus instead of butter on the airplane.
Hummus is BIG in Israel and the selection available in the supermarkets is impressive. None of the labels were in English, of course, so I did need to enlist the help of some locals to translate.
Speaking of non-English labels, I once ate an entire tub of white cheese for breakfast because I thought it was weird-tasting yogurt and was starving after training. Not a high point in my trip.
2. The Golf Carts
Golf cart and wheelchair drivers in Netanya are wild. Why are they allowed to cruise around on roads and pavements?
In South Africa I would be deeply concerned if any of my elderly relations was missioning around the centre of town in a wheelchair, but Israel is much safer than SA and it’s awesome that older people can be so independent. It was entertaining crossing the sidewalk with wheelchairs overtaking me, but my best was spotting golf carts puttering along at 20km/h during rush hour, causing absolute chaos on the main road.
3. The Trauma of Grocery Shopping
This is probably (hopefully) a Netanya-specific thing, but I hated the supermarkets. People seem to do one month’s worth of shopping at a time, so the checkout queues were absolute chaos.
On many occasions I would walk in, see the queues, decide food was not so vital, and walk out again. It was not pleasant.
4. The Landing Clap
I had read that Israelis clap when the plane lands, and it’s true! It was delightful and I think we should all start clapping for touchdown.
5. The Night Dog Walks
Is walking your dog at 11pm a thing? It seems very over-enthusiastic. However, even little kids seemed to be out and about at that hour so maybe I should have re-evaluated my bedtime.
6. The Safety
Israel was marvelously safe. As a solo female I often have to be careful, so Israel was a treat. I would finish BJJ around 9.45pm, walk home through the industrial district and over the highway, and have absolutely no problems. I was also living in a very low-income; primarily immigrant neighbourhood, and nobody touched me. It was awesome.
7. The Israeli Warmth
Israelis are possibly the most interesting nation of people I have come across. They can seem quite unfriendly at first (think blank stares in response to my smiles and very uninterested restaurant service) and their direct manner can be startling but generally if you make the effort to engage they will go above and beyond make you feel welcome in their country.
Asking for directions will usually involve in them whipping out Waze or enlisting passers-by to help, and probably conclude with an invitation to Shabbat dinner. I had old ladies leading me to the train platforms, security guards escorting me to bathrooms and random Israelis on Instagram offering to help translate food labels.
When my phone broke, one of the BJJ guys came all the way to my apartment to drive me to the repair shop. (Thanks Viki!). The lady who did my bikini wax invited me to Shabbat dinner and offered to marry me to one of her sons. My landlady answered all my (sometimes very random) questions with cheerful voice notes, and the owner of my favourite café loved engaging in long political conversations and offering me free coffees.
Don’t even get me started on the people at my BJJ gym. You will be hard-pressed to find a more supportive, patient, dedicated and entertaining group of men and women. I still miss them. To be completely honest, Israelis have a bit of a bad reputation in the backpacking world and I hadn’t expected to make any meaningful connections during my time there. But in reality the people I met were so wonderful that I would move there in a heartbeat if it weren’t so damn expensive.
8. The Prices
Speaking of things being expensive, what’s up with the prices in Israel? I paid almost R300 for a single vodka and coke in Tel Aviv, and was paying a fortune for an apartment in the dodgiest area in town. True, I’m a non-Hebrew speaking foreigner so the likelihood of me being ripped off is much higher, but many of the locals I spoke to mentioned the hardship of living in a country where the salaries are not proportional to the price-level.
9. The Abandoned Clothing
I was living in a very poor neighbourhood so maybe this doesn’t happen in fancier areas, but there were often big piles of clothes abandoned on the pavement. People would take what they wanted until the pile disappeared and I suppose it’s a relatively efficient way of getting clothes to people who need them.
10. The Pushy Men
Alright, so I know I was waxing lyrical about how wonderful Israelis are, but I had more unpleasant male encounters in a month there than I had in two years in South America. Given how direct they are, apparently the best strategy to ward off unwanted attention is a simple “F*ck off,” but I struggle with that degree of impoliteness.
If you’re in Tel Aviv, I recommend going to the Gay Beach to avoid old men trying to massage you; and if you go to the Dead Sea do NOT wear a Brazilian bikini unless you’re in the mood for crowds of local men taking videos of your ass.
11. The Different Norms
I was in Israel when Trump decided to recognize Jerusalem as the official capital of Israel and move the US embassy. Understandably, I had concerned friends and family messaging me, and while I heard there was a fair amount of conflict in Gaza, in Netanya and Tel Aviv the bubble of calm remained firmly intact.
Something that surprised me was the locals’ blasé attitude to the possibility of a war. The overall feeling seemed to be that ‘at least it would be during summer, when weather conditions were better for fighting.’
This drove home to me how different the lives of Israelis are from ours. The faintest sniff of a war in South Africa would probably send us into a full-blown panic. Can you imagine Capetonians remaining calm if someone started firing missiles over Sea Point or bombed The Waterfront?
At nineteen I was getting drunk on cheap wine, falling in love for the first time, adjusting to life away from home and trying not to fail 1st Year Economics. Nineteen-year-old Israelis are probably in the army and, if they choose to go into the armed forces, could already have been exposed to the traumas of war. It blows my mind how different their youth is from ours.
12. The Cats
There are islands in Japan where cats significantly outnumber the human residents. Israel isn’t that bad, but the number of stray cats lurking about is still quite startling.
I believe many cats were brought over by the British in the 1930s to combat a rodent scourge, and due to mild winters, the ready availability of food (cat ladies everywhere) and bans against the mass killing of stray animals, their population ballooned.
I’m not kidding when I say the ratio of stray dogs to cats must be about 1:50, if not more.
13. The Stop Go Lights
During my first few days in Israel I found it hilarious how people would steadfastly refused to cross the road until the green man lit up, even when there wasn’t a car in sight. Then an old lady told me you could be fined for crossing the road on a red light. I’m hoping someone reading this can help confirm or deny this, because I’m still unsure.
14. Shabbat Trading Hours
Most shops close for Shabbat from 4pm on Friday until 8pm on Saturday. Inevitably I would run out of food on Friday, forget about this rule, and be stuck eating random snacks from convenience stores until Shabbat ended.
Also, because of the Sabbath, the week in Israel starts on Sunday. If you have a job it must be awful to have such a short weekend, but at least Sunday Blues don’t exist!
15. The Awesome Public Transport
I am a little obsessed with Israel’s trains. They are air-conditioned and clean and quiet and nobody pushes or shoves. Also, apart from hummus, the trains are probably the only cheap things in Israel.
I was told to avoid buses because of the spate of bus bombings a few years ago, but used them without any problem. However, a major downside of taking the bus is the likelihood of getting stuck in the infamous Israeli traffic.
16. The Traffic
… Which leads me onto my next point. I’m sorry, but the government really needs to sort out the traffic situation. It’s horrific and that’s all I have to say about that.
17. The Kibbutzim
I didn’t go to a Kibbutz, but did have the pleasure of spending some time with Linda, a school friend of my dad’s, who lives in a kibbutz.
(Speaking of Linda, she embraced me into her family and my time spent with them was the most special part of my trip in Israel).
Our conversations made me realize that I had a very romanticized view of Kibbutzim. I had imagined complete communal living, substantial orange-picking time and people floating about in sandals and loose clothing while exchanging idealistic opinions and innovative ideas.
Apparently the profitable kibbutzim are the ones specializing in some sort of industry, so you could be working in a factory? Not quite the hippy dippy lifestyle I had envisioned.
18. The Tight Security
If you read my post about the few hours I spent in the custody of Israeli airport security, you’ll know I’ve had first-hand experience of just how tight the security there is. Expect to have your bag searched any time you enter a large building (like a mall or a bus station), and don’t be surprised if you get asked many, many questions at the airport. I appreciate the security now though. It made me feel very safe.
My trip to Israel had a rough start but couldn’t have turned out any better. It was an intense, exciting and rewarding experience and I left with a happy heart. Maybe it was the warmth of the people, or the sunshine, or exercise but that month made me excited for life again. Vietnam is home for now, but another trip to Israel is definitely on the cards for 2019.