I know it's hard to believe (I'm having trouble believing it myself), but Tuesday will mark one year since I arrived in Israel, one year that I've lived, laughed, cried, loved, learned, fell and lived my dream here in this ancient land.
Israel is many things (so much more than the violence, struggle and conflict that might come to mind). Israel has also been so many things to me, and, although I have gone through, experienced and enjoyed so much in the past year, I have just begun to scratch the surface.
Almost all of my dreams have come true in the space of this year, in this tiny country probably about the size of the Oregon Coast to the Willamette Valley across and from Portland to the California border lengthwise. To be honest, I never thought much about beyond my dreams. My plan was to get here, make it through the initial absorption process, after which I figured I would have a clearer idea of my direction here....Well, I've made it, and the question has come up - So now what?
There will be more on that to come, but in the mean time --
These are some of the things I've learned in the past year (this list is not comprehensive, and it will be updated as I remember (and laugh about) more things):
1. Never, ever cross the street against the light in Israel, unless:
-you have looked both ways AT LEAST five times, or
-a big, swarthy Israeli man walking his pekingese crosses in front of you, or
-the cars that tried to inch in past their own impending red light are all stopped over the crosswalk and will buffet you from any other oncoming vehicles, or
-it's 4 am and the street is absolutely empty, or
-you are absolutely, positively and in all other ways certain that no cars will come through the intersection at the same time as you
As a side note, and per the unfortunate but now very wise, advice of a friend of mine, if you decide to jaywalk, do a quick but thorough scan of the general area to make sure there are no cops in cars, on motorbikes or standing nearby. They will give you a ticket. If they try to give you a ticket, even if you know some Hebrew and have lived in the country for a year (me!), play the tourist card, feign ignorance, and, if you're gifted in that area, bat your eyelashes and giggle a lot. This last part is not recommended for men.
2. When you go to Europe (or at least to Antwerp, where I was less than two weeks ago), and you see little silver, mushroom-cap-like objects that seem to be demarcating a certain area or track for some unknown purpose --
do not walk there! Stay away! Do not even enter the general area for a few seconds or your life will be suddenly shortened by a crazy Flem (aka a Belgian) on a very fast bike.
3. Whatever cannot be communicated by language and words can most definitely be conveyed through various hand gestures, babblish baby-talk noises and bodily demonstrations. This works for anything from clothes shopping to picking up members of the opposite sex.
4. I do have an actual fear of telephones. Refer to number 3 to understand why this is even worse when trying to do it a foreign language. Despite what you might think from watching Israelis talk on their cell phones, nothing can actually be conveyed through body language and hand gestures over the phone. And without hand gestures, well....you can see why I put off calling my non-English speaking landlord for quite some time. It may also turn out to be a problem when I have to take driving lessons to get a license here.
5. No matter how much you can't wait to get away from your parents and out of their house and away from the general area in which they live, you will eventually miss them....
6. When your company sends you on a business trip to Europe (or anywhere for that matter), make sure you buy a suitcase.
7. Banks and governmental service branches will, without fail, be closed on Monday afternoons, all day Tuesday, Wednesday afternoons and Fridays/Saturdays, or any variation of the above that strikes the branch manager's fancy. At least twice, the said "service" branch will be closed when you most need to go there. Forget 9 to 5, on Mondays and Wednesdays, despite being closed in the afternoon, the banks reopen from 4 to 6. My particular bank branch, nearest to my house, is completely closed all day Sunday, but open for a few hours on Friday.
8. If you need to do anything of importance at the bank, you can't just do it at any old branch (even though they're apparently difference branches of the same bank). If you want to make an international transfer, order checks, order a new debit/visa card, speak to someone about a loan, you must either do it at your main branch (which, for me, happens to be the one at which I opened my account - IN JERUSALEM), or, the people at the other branch must phone the branch manager at your main branch and receive authorization from your main branch's manager to complete the transaction.
"Okay then," I said. "I don't live in Jerusalem anymore. I'd like to switch my main branch from that one to this one."
"You'll have to do that at your main branch."
Apparently, there's one more thing you can't do at any other but your main branch. A guy I know from the Jerusalem ulpan went to an ATM, which took his card and wouldn't return it. Fortunately, the bank was open, so he went inside to get his card back. The woman went over to the machine, removed his card, somehow found out that this particular bank wasn't his main branch and wouldn't return the card to him until she had received authorization from the main branch's manager, which took an additional 30 mins.