Jun 14, 2012

You Know You're In Israel When...

By: Jessica Hochstadt, MS

In 2004, Yoni Bloch released his single “Makir Oto”, “I Know Him”. The song essentially discusses how everyone knows everyone in Israel. This song could just as easily be the Israeli anthem as “Ha Tikva”. (Well, maybe not just as easily. Let me elaborate.)

I lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts for seven and a half years. I walked to work and school every day. I rarely, if ever, walked by anyone I knew en route to my destinations. When I did, it was worthy of a phone call home. “Mom! Guess who I just ran into? You’ll never believe it! John! You remember. John? The guy who served the drinks at Grandma Susie’s birthday party? No? The one with the salt-and-pepper hair? He had a tattoo? No? Well, I ran into him. He says hi.” 

You would think that having lived in a place for so many years, I would run into people more often, and people who actually mattered in my life. Running into friends on the streets was so rare, that I stopped wearing make-up when I went to the convenience store for a soda. That quickly changed once I got to Israel. 

Israel is a small country. And Israel is a unique country. The same woman who pushes you in line will just as easily ask you to join her family for Shabbat dinner… during the same argument. Everyone essentially acts like family. And in families, people know each other. Such is the case for Israel. 

In Israel, and especially in Tel Aviv, everyone knows everyone. You can’t walk down the street without watching people running into friends, or you yourself running into someone! At first this sounds marvelous! Quaint, even! But the fact that everyone knows everyone is both a blessing and a curse. 

When knowing everyone is a blessing: 

- You are having a bad day and in the Old City you bump into your best friend’s mom, who used to give you sliced oranges after soccer games. What is she doing here? Doesn’t matter. You just went from ready to drink into oblivion, to reminiscing about high school and throwing up after soccer games. Instant good mood! 

- You’ve been looking for a job in America for months. There just aren’t any. So you take a stab at your luck in Israel. It would seem there are no jobs here too. But the second you tell your friend you are searching, she sends your resume to at least 8 family friends, and you have an interview by the end of the day. Achla! 

- When you were 21 years old and in Israel for the summer, you made out with a very handsome boy. He was tall, had blue eyes, and the body of a fire-fighter. Five years later, you walk into a bar, innocently looking for a drink and a few laughs. Funny enough, your old flame is sitting on the barstool next to you. Well that was easy. 

Look who I ran into! Best "soccer mom" ever! This made
my day!

When knowing everyone is a curse: 

- You go to a bar alone, because you are expecting to meet up with a friend there. You friend is going to be a few minutes late, and tells you to go ahead and order a drink while you wait. Now you’re drinking at the bar alone, and in comes the boy whose home you left at 5 AM this morning, before walk-of-shaming it back to your place. Who knew you’d see him again? Oops. 

- Because this is Israel, and it’s Shabbat, you decide to extend an invitation to anyone who needs a meal. Weirdos show up. You figure, that’s okay, I’ll only have to see them this one night. Not so, my friend. From now on, you will see these people everywhere- the shuk, the bars, heck, even Masada. Because it’s Israel. And they’ll ask you when the next Shabbat dinner is, every time.

- You make a new friend who after some conversation realizes that he knows your ex-boyfriend. The friend proceeds to tell you all about your ex-boyfriends current state of affairs and how well he is doing and how beautiful his new girlfriend is and how he is succeeding in school and career. I could wring your neck, new friend! Shut! Up!

- You finally sealed the deal with the boy you’ve waited five years to be with, after accidentally running into him at a bar (see above). You haven’t spoken since your one night of passion, but you see him everywhere. Funny enough… he lives across the street from you.  

A special moment is captured here. I awkwardly dance away
as a previous lover I ran into hits on a beautiful girl.
Incredibly uncomfortable!

I wish I could say that walking down the streets of Tel Aviv feels like walking into the bar Cheers, “where everybody knows your name.” To be honest, it’s usually pleasant. It’s wonderful to see people bumping into one another, hugging one another, and then walking away with vibrant smiles. Even though I don’t know either of the parties, I find myself in a better mood when I can witness these transactions! 

But all too often, knowing everyone turns out to be a mess. Know this, Israelis and travelers… be prepared. Hoping not to see your ex? Oh, you’ll see him. Just got into a fight with your friend? She’ll be at the same party as you tonight. So put on your best smile. Make sure you look stunning. And remember, you’ll run into someone. Why? Because you’re in Israel. 


  1. this is so great! love your posts :)

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