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By zamorse

Israelis take you much more serious when you speak Hebrew to them. Most of them speak English, and most pretty fluently, but when you speak in Hebrew to them, they not only understand you better, they take you more seriously. At a restaurant when ordering food, on the bus asking for directions, at a store looking to buy something---the difference between English and Hebrew is surprising.

There's a whole sort of stigma and stereotype when it comes to speaking English. Sometimes I have to be really pushy and say, "I don't speak English, talk to me in Hebrew" to maybe get a cheaper deal at a store, or for an Israeli to feel more comfortable telling me what/how to do something.

For example, on Friday I took the bus down from Haifa to a town a little north of Tel Aviv called Ra'anana, famous in Israel for being home to many Americans. I got on the bus, and the bus driver asked me where I wanted to go (in Hebrew). I told him that I wanted to go to Ra'anana (with an American accent) and he told me that it was 25 sheckles, in English. Now that he knew I was American, he spoke to me on a whole different level. He didn't cheat me, and it wasn't anymore expensive than it normally was, but because he knew that I was American, I felt like our conversation was on a different level.

And I find that it's very hard to talk to Israelis my age. They speak so quickly and with so much slang that it's often very hard to understand them, plus they all speak English pretty well. But, I volunteer at a Holocaust survivors center, and I find that it's very easy to speak to the elderly because they don't know English and they speak very slowly. It's also easy to speak to my Hebrew professor, of course.

I've been working on trying to speak Hebrew with more of an Israeli accent, but it's really hard. I'm starting to think that speaking Hebrew with more of an Israeli accent is more important than knowing vocab. I have two more months here, so we'll see.

By zamorse

Once a week on Monday afternoons my friend Maya and I take a bus to a Holocaust Survivors Center in Haifa to volunteer. The Holocaust, or the Shoah in Hebrew, is a sensitive topic in Israel and there are only a few thousand still alive, both in Israel, the United States, and around the world. The State of Israel was founded in 1948 in the aftermath of WWII, and the Holocaust was one of the driving forces in creating the country. Thus, the government of Israel goes to great lengths to protect and care for its Holocaust survivors.

That background sets the state for the kind of experience I have every week. The survivors have an entire community within a neighborhood in Haifa just for them, including a community center, doctors office, apartments, and a dining room. Volunteers like myself come all the time everyday to help care for them. My job every week is to help prepare dinner in the kitchen, and then eat dinner with the survivors at the dinner table.

It's not a very hard job, which allows me to spend a lot of time with them every week. Another great thing about the center is that most of them never learned English and they speak Hebrew really slowly, so it's a great chance for me to get to practice my Hebrew (since most Israelis speak to you in English once they know you're American). Most importantly though, it's a great chance to hear their stories. There aren't that many Holocaust survivors left, and it's really important for me as a Jew, but also as a human being, to hear their stories before they are all gone.


By zamorse

Israelis love Americans, well, sort of.

Because of the large diaspora community of Jews living in America, there's a definite connection between American Jews and Israelis. At any given time, there are, I would wager, hundreds of thousands of Americans in Israel. And given that Israel is a country of only 8 million people, that's a sizable portion. All of the street signs are in English, restaurants often have menus in English, and the majority of Israelis, especially the younger generation, speak English. In fact, you don't really need to know Hebrew to be able to get around in this country, since everybody speaks English.

Israelis watch American t.v. shows, listen to American music on the radio, speak English, eat at American restaurants, and generally love Americans. American people, that is. How Israelis feel about the American government at any given time is another story, but generally, connections between the Israeli government and the American government are extremely strong.

Israelis assume that most Americans who come to Israel don't speak Hebrew. And in fact, that may be true. A large portion of the American population that does come to Israel comes on "Birthright programs", a free 10-day trip for Jews throughout Israel. And they, more often that not, don't speak Hebrew. Thus, when Israelis see an American, they often assume they don't know Hebrew. Or, Americans in Israel are seen as a way for Israelis to practice their English. Israelis are pretty impressed when an American can speak Hebrew then.

Tel Aviv, the second largest city in Israel, is seen as the "Miami of the Middle East", and there is so much American influence and culture here that I often feel like I'm still in America. For an American not wanting to study abroad in the most remote, un-American place, Israel is a comfortable study abroad destination.

Israelis definitely love Americans and I feel very welcome here.