We spent five years living in Israel – yes, during the recent Intifada and terrorism – and loved it and hated it almost equally. We get a lot of questions about our life in Israel, especially about living with terrorism. We do our best to answer them here, and if you have more questions about our life in Israel, please post them in the comment section below and we’ll do our best to answer them.
What is it like living in Israel?
We’ve been living in Israel since 1999, a year before the current Intifada (war) started. We’re sure you have a lot of questions to ask us about life in Israel, in addition to what it is like living under the constant threat of terrorism. We cover some of this in our Telling Zone, sharing stories about life in Israel, but we also answer a few of your questions here.
- Why did you move to Israel?
- Are you moving there to live forever?
- Aren’t you afraid to live in Israel?
- How do you protect yourself from terrorism?
- Do you speak Hebrew?
- What is a day in the your life like living in Israel?
- What is the food like there?
- With the constant fear of terrorism, can you go places and do normal things?
- What are the people like?
Why did you move to Israel?
Brent had been working in North Carolina on a project to convert passenger airplanes into cargo planes and he got a job offer to do the same thing on the same project in Israel. Since we had been restocking our financial cupboards in North Carolina, and were almost ready to hit the road again, we gave it serious consideration. After all, why not take our life on the road overseas?
It meant leaving the trailer behind in storage. It meant being even further away from family. It meant a strange place, a strange language, and a further test of our skills as travelers. Six weeks after the job proposal we were on a plane to Tel Aviv. Wouldn’t you jump at such a chance?
Are you moving there to live forever?
No, we are not moving to Israel to live. We have been here a few years and have a few more to go before our contract is up. We have made a little nest here and it is a great place from which to travel and explore other parts of the world.
Aren’t you afraid to live in Israel?
We are asked this question all the time. The answer is complicated. Yes, there are many times when we are afraid to be here. Many US citizens and others moved out of Israel fairly soon after it was clear that the current Intifada wasn’t going to be a couple week event. We stayed. Many people thanked us for staying and made us feel brave to "stand by their side". We aren’t standing by anyone’s side. We just don’t see a reason to leave yet. Maybe we are fools. We don’t go out to public places that attract a lot of people and terrorists. I’m allergic to cigarette smoke and am seriously restricted from restaurants and cafes and even shopping malls where the smoke level is terrible.
We were very afraid at first, making many plans about what we would do if…but so far, we haven’t tested any of our plans. We got past much of our fear early on in the Intifada. Then we got angry. Angry at those who think that violence is an answer. And angry at those who think that Israel shouldn’t defend itself. I recently read an essay by Dennis Miller, an American comedian, talking about the Middle East conflict. He explained that each terrorist event in Israel is the equivalent of an Oklahoma City Bombing in the US. If there was an Oklahoma City Bombing every other day, the citizens of the United States would have SOMETHING TO SAY to their government about putting an end to this. American citizens wouldn’t argue about the tactics the government took in response.
Brent and I both feel that whatever it takes to put an end to the violence, Israel has a right to try. And are we afraid? Sure, but mostly angry at the lack of support from the international community to stand by Bush’s statement that "If you harbor terrorists, you are terrorists. If you train or arm a terrorist, you are a terrorist. If you feed a terrorist or fund a terrorist, you’re a terrorist, and you will be held accountable by the United States and our friends." (November 23, 2001) We might consider the Palestinian Authority and its militant groups "freedom fighters" if they were targeting the government and military of Israel. The killing of innocent civilians in bars, night clubs, discos, restaurants, and at weddings and holiday dinners is, by any definition, terrorism.
How do you avoid the terrorism?
Can you? Can you protect yourself from terrorism? Part of the definition of terrorism is that it is random, usually directed towards civilians, and intended to use violence to attract attention to a cause. Therefore, terrorist pick spots where they can do the most murder and mayhem to attract the media to the scene. Randomness we can’t do anything about. You have a greater chance being in a car accident than being a victim of terror in Israel. Since we know that terrorism is directed towards USA, the civilians, and that terrorisms love a big party, we avoid public gathering places.
Terrorists also like buses, bus stops, and other places where people tend to group. When possible, we avoid those, or ride buses during off-times.
Living with a daily dosage of terrorism, your thoughts and feelings change. Fear turns to anger which turns to action. We are living like the Israelis and refusing to allow terrorist to change our lifestyle. We do go out, as limited as it is due to the smoking, and we attend movies, concerts, plays, and public events. Our lifestyle here hasn’t changed. We are still doing the things we want to do. What has changed is that we know at any time the randomness factor can get us. So we make sure we make the most of our love and passion for each other. We don’t know when the end will come for either of us, so we live for the now.
Can you go places and do normal things?
We go and do whatever we want to do, just like regular folks. If there is a concert, a play, a movie, whatever it is, we will go if the muse takes us there. We don’t let terrorism rule our life in that way. But it does in other ways. When there has been a recent bombing, we tend to avoid that area. This is mostly because so many people go to "lookie-loo", but also because the terrorist have struck the same place twice just to show they can. We also stay out of Jerusalem when the security warnings are high as Jerusalem, outside of the Old City, tends to be a target in the areas we like to visit. Many of our friends, natives and temporary residents, completely avoid Jerusalem out of fear. Just like with anything else, you get used to it and keep on living your life. After all, you only have one life.
Do you speak Hebrew?
Hebrew is written from right to left. The graphic shown below is "Lorelle VanFossen" in Hebrew. The top is the proper typed letters. The lower version is the handwritten version. The handwritten letters are similar to some of the typed letters, but not all. Then again, English handwriting is also very different from the printed letters.
Both Brent and I attended Hebrew language school. He is naturally brilliant and took to it like a duck to water, studying passionately even before we arrived in the country. I, meanwhile, was busy moving us to Israel and setting up a life for us here, distracted by the day-to-day care and maintenance we need to survive. So my Hebrew is at what I call the "shopping level". I can ask for what I want, point to what I don’t know the name of, and pretty much get around.
Brent has become fluent in Hebrew, completing the full course at the school. He spends most of his day speaking Hebrew at work so that gives him the constant practise he needed to quickly embrace the new language. Let’s not forget that Brent is brilliant anyway. His ability to learn and grasp complex subject matter is breathtaking. Within a very short time he was speaking full sentences which quickly moved to complex ideas. He still has trouble with television and radio broadcasts, since they speak fast and in a “high level” of Hebrew, a difference similar to American English verses British English. But this hasn’t slowed him down. When we are at dinners or social events, he often translates for the non-English speakers. If this doesn’t impress you enough, Brent has read three of the Harry Potter books and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in Hebrew. What a guy!
What is a day in your life like living in Israel?
Pretty much like yours, but with a few difference. Brent and I wake up and are out of bed by 5:30 in the morning. He heads out to catch the bus to work and I exercise or get right to work on the airplanes. As the lead engineer, he often works long hours, often working until 7PM (depending on overtime schedules). He gets a huge meal for lunch at the company cafeteria as part of his salary. I work until 1PM and have lunch at home or with a friend. I teach English several times a week in the afternoon for 3 different students. I take Tai Chi classes once a week, and have started studying the Alexander Technique and Pilates (related strengthening techniques).
Evenings will find us eating a very light dinner and either working at home, teaching classes or workshops, or visiting with friends. Usually we are working at home since our real work (photography and writing) doesn’t get any attention until we are together.
Shopping for food and other things in Israel means taking time during the week rather than battling the crowd closer to the weekend, so some mornings will find me out doing the household errands like runs to the post office, grocery store, pharmacy, etc. In the winter, I am out and about exploring Israel and photographing the markets and tourist sights. In the summer, I am glued to the computer writing and working, avoiding the heat. That’s when these web pages get updated and dozens of articles flood from my writer’s soul into the computer. Winter weekends find both of us in the car, camping and exploring Israel.
So life in Israel isn’t much different from anywhere else. What is different are the details in how things are purchased and done. You can learn more about this in our journals. In general, to find any one thing you have to go all over the place to find it as there are few department-like stores. And you go on foot rather than by car. Driving and parking in the cities of Israel is a nightmare. But when you do find it, and it is heavy, you can get it delivered for free or little charge to your doorstep. This is living!
What is the food like?
If you come to Israel, expect to gain weight. Israel, especially Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, hosts many, many ethnic representatives in the finest of restaurants. If you want it, you can find it here and it will be awesome. They have some of the best chefs here, too. Rarely have we encountered bad food anywhere in Israel. While the restaurants are not your clean and shiny style as in the US and many parts of Europe, they provide excellent food. Sometimes the service is as good as the food, sometimes the food is better. Either way, you will have a happy tummy. NOTE: The tip or service fee is often figured into the bill. Check the menu and ask your server if the tip is included or not. Brent and I usually tip whether it is or isn’t if the service is good.
Most restaurants are certified "kasher" (kosher), which means they will not serve meals which combine dairy and meat. This means you get pizza with lots of cheese and vegetables but no sausage, pepperoni, or bacon. Or you can get all kinds of vegetable or cheese stuffed ravioli but not meat stuffed as they use a cheese cream sauce. Not all restaurants are strict kosher, but some are. Check ahead if this is an issue for you, one way or another.
Most typical foods here are actually Arab in their base, which is appropriate as Israelites came from Arab lands historically. You will find falafels, pitas, schwarmah, humous, and other Arab traditional foods. Combined with this you will find chicken schnitzel, borekas, and other Eastern European and Russian goodies. Israelis love salads, which consist of finely chopped cucumbers, tomatoes and onions, as well as salads of pickled cabbage, sauted eggplant and chopped olives. They also love anything with bread wrapped around it. It is a wonder how most Israelis stay so skinny. Must be all the walking.
What are the people like?
Not long after our arrival, we met some wonderful friends. One woman told me that after having lived all over the world, she knew one serious truth about Israelis. "Once you have an Israeli friend, you have a friend for life." She is so right. Israelis are the friendliest people we’ve ever met. They are absolutely fascinated by you and want to know everything. They can chat and socialize for HOURS and never be bored. If you need anything, they are quick to jump in and help, ignoring the disruption to their life. You become the most important person in the room when they are talking or listening to you. They really care about each other. It is an amazing experience to have Israeli friends.
On the other hand, as a group, Israelis tend to be pushy, shovey, aggressive, and frustrating. When you are out with strangers shopping or in groups, they act like you’re nothing on the scoreboard of their lives and you’re in their way. Yelling, pushing, crowding, snide remarks, all are part of the stereotypical "sabra" personality. A sabra is the fruit of the prickly pear cactus found growing everywhere in Israel. While it is prickly and tough on the outside, cut inside and you will find the most wonderful sweet meat. Get to know an Israeli and you will find great joy. Visit the country without a personal touch and you may leave feeling overwhelmed and victimized by a culture very difficult to understand. But do take time to get to personally know some Israelis. Your life will be better for it.