These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

“Only in Israel”

Posted on March 13, 2011 by Zach

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Not so long ago, I was walking along Pierre Koenig Street near my house, and got to a red light at the intersection across from Pardes.  It was pretty deserted at that time of night, with only a few cars and pedestrians out.  While I was waiting, a van pulled up next to me, completely covered in spray paint, blasting some Jewish dance song (I think this one, or another like it).  They stopped at the red light, and five or six Breslovers (members of a Jewish hasidic sect), jumped out and started dancing in the intersection and on the roof of the van.  They danced around for about thirty seconds until the light turned green, at which point they quickly piled back into the van, and drove away, leaving the street as quiet as before.

This is just one example of the frequent experiences that leave me thinking, “Only in Israel…”  Whether it’s something crazy like Jews dancing in the street, or mundane like hotel check-out time on Saturdays being after sunset, I’m constantly reminded that this isn’t just any country.   In some ways, Israel is a lot like America – a Western, First-World country, with all the amenities of home.  But the culture here is so thoroughly Jewish, that it’s hard to think that for long.  When I walk to school early in the morning, it’s completely normal to see men with tefilin running around, or when walking downtown to be grabbed off the street to make a minyan.  I guess what’s striking to me is that in the US, the majority culture is Secular/Christian, which everyone is expected to understand, while Judaism is just one of many minority religions, which most people understandably have little to no knowledge of.  Here, on the other hand, what would be completely esoteric in the US is considered just a normal part of mainstream culture.  People assume you’re Jewish, and that you share a certain level of common background.  In a way, it’s fun to be a part of the majority culture.