Cultural Differences

The responses to my post about the unfriendly woman in shul ranged from “She’s shy” to “She’s a snot.” I think the answer lies elsewhere. First let me give an update.

One day in September while I waited for the gan to let out, she did come and sit next to me. She asked how I was, and I asked her what she was doing. After she told me I waited, and she then asked what I was doing. This was by far the longest conversation we have ever had. After Yom Kippur she approached me in shul and said that because our children had played together over the holidays and gotten to know each other, she was sure they would now be good friends in gan.

I believe that Americans and Israelis have different approaches to relationships. While some Israeli women are friendly and gregarious, the majority are more reserved. When I see someone on a regular basis, say in shul on Shabbat, I will begin to greet her when I pass her on the street. But some Israelis would need to have more in common with someone before acknowledging me. It sounds snobby, but I see it as a cultural difference.

I don’t mean to say that Israelis can’t be snobs. Snobs exist everywhere.

I mentioned this issue to my Israeli friend, O, who recently returned from a few years in Europe. She pointed out that as an English speaker living in a Hebrew-speaking country, I have an immediate connection with other English speakers even if we have little else in common. It might not be fair to compare the friendliness and closeness I feel among my English-speaking friends to the situation in my synagogue. O. has a point–any feelings of isolation among native Israelis might be exaggerated because of the contrast of my connectedness with fellow English-speakers. However, I am beginning to feel much more comfortable in our shul (although it’s been over seven years!).

Those who live in places with large groups of English speakers, like Beit Shemesh or Raanana, might not have the same experience. Wait until you are in a Hebrew-speaking course and discover one other English-speaker–you are likely to be friends for life.


  1. Interesting perspective. I’m going to have to think about it for a bit.
    There must have been something in there water this week, I also blogged about manners and cultural differences between Anglos and Israelis.

  2. I heartily agree. I lived in a mostly Israeli neighborhood in J-m before we moved to Ranaana. What a difference it is here! After only a year I have a nice circle of mom buddies I can call for help or advice or just to hang out with. In my old neighborhood, I had a similar Israeli friends, but I always felt there was a wall that no matter how many afternoons we spent together hanging out with the kids or chit chatting, we’d never really be able to scale it.
    Whereas with the women I know now, there was this instant closeness, almost as if we had been friends for years (ok, one of the friends I actually did know from 15 years ago in seminary, but we didn’t really keep in touch)
    I’m actually very conflicted by this. On the one hand, I love having these friends, and I missed having these types of friends during the 6 years I lived in J-m. OTOH, I kind of feel like I don’t live in Israel, because my circle includes few to no Israelis (i’m kind of friendly with my neighbor who’s a native).
    So, I’m not sure what I think.
    But I agree with you MII about the cultural differences; it would explain a lot about the behavior of many of the women in my old shul.

  3. mother in israel says

    Paula, you are right that this is such a complex issue and it’s important not to stereotype. And also, that we long-time immigrants are no longer truly American, British or whatever.

  4. We have always chosen to settle in areas that were not exclusively Anglo. Our first experience was not good – we lived for almost a decade in a small yishuv with few Anglos and even less tolerance for them. The more the yishuv grew, the worse it was. We relocated 7 years ago to Maale Adumim and one of the reasons I love it is because while there are many English-speakers, it is by no means an Anglo environment.
    FWIW, I have found a different experience with Israeli women – for the most part, I find that I understand and get along with them easily…sometimes more easily than recent immigrants from the States. I have many friends who have recently come over from the States in the last few years…but my children are more Israeli than American (and I confess, so am I). I think the important thing is to recognize that everyone is unique and some people reach out to others in different ways – yes, in part it may be a cultural thing, but in part, it may well be a hesitation born out of recogizing inherent differences in language, upbringing, background, etc. As soon as each feels more comfortable and realizes they are being accepted…the barriers usually fall away.

  5. Hello there,
    I found your blog through a random search and I am hoping you can help me. I am an American Jew and I am trying to find popular Israeli girl names.
    We are due in April with a girl and we’d like to give her a Hebrew name (her older brother is named Avishai Navon). Both my husband and I have come up with several but none we can agree upon. I have been doing lots of web searches to try and find current Israeli girl names but I keep coming up with the same few.
    Any help would be greatly appreciated as we are at a road block at this point.

  6. As a new immigrant (1 year) living on the border of what some call “Little Teaneck”, I have much to say on this matter. Over here, because we are such a large group, I think we’re (Anglos of different countries, but the Israelis think everyone is American) looked upon pretty negatively as a group. In my experience many Americans here do not attempt to integrate themselves or their children. They stick together. Recently, Orli’s class had a mother-daughter trip to J-m for selichot and few of her Anglo friends attended. I’m not sure why. Some of these kids were born in Israel and their Hebrew is pretty weak. While I am happy my kids have made friends (we made Aliyah with older kids and I need them to be in a good place socially), I constantly stress to them how important it is to interact with Israelis. I force well, “encourage” them to go to Bnei Akiva, and this has worked. Most of the newer Anglos here do not encourage their kids to participate–if the kid says I don’t want to, they say fine. (The truth is it is culturally difficult, BA can be a big balagan; the kids need to go back many times before they realize that it’s fun).
    I myself have made many friends (all Anglos) since we’ve arrived. I would like to make friends with Israelis, but it is difficult. I spent that entire trip to Jerusalem with an Israeli women who is new in Modiin (just came from P.T.). I felt like we connected and I would love to befriend her,I just don’t know how to take the next step. By the next time I see her at a class function, she will probably have a circle of Israeli friends.

  7. First, all of us in Israel are Israelis. It doesn’t matter what language we speak or where we were born and raised.
    When we moved to Shiloh, there wasn’t an anglo community here, which was fine with me. But now there is one and in my neighborhood, so it ends up that my closest friends are English speakers and we rarely socialize in Hebrew. I do have some good Hebrew speaking friends, and some are immigrants from other countries.
    There’s a different mentality for sure.

  8. I wish I could explain my lack of friends at shul so simply.

  9. I posted a response on my blog. Basically, you’ll never feel Israeli when in the company of Isaelis. Like Abbi said, there’s always that wall. But if you don’t try to integrate by befriending Israelis and letting your kids do the same, the kids will be harmed later on in life. See my blog for more details.

  10. mother in israel says

    Alison, thanks for the visit. I put your question into a post.

  11. She pointed out that as an English speaker living in a Hebrew-speaking country, I have an immediate connection with other English speakers even if we have little else in common.
    I never thought about it this way, but this explanation feels right.
    Over the years, my husband I have become friendly with several Israelis, but – to be perfectly honest – our closest friends are all English speakers. And when a new Anglo moves into our neighborhood, it’s almost like the default is that we’re going to be friends.

  12. mother in israel says

    Fern, I’m sorry you’re having a hard time.
    BB, I enjoyed your post.
    ASM, I remember your post about that. I think I still feel Israeli a good deal of the time.

  13. BB wrote, “I posted a response on my blog. Basically, you’ll never feel Israeli when in the company of Israelis.”
    I disagree. I can tell you the exact moment I felt the I was accepted as an Israeli and finally began accepting myself as one. It was when my son’s commanding officer came to my house the first time to explain what Elie would be doing in the army. I listened and was so touched that he was willing to speak English to make sure we understood. He asked for my help with some Hebrew words he didn’t know…all of which were impossible army words which at the time, we didn’t know (pluga, g’dud, etc.). That meeting was a turning point for me – and since then, I do feel that most Israelis have accepted me. If my son can serve…I’m part of them.

  14. I find it to be the opposite – English speakers (and olim in general) are much less likely to become my friends than native Israelis. I have two friends, from when I was in college here, that are olim: one from Russia, one from the U.S. Other than that, my friends are all native Israelis. I just don’t seem to have much in common with most of the American olim – our viewpoints – and lifestyles – are too different. Yes, I get along with many Americans, but we’re not close. On the other hand, I find that a lot of Israelis greet me. I wonder why . . .

    (I am actually very surprised to find that I agree with most of what you write, since, as I said, I don’t often find common ground with American olim.)