Tenth in an ongoing series
RISHON LEZION, Israel — So I was starting my first day at my first full-time job in Tel Aviv after moving to Israel. I was an English-language marketing writer for a high-tech company. I was sitting in a room with two other employees, and the department head came inside to wish everyone a good morning. Soon I would have my first lesson in Jewish singles in Israel.
After the usual pleasantries, the 40-ish boss turned to my coworker, a 19-year-old student from Canada whose father is Israeli, and made a comment that shocked me: “Hey, your breasts look bigger today.” I did not know what to expect: How would Israeli girls like her react? My colleague genuinely laughed. “Yeah, I’m wearing a different bra today,” she said with a smile and a shrug. Then everyone started talking about the day’s work as if nothing strange had happened. If the boss had said something like that in the United States, he would have faced lawsuits and termination.
As a result of Jewish religion and Jewish history, Israel has various cultural norms regarding sex that most do not see on Jewish-Israel tours and vacations in Israel. This was my first introduction to them. Later, the same boss asked me if I had spoken with “the MILF” in human resources. I laughed and shrugged it off.
Before I moved from Beantown to Illinois and then to Israel, I worked briefly as a marketing manager at a Massachusetts hospital. During the daylong orientation, a group of twenty new employees had to meet with human resources, listen to various speakers, and watch a series of videos. (Obviously, the job did not work out.)
I was sitting next to the only other guy in the room since all of the other new recruits were female nurses. Soon, the HR manager presented a video on sexual harassment in the workplace: A woman ran to a female colleague to complain that the guy who refills the vending machines had asked her out. “I felt so awkward!” she whined to her friend. “I feel so uncomfortable, and I don’t know what to do!”
The friend advised her to talk to her boss or make a complaint to human resources. At this point in the film, the other guy and I started laughing to ourselves. It was completely absurd — God forbid that a guy tries to ask someone out on a date! The woman could have simply told him, “No, thank you.”
I think about that video whenever I observe the differences between American and Israeli girls. In such a situation like the one in the video, an Israeli girl would have turned him down, probably very rudely. If he persisted, Israeli girls would have hit him or kicked him in the crotch. No one here would run and cry to management.
Israeli Army Women
Israeli girls are rough. They drink, smoke, and curse. They yell and argue. They are ruthlessly blunt and usually cynical. They know how to fix cars and fire weapons. Part of the reason is that life is harder here, especially during the first several decades since Israel was founded. Everyone pitches in equally. Everyone — men and women — serves in the military for a few years. Everyone works in the fields, stables, and factories on collective farms named kibbutzim. I know several women who have turned down Israeli guys whom they deem to be “too sensitive.” A bartender friend of mine, a woman, once gave me advice on meeting Israel women: “Don’t be so American!” (“American” is the code word that people use for “nice” when they talk to me.) Israeli girls will work hard all day, then make dinner and clean house at night.
Israel is far ahead of the Western world in terms of the sexes being treated equally. But as I have always written, everything in the Middle East is a paradox. In other ways, Israel is far behind the West as well.
Part of the reason is that Israeli girls are very “macho” is that they need to defend themselves against many Israeli guys. Men here, like many of their Arab cousins in other Middle Eastern countries, are not very nice to women in general. Men throughout the country act like guys on a construction site whenever they see beautiful Israeli girls. Men have no shame when they are trying to get into a woman’s pants. Israeli guys think that I am a “friar” (the Hebrew word for “sucker”) when I refuse to try to pick up girls who are extremely drunk in bars. Israeli guys have no rules in the pursuit of — well, you know. A later boss of mine at a different job told me not to recruit any female candidates for a position because “they get sick more often, and they get pregnant.” Women need to be tough to succeed in such a society.
Israeli, in many respects, is a conservative country. Israeli girls are generally expected to do the cooking and cleaning. Whenever I am a guest for dinner, I always offer to help with the dishes or the clean-up, but the woman of the house will threaten to hit me unless I go watch television with the other guys. And she will only be half-joking.
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