by: Peter Fast, National Director, Bridges for Peace Canada
From the pen of Peter Fast, national director of Bridges for Peace Canada and the future CEO of Bridges for Peace International, comes the fifth installment of the Quirks of Israel. Join Peter on a journey through the wonderfully peculiar culture, traditions, heritage and daily life of this singular nation as he unpacks, introduces and celebrates the quirky aspects that make Israel so wonderfully unique.
I would describe driving in Israel as organized chaos. It’s busy, quick and a little crazy. You have scooters whipping in and out of traffic, sometimes driving on the shoulder or taking a detour on the sidewalk. The air vibrates with the sound of honking. There is congestion like in any busy city, but in Israel people simply force their way into the flow of traffic by nosing in their bumper a little at a time until the other driver has no choice but to stop or crash into them. Then you also have public buses and taxis to grapple with as everyone careens forward at breakneck speed.
Driving in Israel can intimidate many people, from tourists to citizens who made aliyah (immigrated to Israel) years before. There’s an entertaining side to the craziness of driving in the Holy Land, but there’s one Hebrew word that sums it up: ballagan or chaos. Don’t be alarmed though. Once you figure it all out and drive like an Israeli, everything falls into place and pretty soon, you’ll be zipping through traffic.
There are some important rules to follow if you are brave enough to rent a car and face Israeli traffic.
Rule number one: the horn is your best friend. Don’t abuse the relationship and go mad, but communicate with your horn, love your horn and respect your horn.
Once, while driving in Jerusalem, I saw a friend standing on the sidewalk. I honked at him to wave hello, but he didn’t even look up. It was pointless trying to get my friend’s attention like this—probably because everyone else honks all the time. In Europe, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, if someone honks, everyone from drivers to pedestrians to shopkeepers to office workers look up to see why someone dared use their horn. Yet in Israel, honking has nothing to do with being aggressive or rude. It is simply communicating.
Rule number two: be assertive when changing lanes or joining the throng of traffic from a side street. In Israel, you must be assertive and inch forward into traffic. Don’t be afraid! I’m not recommending a crazy stunt on a major highway, but when entering from a side street, it’s perfectly acceptable to look for an opening and take it. Remember to judge the speed of the cars coming at you and try to make sure the driver sees you. There’s a lot of complex communication and maneuvering involved, but it’s essential to take the chance, or you’ll never get anywhere.
This is life in Israel. Most drivers aren’t trying to be rude, nor are they part of some plot to ruin your day. This is just how people in Israel drive. These are the rules of the road.
Rule number three: never eat a falafel while driving through a roundabout! One day, I saw a small car, clearly out of control, whipping into a roundabout. Both driver and passenger were transfixed in a state of horror as they realized their impending doom. To my utter surprise, I also noticed that the driver was eating a falafel, which had led to the car veering out of control. The driver continued to catapult out of the circle, up onto the sidewalk and then smashed into a wall, which crumbled like a mini Jericho. Within seconds, the driver and the passenger climbed out of their damaged car. Then, to my amazement, the driver poked his head back into the wreck and emerged with his half-eaten falafel—and continued to finish his lunch. Never follow this example. Falafels are messy and are best eaten in a stationary position.
Now let’s switch gears to talk about the Israeli tendency of “sticking together”—a unique, quirky part of Israeli society. I chalk this trend up to the Jewish people being a people of history. They are a tightknit community, connected by shared faith. They’ve also experienced many traumas in their past.
One of the reasons for Israel’s rebirth was so that there would be a Jewish state where Jews could live in safety as Jews and be responsible for their defense. The rebirth of the Jewish nation on its ancestral homeland with the Israel Defense Forces to provide security as well as established laws to enable the Israeli way of life offer a special sovereignty that acts like an umbrella to protect a people who have been hounded for centuries.
Jewish history and the reality of modern-day Israel have produced a people who stick together. Looking at their last 4,000 years—the good, the bad and the ugly—you can see this characteristic playing out in a unique, quirky and often tender way.
Allow me to share a modern-day example. One day, while on vacation on the Mediterranean coast, my wife and I decided to go to the beach early in the morning. We soon found the prime spot on the deserted beach, laid out our towels and settled in for some sun before going for a swim.
A few minutes later, an Israeli family emerged onto the empty beach. They trotted across the wide expanse of sand—and then laid their towels down right next to ours. Soon, the beach filled up, with us as the center around which the crowd grew, with all the Israelis adhering to the unspoken rule of sticking together.
In another example, I once went to the movies with two friends. The vast cinema was deserted and the three of us settled in among the empty rows, alone in the darkness. Right before the movie started, the door opened and two elderly ladies came in. I watched them scan the empty theater and then, of course, make their way straight to our row and sit down right next to us. So there we were, five people in a vast cinema, huddled happily close together.
Israel is quirky indeed!
Photo Credit: Click on photo to see photo credit
Photo License: Tel Aviv Traffic
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