By Vanessa Friedman
Shalom from sunny Haifa! The seasons are starting to turn here in Israel, and the cool damp days are melting into beautiful blue skies quite rapidly (sorry, Boston…you probably still have at least 50 inches of snow coming your way this winter, right?) In any case, volunteering each day is so much more pleasant when I can walk outside in sunglasses and a cardigan as opposed to rain boots, an umbrella, and occasionally a garbage bag that can act as a raincoat. We’re all completely settled into our full-time volunteer schedules, and life is good. If you’ve been reading along you know that each week I plan to highlight one specific OTZMAnik’s experience; this week we’re talking to Tracy, pictured below on the right.
Tracy volunteers at Ironi Aleph High School, with the Haifa Hillel, and at the Center for Aging. She tutors English at the high school and creates programs through Hillel, but her most entertaining and enlightening stories come from the Center for Aging. She works at the government-subsidized center twice a week and has gotten to know a group of participants very well over the past month and a half. Her work includes helping to set up and clean up meals, providing coffee and conversation, and playing various games including gin rummy, rummy cubed, Solitaire, and BINGO. “They love their BINGO,” Tracy explained. That’s not the only thing she’s learning at the Center, though.
Tracy learns a lot from each participant, often by accident. She learned a particularly important lesson from one lady named Diamond. After having a really nice, peaceful morning with Diamond, learning to knit, exchanging language lessons, and playing BINGO, Tracy accidentally spilled soup on Diamond while serving lunch. She was completely mortified; “I figured she must be thinking, ugh, this volunteer from America comes all the way here just to spill soup on me, but she just smiled and said ‘ein ba’aya, Tracy!’ which means ‘no problem!’” Tracy spent the day still feeling bad until Diamond came up to her again, gave her a huge hug, and repeated: “EIN BA’AYA!” “I finally realized that for the most part, Israelis just don’t get as upset about things as I think people in America might,” Tracy said. “Or I mean, maybe I’m too sensitive.”
I think we’re all slowly learning about the differences between Israelis and Americans, differences between this country and the one that we come from. While of course one can’t generalize for an entire group of people, it’s certainly true that attitudes here are far more relaxed and laid back than they are at home, sometimes to the point of being frustrating but often providing a very refreshing outlook. Whether it’s the idea of not getting upset over spilled soup or the idea that historic revolutions are occurring all around us and yet Israelis keep living life as they always have, there is definitely something to be learned from the way of life here. I invite everyone to ponder Diamond’s reaction to the spilled soup and see if we can all learn to not worry about the little things so much. Some of us (read: me!) may find it harder than others, but it might be worth it to take on an Israeli attitude from time to time. That’s my challenge for the week; until next time, lehitraot!