Charlap Street

Did you know I’m related to this dude that a Jerusalem street is named after? Eric, who is really into genealogy, stumbled upon a Web site (maintained by a distant relative of mine) that deals with the Charlap family tree. He found out that my mother’s mother branches into this very well documented family. More info about them can be found here.

Rav Charlap (or Harlap) was the protege of Rav Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of Israel who helped clear the way for the religious Zionist movement. I’m sure every Jewish person can trace their family history back to some really famous Rabbi and claims lineage to King David. The most fascinating aspect of genealogy is seeing how one’s own family played a part in world history. It’s all one long, continous chain.

Eric and I had our friend, Sam, over for Friday night dinner and he was giving us the lowdown on living at Ulpan Etzion. In his conversations with the French olim, they said that the situation was pretty bad. It seems like the French Jews have increasingly become the targets of anti-semitism. Although, I have a friend who has lived in Paris and thinks the claims are somewhat overblown. Part of the problem is that France contains a large population of Arabs that is not integrated into French society and often falls between the cracks. Many of these Arabs came from countries that France once controlled and subsequently messed up. (Who said colonialism was such a great idea?) I’m sure there are plenty of nuanced arguments out there that deal with this issue. Feel free to provide your own theories.

Sam also provided side-splitting stories about dealing with Israelis. He went to buy speakers for his computer and the salesperson kept correcting him on his pronounciation of American brands. Now that’s chutzpah. Sam managed to bargain down the price a little bit–which I find very impressive. He managed to sound less interested in the product than he actually was and told the salesperson that if he didn’t get a lower price, he’d leave the store. The salesperson said, “what a second,” paused and then promptly provided him with a small discount. Sam’s theory is that the salesperson wanted to have the ball back in his court and feel like he had control of the situation before relenting.

Quite a lot has been written about Israeli culture and how it differs from American culture. The Israeli is said to be like the Sabra cactus in that he’s prickly on the outside, but soft on the inside. (Okay, but the ironic thing is that the Sabra cactus isn’t even native to Israel–it was imported from the Americas.)

The stereotypical ‘Sabra’ (Israeli) is a brash, loud, tough guy who will always try to get the best deal and do whatever he can to beat the system (whether it’s hotel rates or the government) and take advantage of you–especially if you’re a naive foreigner. I’ve read stories of Israeli tourists basically stealing random items like towels, lamps and furniture from Jordanian hotels–because they were free of course!? On the other hand, a Sabra might go completely out of the way to help you and will treat you like his next of  kin. Our distant Israeli cousins are a good example of how Israelis can be really generous and genuine.

Israeli culture is supposed to be much more informal than American culture and does not esteem rules and manners as much as Americans do. They are much less hesitant about speaking their mind (i.e. they can be blunt), and they find American politesse to be artificial. Eric’s cousin Etamar makes fun of me all the time for my formality and all of my “pleases” and “thank-yous.”

I think Israelis intentionally shed the polished European etiquette of their ancestors. Perhaps they were reacting to the maltreatment they received in Europe and were trying to transform themselves from the the agreeable, so-called “weak Jews,” who were always taken advantage of and couldn’t defend themselves, into the Israelis that you wouldn’t want to mess with. I think the typical Israeli mentality is partially a reaction to centuries of being kicked around as well as a set of characteristics that were was idealized by Zionists. Plus there’s the fact that many Israelis were conditioned to have tough skin because they served in the army and have been through quite a few wars since the state was established in 1948.

Of course, there are some major caveats to these massive generalizations. Such as the fact that there are many sub-cultures within Israeli society. You can divvy up the country between secular/religous (and you can divide religious into their respective sects). You can also divide the country based upon the geographical regions from which Jews came: Ashkenazi (Germany, Eastern Europe), Sephardi (France, Spain, Turkey, Algeria, Morocco), Mizrachi (Middle East), Ethiopian, Indian, Russian… Not to mention the non-Jewish contingents in Israel such as Palestinian Christians and Muslims, and don’t forget the Southeast Asian workers that live here!

Also, as the country becomes more integrated into this wonderful global economy of ours, Israeli companies are interacting with cultures that don’t approach human interactions in the same way as they do. They are therefore increasingly focusing on etiquette and business relations. See this link, for example. Additionally, fewer Israelis are now signing up to serve in the army, and that definitely has implications for Israel’s cultural identity.   

Here are a few more links that might interest you on this subject matter:

It’s still weird to be starting the week on Sundays. In some ways it’s advantageous to have the weekend start on Friday so people can get ready for Shabbat. But then they don’t have a day where they can do non-Shabbat errands and sleep in after going out late on Saturday night (not that I stay up late anymore since I became lame quite some time ago). On the other hand people seem to have a lot more vacation here. At Pardes, we get off a week for Sukkot, two weeks for Channukah and a week for Passover. Not bad considering that the average paid vacation for Americans is two weeks. I’m sure the level of workaholicism depends on where you live here and what you do–perhaps Tel-Aviv is much more like New York in terms of people putting in longer hours.

On the other hand, post offices and banks seem to have it really good–maybe too good. Banks have really odd hours, and I’ve heard that people who want open an Israeli bank account have to go through a ridiculous rigomarole. Plus, Israeli banks eat your dough, so even if you’re not spending any money, the banks are going to take a certain percentage of it anyway. Yeah, that’s one sure way to discourage investment here!

Well, I always tell myself that I’m just going to blog for an hour, but then I end up writing a mini-novel and staying up way past my bedtime–which is why I’m forcing myself to write fewer entries each week. I need the sleep even though my brain wants to keep writing and even though there is always so much more to write. I hope you’ll check in later in the week when I put in another entry.

Lila Tov! (Good Night)



3 responses to “Charlap Street

  1. Eric (Rebecca's husband)

    A family history note about Rav Kook:

    Rav Kook was actually the 2nd cousin of my great-great grandfather David Matz.

    So it turns out that our families have some very old connections!


  2. New York Reader

    Three quick points of disagreement:
    1) Perhaps in past centuries, Europeans had polished manners, however, in contemporary society, they are most definitely not. While perhaps not as brash as Israelis, they certainly have no problems being blunt (especially compared to Americans). In fact, in many respects, I think that Israelis have much more in common with Europeans than with Americans.

    2) Traditional French Jews (i.e. those not from the Colonies) consider themselves to be Ashkinazi and not Sephardic.

    3) As the Friend who alledgedly said that concerns about French anti-Semitism were overblown, I would like to amend the record. The acts of anti-Jewish violence are upsetting and should be, and are, discussed in the media. But what is also distressing is the fearmongering that occurs, especially in the American media, when discussing European anti-Semitism with its constant references to the Holocaust without putting these latest acts into a more contemporar framework for its readers. There is much significance in the fact that these acts are coming from groups who, as noted above, feel disenfranchiesd from French society rather than from the traditional quaters (i.e. the far Right and the Church). This is an important distinction because it changes the way one must address the issue.


    This article is quite interesting on the subject of Israeli rudeness.

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