Leaving Eretz Yisrael
The human mind is weird that way.
When I was in Israel I definitely saw myself retiring there. Maybe I still will, who knows. Because it’s holy there.
But in the airport, and on the plane, sexist encounters with Israeli men had me thinking twice.
In the airport I stopped to get a cappuccino (that’s what they call a regular coffee — there’s no half and half, you have to get foamed milk to get close).
A guy lined up behind me, too close.
I turned around and waved my hand between my body and his. “Social space?” I asked, really saying, “Step your body back the hell away from me!”
He responded, in a British accent, “Oh, social distance. It’s different in Israel than in the USA.”
“Yeah, I’m sure,” I said, pretending not to be really, really miffed. I don’t know about you, but I hate it when anyone, male or female, crowds me in a line.
A few minutes later I went back for another one. And again, the same thing happened, just in a slightly different way.
A man lined up to the left of me, not even waiting in line, and REACHED OVER MY FACE to get some cookies from the counter.
“Excuse me!” I exclaimed, shocked at this rude behavior. I averted my face and walked away quickly.
I’m getting shorter with age and I had the distinct feeling that these men did not even see me with a man not there.
Now don’t get me wrong; there is a kind of gallantry as well that comes with traditional gender roles.
But pretty much every time I was alone, I could feel the sexism present.
Here’s a third example: On the plane, an Israeli man sat one row behind us, and my daughter opposite me.
At least three or four times during the flight, he opened the overhead bin, standing again much too close to her, not even seeming to see her, and was rustling his things.
When the plane landed, one of his bags fell out, and hit my daughter on the head.
Again I confronted the offender, and again I was rebuffed as though my presence was insignificant.
“Hey, man!” I said, sharply. “Your bag just hit my daughter’s head!”
He looked at me as though I were the problem, me and my big mouth.
I said, “At least take my bag down from the overhead then.”
To which he said, “If you would ask me nicely.”
This stranger actually said that.
I had to show him respect, even though he clearly had none for me or my daughter.
Before I left for Israel, people expressed a lot of fear for me. “Get there safely,” they said. “Hope you have a very safe trip.”
But I felt safe there. I truly did.
The mindset of Israelis is security-conscious, and they check your bag at all times, in all places.
It’s not insane, but it’s present, and they watch you.
At my daughter’s wedding, there were female guests who looked Arab, and it turns out that there is a sect of Sephardic Jews which dresses this way.
I just thought they were Arab, and I went out of my way to dance with one of them, because that’s how bad I want to have peace.
“You should write a blog about this,” said my dad.
The point, I guess, is that the things we think are problems sometimes really aren’t.
For example, from the propaganda you get in the West, you would think Arabs are running around Israel rioting against Jews. In Tel Aviv and in Jerusalem, I saw Arabs and Jews simply doing their thing.
I saw a woman whose entire body was covered in black, including her eyes. Nobody got in her way and frankly I couldn’t tell if she was extremist Arab or Jew.
But the things we think are not problems actually sometimes are. And that’s how I felt about sexism in Israel.
It’s not something overt, but it is palpably present.
The problem I think has to do with how women are conceived of.
Over there, a man is just a person. He might be fat, or short, or smart, or dumb, but all the pieces and the parts are viewed as part of a complex human being.
A woman, in contrast, is an assemblage of dualities: religious or secular, married or single, physically tough or weak, beautiful and young or old and washed out and ordinary.
I loved a lot of things about Israel. But I didn’t love the sexism.
Posted December 28, 2017 by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal. All opinions are the author’s own. Photo by the author. This post is hereby released into the public domain.