What I discovered in Israel was a curious mix of deep tradition with mind-blowing-out-of-the-box thinking. It would be easy to consider these things incompatible. As I attempt to explain my observations, I would start with family — the importance of family. You see, investing in family is central to life in Israel, and the role of tradition, culture and food are like threads. These things hold families tightly together, creating memories and instilling values that are passed on through generations. It’s about relationships. I heard this message over and over during conversations with people from all walks of life: Family, family is important.
Family is important to me personally, however I wouldn’t say it’s central to Australian culture. I’ll have to ponder more about my own country’s culture, however I might suggest personal achievement and individual pursuits could be seen as a central value. I actually first noticed this when I lived in away from my home country in New Zealand; Kiwi culture also embeds the value of family into the societal framework. It can be hard to recognise your own country’s base assumptions until you live within and experience a different culture.
A conversation in a taxi in Israel added to my myriad of ponderings. The driver told me about Starbucks failed attempt to break into the Israel market. Even in the ultra modern city of Tel Aviv, there’s not a Starbucks to be seen. The coffee chain failed spectacularly in Israel, and one of the reasons is this: it’s not the coffee that is important, it’s relationships. Rather than grabbing a coffee and walking alone with a take away cup in hand, Israelis prefer to “have their coffee sitting, having something to eat, chatting with friends” (Janna Gur, tlv1.fm, 15 August 2016). It’s one of the key things I’ve taken home with me from Israel: the importance of a relationship focus surrounding the joy of food.
Enjoying breakfast at Turkiz restaurant in Tel Aviv
On my return home to Australia, I blurted to my husband, “We need to have more food on the table!” He laughed as I qualified, “What I mean is we need to surround food with more of the joy that brings people together.” Be more hospitable. Be more intentional about creating family traditions. Be more aware of forming our own family culture. It’s not about the food, but the wonderful way it can bring people together. I believe family traditions are instrumental in cementing memory anchors for our children and are a beautiful way to instil family values.
It’s not that I have done anything particularly different since my return from Israel, it’s more that I do what I usually do with more heart. For example, around Easter time, my sisters and I put on our own version of a Passover Seder with representative foods telling a story of hope. Aunties, Uncles, cousins and ring ins. It was wonderful! I’ve done this before (which you can read about here), however this time, I felt I had rediscovered a driving force, which made the planning so rewarding, and even effortless for me. During the course of the meal, I overheard my daughter ask for more meat, and my husband responded, “Pick whatever piece you like! That is the part of the wonderful thing about a feast like this: you can choose what you like; enjoy it”
There it is: To me, to him, to her. And then back to me again in the joy of it. I’ve always know the importance of this, in my head perhaps, but I have felt a weight in the application. Maybe because it was yet another thing to achieve. When that happens, it’s useful to come back to — even grabble with — the heart, the underlying often unspoken assumption, and start again. I found a reason again in Israel, and there was much joy for me in preparing this meal and sharing it with my ones.
We enjoy a special family meal each Sunday lunch, and we ask two questions which you can find more about here.
Family and relationships are central to the Israeli way of life, and yet there is something else that impressed on me. That is, the push for innovation. For a place and people so enriched in tradition, this was curious discovery. The push (which I articulate here) is largely due to limited resources, wide diversity and restricted space. There’s a refining quality to Israel’s culture in that the challenges are significant, and this brings out a striving in the people. If there is a problem, then an invention must be invented to solve it. They embrace failures and celebrate creativity. There’s a certain fearlessness I envy: it engineers out of the box thinkers.
I am grateful for the influences from the people I have met and the places I’ve been. They leave a mark on my person. Isn’t it a wonderful thing to shape each other? I’ve been pondering my Israel experience for a few months now, and a condensed impression is this: it’s important to build deep relationship connections in your own family that are enriched in tradition and culture. When this grounding is coupled with values like embracing failures, the acceptance of diversity and the importance of creativity, it allows the freedom to be an overcomer. I love that word: overcomer. It’s interesting to observe that structure for the right reasons brings a certain freedom.
A curious mix of significant tradition and innovative creativity: I like it!
More Posts From Israel
What I learned From Israel and the Women Who Live There
Chats over Good Food: Parenting in the Holiest Cities in the World
It Takes a Village to Raise a Child: Inside a Kibbutz Commune in Israel
I was invited to Israel by not-for-profit organisation, Vibe Israel to share my experiences of the country. All opinions and story ideas are my own.