Sunday 9 August 2009

A Strange Thing Happened On Our Walk

Although I have been living in Israel for almost 11 years, I still find myself being surprised by certain things that are unique to Israel. This is a story about exactly one of those events. Its uniqueness can only really be appreciated by people who do not live in Israel as most Israelis would struggle to understand what the point of the story is. I believe that foreigners will understand well.

I was out with my wife on a walk late on a balmy summer's night last week. The outside temperature must have been around 30 degrees Centigrade, and the humidity was high. It was a typical Israeli mid-summer evening. We had eaten an evening meal that was sitting too heavy and had decided to try to walk off the effects of it. It was after 10pm and it was still busy in the streets of the town where we live. Many schoolchildren were out enjoying the summer holiday, and an equivalent number of adults seemed to be out and about.

We approached a block of flats where a family that we know lives, and we discovered that coloured lights had been strung out in the gardens of the block, and a barbecue party was in full swing. As we passed the gate, Doron came out in his BBQ apron to show some of his guests to their car. When he saw us walking by, he insisted that we come in to join the party. We decided to interrupt our walk briefly to pay a visit to the party.

What we found was astonishing (to me). The entire apartment block (which I estimate is about 10 apartments) was holding a combined BBQ party in the grounds of the block. Chairs, tables and festive lighting had been set up enough for all residents and their guests. Food and drink were flowing freely to all-comers. We discovered that the occasion for the party was to wish farewell to four of the young lads who will begin their 3-year stint of national service shortly. Although this is obviously a time of concern for all, especially parents, and not necessarily an occasion to rejoice, it is common practise in Israel to make an event out of it to wish the young boys and girls well along their way. Not only are the 4 neighbours entering the army within a few weeks of each other, they have managed to arrange it that they have all been called up to the same air force unit and will most likely serve their 3 years together.

Upon discovering this, and when witnessing the party taking place in front of me, the only words going through my mind were "only in Israel". I cannot imagine any other place where the neighbours in a block of flats would be holding a joint party for all residents to celebrate a family event such as this one. I could also not imagine another place where the 4 neighbours would have set out to be called up to the same unit, and actually even achieved this.

For native Israelis, these events are just a normal part of society. These things can happen and do happen in Israel. And when events take place which are out of the ordinary, even this fact is regarded as par for the course in Israel. This is one of the unique aspects about Israel which makes it so special to us, and others like us. One of the things that make us love living here. This is the thing that creates a magnetic force between this country and so many people, young and old, who come to pay a visit. Only in Israel.

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