Not THE Gap, purveyor of overpriced basic clothes, but the gap between acquisition of language and acquisition of culture. As much as my Hebrew progresses–and since ulpan ended a month ago progress has pretty much ground to a halt because nobody is forcing me to speak anymore–I don’t know that I’m really understanding how things here work. I mean, I just nod and smile rather than argue, because there is definitely no way I can get the words out to make a convincing point.
Conversation 1, at the shuk (in Hebrew)
Me, as the guy behind the scale is weighing my onions: “Also, give me a medium-sized cabbage, please.”
At this point, he looked both bemused and befuddled. I don’t know if it was because I said please or because I specified that I wanted a medium-sized cabbage. A typical Israeli probably would have said, “Give me a cabbage. No, smaller than that. No, bigger than that. No, not that one. Etc.”
Him: “Where are you from?” (NB: Because of the shirt I was wearing, it was obvious I wasn’t a native.)
Me: “Now? From Modiin.”
Him: “How long have you been here?”
Me: “A year.”
Him, mouth dropping open: “Really?! A year. Your Hebrew is very good. I’ve heard people who have been here 20 years who don’t speak like you.”
Me: “Thank you.”
Then I paid him and left, feeling encouraged for about six seconds. Because shuk/restaurant/supermarket Hebrew is my forte and unfortunately not that helpful for the rest of my life.
Later that day I fielded a phone call from someone in our synagogue community. People who we had met once (they’re brand new to the area) had had a baby. When I read the email I had a near-Pavlovian response: Must. Cook. For. Them.* I had no idea how to get in touch with the organizing team, so I fired off a couple of emails asking to be forwarded to the right hands. I was.
Conversation 2, over the phone (so: automatically I am behind; begins in Hebrew and switches to English)
Her: “Hi, Kate, I got your number from T. You told her to wanted to make a cake for the R family?
Me: “No, I already made a cake for them, two weeks ago when the shul welcoming committee [for which we volunteered to make cakes and proffer meal invitations] asked me to. I wanted to make a meal for them for Shabbat.”
Her: “Ok, we are cooking for them on Monday or Tuesday or Shabbat lunch next week.”
Me: “Shabbat lunch is good.”
Her: “What do you want to make?”
Me: “I’ll make anything they want.” [Thinking: do I have to decide right now? It’s over a week away.]
Her: “Do you want to make chicken? Or rice? Or potatoes?
Me: “I was going to make the whole meal for them.”
Her: “Oh, no, no. That is not what we do!”[?!?! Issue of time? Expense?]
Me: “Oh. Well, then I guess I will make chicken. Can I also bring them a cold soup, gazpacho?”
Her (sounding confused): “Uh, ok. I will write down that you will make chicken and also marak [soup].”
I rang off feeling befuddled. As nice as it is to be treated to home cooked meals when you are convalescing, is opening your door three or four times just to accrue the makings of one meal really that restful? Two friends and I did the piecemeal meal for Gila after Nadav was born, but that was because she got home four seconds before Yom Tov–we all later made complete meals. I am so curious about the division of labor here–particularly when it comes to Shabbat meals, which I’d be cooking anyway (unless we’re invited out). Even more particularly with this family, because it’s their first baby. Increasing what I make to include two extra adults isn’t going to break the bank.** I probably wouldn’t change anything; we’d just have fewer leftovers.
Once again, there is the line in the sand with Israelis on one side and the olim chadashim on the other. Just so much that confuses on both sides. We try to get along (for the sake of the children?), but ultimately I wonder how much winds up going unsaid.
* Actually this is progress. This year so far I’ve only made meals for people I know well, but in New York I made meals whenever I was asked.
** We don’t keep track of the costs of meals I make on a volunteer basis. We’d consider this part of “community upkeep.”