The Stories That Make Us

To fly somewhere requires one to know your destination. In order to pick up your bags from the right baggage claim, you need to know where they came from. This parallels life. A full journey has a beginning and a destination and both are important to the whole picture. The good parts and the not-so-good parts. Whatever was good, we may want to repeat, and whatever was bad, we want to avoid going forward.

Thirty-two years ago, I arrived in Portland, Oregon to see where my boyfriend lived; after all, I met him on a kibbutz in Israel and I had no clue about his “real life”. At the end of December, with $600 in my pocket, one suitcase with all my belongings, and NO coat, I arrived. Did I mention that I arrived in December?! I clearly did not think of where I was heading and that perhaps I might need a winter coat. I remember Bob picking me up at the PDX airport at 1 am, surprised to see my “Israeli fall attire.” The next day, I was driven to a store called Nordstrom, where Bob bought me a brown furry coat and a pair of gloves. My first ones ever! I thought to myself, “he sure is generous! He loves me! He wants me here with him.

Life experiences and perceptions shape us. I am the products of many experiences stacked one on top of the other! In the High Holy Day liturgy there is a poem I love singing, Ki hene k’chomer b’yad hayotzer…making a comparative association with us, humans, as clay in the hands of our creator, and the creator molds us and fashions us and produces a beautiful result.  This is how I perceive life. The events that happen to us shape us to be who we become.

Think of your early childhood, teenage life, young adult life. Can you come up with an event that made you change your way of thinking? An event that solidified a behavior that you now have? A situation that made you have a certain outlook on life?

In my previous blog posts, I looked at the relationship of American Jews and Israeli Jews from the framework I provide in my upcoming book, Moments of the Heart. In the first post on December 14th, I referred to the “First Chamber”:  the relationship that we—each one of us (American and Israeli Jews)—have with Judaism. The second blog post on December 21 continued by exploring the Second Chamber, the deepening of the relationship between the Jewish nation and the diaspora. In the third post, I explored the relationship between Israeli and American Jews through the lens of the Third Chamber– the relationship of each entity with God. In my book, I define this chamber as our relationship with that which is bigger than us. For some of us it is simply God, for others it is the creator, nature, the source, the energy. For me it is simply the all-encompassing God! I invite you to think of this chamber as the faith one may have in that which we do not see, but believe exists. We know the sun will rise every morning somewhere in the world, and it does. This kind of faith.

Now- in this final blog post related to this theme, I want to shed light and propose that what happens to us in our life shapes our interactions with the other people around us, and those we may choose to interact with.

Being in a unique place of associating myself as both an American Jew as well as Israeli Jew, I have learned that there are attitudes and misconceptions that each side has.

Israelis perceive Americans as people who will not tell you the truth and be fake to your face. Is it true? Of course not! Where does this stereotype come from? Take, for example, shopping in a mall. I remember when I first came to America, I would go to the mall and I would look at things and then I would decide I did not want to buy it. The seller in the store was very kind to me despite my plans to purchase nothing. I recall they even helped me by suggesting a different store to go. As an Israeli, I was surprised by that! Growing up in Israel, a shopkeeper would not be as kind and helpful if you were not going to buy their product. And they would surely not direct you to another store!

When Bob and I went for walks in our neighborhood, people who passed us by would greet us and say “hello, good morning!” I remember the first few times it happened, I asked Bob if he knew them. The answer, of course, was no.  It clearly caught this Israeli young lady by surprise. I asked, “why do they greet you, then? They do not know you.”  Bob’s reply was as true then as it is now— “they are being nice.” I realized that when people ask you how you are, it is not intended to be a conversation starter or for you to really tell them how you feel, but rather to show pleasantness. When I arrived to America, I thought it was “fake nice”. Now, I think it is something that we should all aspire to. The sales people or the walking friends we found along the way were simply being nice. Isn’t that a great way to live – with niceness part of daily life? Interestingly, over the past thirty years I found Israelis shifting their behavior to incorporate this quality of kindness. It takes time, like every process in life. But it’s worth it. I am a nicer person today because of my American friends and their influence.

Looking at it from the other lens, as an Israeli Jew, I see an incredible quality that Israelis possess that Americans may want to aspire to . I am referring to the famous “Israeli Chutzpa.” The daring to do something in the face of current challenges. To say what you mean in the way that sometimes rocks the boat. I remember when I was teaching first grade in the local Jewish Day school, a long time ago, a parent referred to me as a zealous woman. It took me months to figure out what he was referring to. I did not give up on a project even when those around me quit. I was firm in my outlook, and I said it. I look for solutions even when others around me may want to give up. I do not take “no” for an answer just because people think that I should. Israelis are innovative (which may add to the perception of their stubbornness).  The Israeli Chutzpa has to do with how you say what you say and what you do in the existing reality. I called it as I saw it. This is typical Israeli behavior. The typical American on the other hand, will think it but may not say it.

Both American and Israeli Jews have much to learn from each another. But they can only do it if they are in a mutually positive and non-threatening relationship. If the destination is to have a healthy relationship that can sustain itself for many decades to come, learning from one another and taking the good that each can offer will surely make the flight more enjoyable!

Lev Personal Moments

  1. Name one thing you are curious about the other?
  2. Can you think of one incident that you were involved with that placed you in an image box? Were you happy with that image? Do you think it is a positive image to have? If so, can you converse with others about it?

Have a blessed day!


I am looking forward to teaching my eight-week class elucidating the concepts about my upcoming book, Moments of the Heart—what a pleasure it is for me to explore the concepts of the book with others,  at Congregation Neveh Shalom starting on January 8th.   It will be super-nourishing for your soul!

Attendance at all classes is not required!

Click here to register on-line or click here to email JoAnn or call the office at 503-246-8831.

And if it’s not the right time for you, I offer you several easy ways to connect with me to find similar nourishment—from my online classes, to my book, to studying with me!

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