Israel and America: Caught Between Cultures
By Galit Breen on April 08, 2011
My flip flops smack against dirty steps as a breeze provides sweet relief from the sticky Middle Eastern air. A stone path is warm beneath my feet.
I sling my loosely knit backpack over one shoulder, slide my Lennon-esque sunglasses in place and enter the shuk, the open air market.
And then, I breathe in. Deeply.
Slicha. Excuse me.
Beseder. It’s fine.
I’m bumped into, moved aside.
I take it in stride and feel thoroughly blended in with my flowy sundress, summer tan and bare face.
Until I hear, Hey Americayeet!
And realize that no. No, I’m not.
I make eye contact with the man who owns that gravelly voice. His smile-wrinkles frame warm eyes. A mischievous grin reveals missing teeth. And strong hands that have been kissed with a lifetime of sunshine, wave me over.
My step forward seals the deal: I’m so not a native.
Except that I am. I was born in Jerusalem and moved to the States when I was six years old. Fifteen years later, I’m marked by that fact.
Hey Americayeet! His accent is thick. His rs harsh. Where are you from? California? New York?
I don’t disappoint. Ani mi California, I say in Americanized Hebrew that I don’t know to be embarrassed by.
Medaberet Ivrit, eh? Az zeh, beshveelech. You speak Hebrew? Then this, is for you.
As he reaches into a basket of thorned oval fruit, I glance at his stand.
White mesh bags hang high, bursting with brightness. Clear plastic bowls overflow with the same richness. Reds. Oranges. Magentas.
Young men are blending, cup-filling, calling out to customers just like their father, or their grandfather, had called out to me.
Hey Americayeet! For you. His offering, the dangerous oval in water color shades of reds and purples, fits perfectly between weathered fingers.
Deftly, he slices the ends. Splits the skin and peels away the offending prickly layer. Inside the seedy fruit is soft, brilliant. As he places it in my hand, I feel the callouses on his. See the deep brown. Feel the warmth.
For you, eh, because you are a sabra.
A sabra is a prickly pear. Rough on the outside, deliciously sweet on the inside. It’s also what Israelis call natives.
I have always lived betwixt and between these labels.
An Israeli in the States -- my name hard to pronounce, my parents’ accents thick, my family’s story different.
And an American in Israel -- my clean cut clothes, my tentative stance, my bus schedule in hand.
But at this shuk, I was seen.
Not by the tired Ima rushing her curly haired children along.
Not by the grandparents shopping at their regular stands.
And not by the uniformed soldiers, guns loosely holstered at their sides.
I was seen by this warm-eyed vendor, who drew in those who made eye contact and stepped forward.
Hey Americayeet! Hey sabra!
So when he passed the freshly prepared fruit from his worn hands into my own coddled ones, I greedily savored the magenta juiciness. My secret was out. I was betwixt and between. I was different. But I was seen.
Fifteen years later my own hands, aged from travels and teaching and motherhood, slice the ends of a sabra. Split the spiny skin and effortlessly peel it back to reach the refreshing offering inside.
I take the first bite, and sigh in relief.
It tastes the same with my bare feet touching the cool hardwood floors in my Minnesotan kitchen as it did with my flip flops slapping against the warm stones in the Jerusalem shuk.
So today I’m still a sabra -- prickly on the outside and sweet on the inside. I still crave being seen. And I still think that magenta is perfectly scrumptious.
Galit Breen is a wife of one, mother of three, and a brand new puggle owner of one. She blogs at These Little Waves from the comfort of her ever-freezing Minnesota home. You can also find Galit on Twitter and Facebook.
Photo Credit: zeevveez
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