On my very last night in Israel, I go midnight skinny-dipping in the sea, and at the same time cross another important personal threshold: The minute I take off my underwear and swim into the pitch-black water, three elderly ladies show up on the beach, and shout out something to me in Hebrew, with the expectation that I understand and answer them back. I have no idea what they are saying (jelly-fish danger? No lifeguard? Too naked?), but I couldn’t care less, because they make me cross the magic threshold of 70 to 72! 72 Israeli, Hebrew-speaking people living in their own country, familiar with its many faces and its many tourists, thought during the last eight weeks that I could also be an Israeli, Hebrew-speaking person just like them and have thus addressed me in Hebrew instead of English!! These three ladies even think me a local, after they have seen my soft curves (vs. the terrifyingly ripped figures of 98% of all Israeli women) and my skin, that’s still a little too rosy to be truly tanned Middle Eastern. I am over the moon!
In the first few weeks, whenever I tried to speak a little Hebrew in shops or cafes or on busses, people jumped to English immediately. Or worse: they first rolled their eyes, grunted something in Hebrew, and then switched to English. But the longer I am here, the more people speak to me like a local, so I started a list of these people in my diary, and I make little descriptions of every one of them to remember the face and person. Without the list I think I may only remember the official contacts and work meetings that I have had here. Now there is also the family that runs that little kiosk across from Neve Tsedek tower on Eilat Street, who told me not to worry, because they have re-ordered the ice cream that I come to buy every night (which actually lead me to go to another kiosk for a few days out of embarrassment and collect that family for my list, too). Then the mums that chatted me up on the bus to Jerusalem for an hour, although I barely understood every 15th word; or the teen girl that weirdly put her hands over mind, while we were holding on to the bus pole in Bus #240, and I think she told me about vegetables all the time. Or maybe not. I just so like to listen to Hebrew in the world around me regardless if I understand a word, because it sounds like a strong cappuccino, an Irish coffee, or a dark hot chocolate with Baileys. All my Israeli friends’ voices instantly become much deeper, when they speak Hebrew amongst themselves, and I love listening to them.
So 72 strangers, that makes an average of 1.3 per day (not counting out of country days or friends, because they just want to be nice) – so more than one person every day that thought I could be at home here. Before coming to Israel, I., my Hebrew teacher, set me a limit of 50 people: “If 50 of us talk to you, then taking the Hebrew class was worth it.” Couldn’t agree more: definitely worth it.