My honeymoon phase with Israel started last summer when I visited twice. Everything had a rosy glow. Tel Aviv was bustling and exciting, Jerusalem charming and old, the West Bank seemed more like the Wild West than the Middle East.
Fast forward to two months ago, and I was back in Israel having just moved to Jerusalem for six months. I live in the city center, moments away from all kinds of action. As the jet lag wore off and the heat slowly sunk in, the Gaza flotilla story broke. I was on the story for days with almost every other reporter in the country. It was the official end of the honeymoon. I realized that maybe this country is a bit beyond my ability of comprehension. I still hadn’t made sense of many cultural rules and norms, and they were magnified when the whole world was focused on Israel.
I knew there was a problem when around the same time I started actively seeking out stores that sell Dr. Pepper. It became some kind of odd connection to America, comforting my frayed nerves with every sip.
Then things started to really go downhill. I saw a small, black kitten dying in the dirt near my house. Israel has stray cats everywhere, and most of them don’t survive, but the sight still broke my heart.
Soon after, I was assigned to get photographs of a major protest. One hundred thousand ultra-orthodox Jews dressed from head to toe in black descended on Jerusalem. While I was on the scene, one man told me in Hebrew to get lost. I know this because two seconds later some other guys came up and translated, and then some. “You need to move away,” one of them said, sneering at me. “Do you want to get crushed?” Something in his tone was sinister. After a few attempts to scare me off, a fourth guy appeared, gesturing at me with a handful of stones the size of chicken’s eggs. Long story short, nobody threw rocks at me, but I left that party early.
That day signaled my full onset of culture shock—it was the last straw.
Having gone through culture shock before, I know it’s a bit like being a recovering alcoholic. There’s denial, anger, depression, and acceptance. Those phases don’t exactly apply to me, but the key thing in common is the breaking point. Things hit rock bottom, then they turn around. Then you either just throw up your hands and laugh at the whole thing, or completely give up, pack your bags, and go home.
Luckily I have figured out how to have a sense of humor about life here. First of all, it’s temporary. Secondly, it’s a learning experience. And thirdly, nobody ever got good stories just by sitting at home. The risk you take when you go far out into the world is that it will be a shock to the system. The cure is to remember that everything passes. And as we say in America, if it doesn’t kill you, it only makes you stronger. That’s a little Yankee wisdom that does translate here.