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Op-Ed: The understated cultural difference between East and WestWilliam Goldstein claims that there is a major cultural difference between the East and the West that is commonly overlooked. He notes that Israelis tend to understate important things and thus Americans often misunderstand them.
There’s a huge cultural difference between the East and the West to which most new immigrants from the USA to Israel will attest. Today is somewhat different than, say, forty or fifty years ago because of the rapid technological developments in communication and transportation as well as incredible economic expansion. Still, thousands of years of physical separation and geologic differences that influence climate have affected even such deep cultural characteristics as philosophy, patience and choice of toppings on pizza, not to mention donut fillings.
There is a natural process of absorption of new immigrants into countries like Israel. It is somewhat like raising a family. You teach them a language, how to walk without falling over – all of these things. You laugh at their little problems, except those that keep you up at night. This is a good thing. It is healthy for a growing population. Diversity is too.
The United States had a vibrant successful absorption of immigrants since its very beginning and especially during the early part of the twentieth century. People laughed and danced and sang songs that were uplifting. The culture was alive and thrived like a growing family, like an Israeli agricultural community with a high social purpose and people who rose to the challenges of growing crops on poor soil without sufficient natural irrigation and under frequent attack from their neighbors.
I am going to try to explain to you, using a method I picked up somewhere down in the Negev, what some of the real differences are about between the East and the West. Things are understated in Israel, very understated. If there are live mines, landmines, buried in the ground, Israel provides a sign. It says: “danger mines” (in Hebrew with maybe an English and Arabic translation). The sign won’t be very large, but it might have red letters. It doesn’t shout out at you, but it might say “watch out” or “be careful” in Hebrew. What it means is: if you come anywhere near this place, you will blow up and die. This is what it means. The people who didn’t follow directions are no longer around. Really- people are lost here for failure to recognize real dangers.
Now, in total contrast to Israel, if there was even a report somewhere that in WWII some truck dropped a mine that was not properly recovered in the USA within a radius of five miles, there will be a sign that reads: “Halt – do not come anywhere near this place. there might be a live mine!!” There will be sirens, neon-lighted letters and blinking lights. A voice will blare out of a loudspeaker: “Do not make any move toward this area, your activities are being recorded, you will be arrested presently, and your car will be confiscated. You’d better have a very good lawyer because you came to the wrong place.” Something like that.
This is, of course, an exaggeration, but, still, you will find all danger notices, most probably, highly overstated, in the USA. For this reason, Americans often misunderstand important things Israelis say and vice versa.
There was a sign, it’s probably still there. It was a very small sign, perhaps three feet by five feet, one meter by one and a half meters. It read, “This is Jericho, it is the oldest continually occupied city in the world, it is 6,000 years old,” simply painted in black letters, translated into Hebrew and Arabic, totally unassuming. I had driven up to it from the main road along the Dead Sea.
There was a lady with a long black dress and a basket she was balancing on her head with one hand, carrying something or other, probably, like women have been carrying things there for 6,000 years. Now, this was from way back, yet, here was Jericho of the Bible right there and then. It was a living thing. Americans believe that the stories and places from the Bible are from a very old place that simply is not around anymore. This is not true. It’s very much still there, just understated.
William Goldstein is a retired chemistry teacher from the School District of Philadelphia. He was also a chemical engineer and worked on the Apollo 11 Camera at RCA in Hightstown, New Jersey. He studied at the University of Pennsylvania. He currently lives in Derby, VT.
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