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You know you just got back from Israel if …

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07/08/2011

You know you just got back from Israel if photo 

I’m used to the jetlag by now. After all, I’ve traveled to Israel four times over the past 18 months, each trip about a couple of weeks. When I got back most recently—about 10 days ago—my body sprung back almost right away, after only a couple of days in the sleep-for-12-hours mode.

But my mind seems to be in Israel mode, still. If you’re like me, you’ll know the symptoms of Israel withdrawal—sometimes, they don’t leave you for weeks.

Here’s my top 10 list of ways your friends and family will know right away that mentally, you’re still in Israel:

1. You want to say slicha & todah instead of excuse me and thank you to strangers who are blocking your way onto an El train or who kindly held the door open to you. Actually, skip the last bit—door holding isn’t exactly Israel’s national sport. That would be eating (see point #4).

2. You want to eat everything with your hands. Israeli street food notwithstanding, scooping up that mascarpone with your fingers might not go over well with your hosts.

3. You expect a stranger to stop you in the middle of the supermarket aisle to give you the third-degree about your life—and give you sound practical advice about it, too.

4. You think it’s weird that hardly anyone shops at outdoor markets. While at Mahane Yehuda in Jerusalem on a busy Friday afternoon, my colleagues and I managed to procure a full Shabbat lunch for 37 people: pitot (30 for just 10 shekels), several kilos of cream cheese, labane and hummus, fresh locally grown veggies, the ripest plums, apricots and cherries you’ll ever taste, and a wealth of burekas and rugelach at world-famous Marzipan bakery.

5. Your fingers keep forming themselves in that unmistakably Israeli wait-just-a-minute gesture—no, not the middle finger. For those not in the know, “rega” is one of the most useful gestures: It works for every situation, from keeping a conversation partner from responding in the middle of your soliloquy to stopping a car while your group of 32 17-year-olds slowly crosses a busy intersection. (In this case, you also have to employ another unmistakably Israeli gesture – spreading both hands wide on your sides to express the classic “nu, what can I do?”) Here’s how to rega with the best of them: reach out your hand, with thumb, index and middle finger pinched together. Couple this with a stern look.

6. You wonder at the lush green grass and trees in your neighborhood park. Having been to Israel in practically every season, I know that it’s a land that can be lush and blooming. But mid-summer isn’t exactly a green season. Still the desert is a beautiful place, and Israel’s early kibbutzniks recognized the potential of the land.

7. You turn off the water as you’re lathering up in the shower. Water is a major issue in Israel: Wars have been fought over this precious natural resource. With just two major sources of water—the Kinneret and underground aquifers—Israel depends on its citizens and visitors to help conserve water.

8. You have to remember to put on a suit to go to work—if that’s the kind of job you have, of course. Only the people in the Foreign Ministry wear ties to the office, and that’s because they deal with diplomats from more rigid cultures. Israelis tend to be carefree about their office attire, with casual ruling the dress code.

9. You are still searching for at least one sidewalk café that’s as welcoming and yummy as Café Bograshov or Café Oliv or Café Amelia in Tel Aviv. The cafés open early and welcome hungry visitors late into the night. You can laze about with your paper or your computer or just people watch or hang out with friends. As a friend pointed out, the best cafés are where a waiter will take your order and bring the food to you and leave you alone without jumping on you to vacate the table for the next customer. (Chicagoans: any recommendations for this erstwhile café dweller?)

10. You don’t even notice but you keep steering every conversation to the topic of Israel. Even if you’d been there multiple times before, there’s much to discover about the land and its people in each subsequent trip.

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