I’m a third-generation born New Yorker. Aggression in random interpersonal relations has never been my issue. I have been known to slap the hood of an anxious cab that barely skidded to a stop, to icily and brutally reject late-night propositions on subway platforms, to push as good as I got pushed. And then, I moved to Israel for a year.
Part of my sudden feeling of meekness is surely just that my Hebrew isn’t great, and I’ve been learning a new city.
But here, on the streets of Tel Aviv, I’m no longer the aggressive one. Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore. We’re not even on Broadway.
Look, it’s not that everything you’ve heard about all Israelis being hyper-aggressive is true. There are people here who avoid public confrontation, who respond to a yelling shuk vendor by shrinking away or allow the ever-present bicycles to roll over their toes unremarked upon. It’s just that there aren’t very many people like that. At all. And, it’s worth noting, there doesn’t seem to be much of a gender bias for who gets included in such a group.
I can feel myself getting more aggressive all the time here (to my benefit and detriment both, I have no doubt). I cut off buses on my bike, I give lip to airport security and—hardest of all for a New Yorker—I’m learning to stare right back at everyone who takes a good prolonged look at me for no reason at all. Although I worry sometimes that by the time I get back to the States, I’ll be a huge jerk, as a woman, it’s kind of liberating to be allowed—actually, expected—to be in everyone’s face just as much as men are, and to have men appreciate and accept me on the basis of my ability to give it out as well as take it. I know there’s a link between an aggressive society and a militarized one, and while I’d support a downplaying of Israel’s military aggressiveness, I can’t imagine that the cultural side effect with diminish quickly—or even should. (After all, where do New Yorkers get our aggression from?)
For now, I’ll appreciate that even when the guy on the corner tells me that he thinks I’m crazy for eating my falafel while I’m walking (“What, there weren’t any chairs at the restaurant?”), he at least expects me to shout back.