Thursday, August 12, 2010

House Guests: Israeli and American culture mix.

     Last week my husband and I had an Israeli couple as house guests for the whole week. The man and my husband go way back -- to infancy in Israel. Hubbie was the first born child to Kibbutz Avuca in Pardes Hannah, Israel, in 1936. This kibbutz had been formed by new immigrants to Israel from several shtetls in then Bessarabia in Eastern Europe (now the independent country of Moldova), most people originating in Kalarash and a few members from Dombroven. These young adults had been bitten by the Zionist movement in the 1930s and joined the youth movement Gordonia to learn agriculture in a camp funded by the Jewish Agency before their emigration to Israel. This group of people were very close and established the socialist community known as a kibbutz in about 1934. They received land near Pardes Hannah, Israel and worked that land. They did not have a completely set off village as most kibbutzim with more money did. So in the beginning, they often occupied living space outside of the kibbutz owned buildings. But the children were tended in a nursery as was typical of the time. The firstborn child, my husband, became the child of the whole kibbutz. He was adored and doted, and probably spoiled. But within 2 years there were 7 children and our house guest last week was the 7th child. He is the furthest on the left lower corner of bottom photo, and my husband is the child next to him.
     Unlike my husband,  Ami (name changed) stayed in Israel. He served in the military and was teaching the use of grenades when one went off and severely injured him, causing loss of hearing, and loss of some vision, and multiple shrapnel wounds requiring several surgeries. He later became a lawyer and then a judge in Israel. He is now partially retired. His wife was a nurse. Ami met her while undergoing all of his reconstructive surgical procedures. My husband had not been in touch with him for some time but he came to visit my mother in law when she was aging and entering into an assisted living arrangement in Israel. My husband ran into him on that visit and renewed acquaintances. Recently an acquaintance was renewed before our trip back to Moldova as Ami has a cousin still living in Kalarash. We learned that Ami and his wife were coming to visit another cousin in Minneapolis and asked them to come visit us as well.

     We showed them some of American culture which was entirely new to them, of course. We were happy to show them at least America as it is represented in our little Midwestern sliver of the wider scene. The first day my husband took them to the state capital in Madison, and up on Bascom Hill. They saw where my husband and I met and where we used to live on State Street, and just in general got an impression of the city often voted into the top 10 of the most pleasant to live in the United States.

     The second day we took them down to Chicago, went up on the Willis Tower, visited Navy Pier for lunch, and drove around to view the lovely Lake Michigan waterfront of the Windy City.  We returned to Milwaukee and a surprise for Ami and his wife, The Israeli Tzofim (Scouts) Youth Group is traveling around the US for 2 months and were performing in Bayshore Town Square. We stopped there on the return from Chicago and witnessed a very entertaining song and dance show. And confirming the Small World Theory, one of the 10 young people was a friend of Ami's grandson. They got to visit together after the program.
     The next day included attendance at my husband's annual retirement picnic and a visit to the Mitchell Park Conservatory Domes. The following day we took them to a Brewer Baseball game against the Houston Astros and explained in detail the rules of a game that is totally foreign to Israelis. A stop on the way home at Kopp's for their famous hamburgers and ice cream demonstrated the Milwaukee institution that Doc Severson used to visit every time he was in town conducting the Milwaukee Pops Symphony. (He always used to ask the audience from the conductor's podium, "Does anyone know today's ice cream flavor at Kopp's?" and the audience would fill him in.)
     The last day with us, we dropped them off at the Milwaukee Public Museum to see the butterflies, the dinosaur exhibits, the Streets of Old Milwaukee, and European Village exhibits and an IMAX show on the oceans. Mixed in between all these activities were lengthy discussions in Hebrew about life in Israel, life here in the United States, and the differences and similarities of the two cultures. I improved my Hebrew a little bit again by hearing so much of the language. These two spoke English but of course it is easier for my husband to explain things to them in Hebrew. Although Hubbie admits that now he has an immigrant's English which he regards as less than perfect and a Hebrew that is horribly outdated. This living ancient language has had to modernize to accommodate modern technological society and many new words are unrecognized by my husband. 

     We were together for a week and there was only one brief period of contention. This occurred when we were at Kopp's. We had taken them to several restaurants for dinner. The ordering process was always a bit tedious and lengthy, because, very reasonably, they really wanted to know what they were going to eat and to make a very personal choice from the menu, while my husband tended to want to choose for them because he felt he knew what would be best. One of the recurring discussions revolved around how to order the steak. Israelis always order steak well done, and grilled steaks can not be well done or the outside of the steak is like shoe leather. We always tried to get them to modify this order and at least say, medium well, tending toward medium. But it was difficult. Many times they just ordered fish. But the night of the Kopp's visit, my husband wanted to demonstrate an American hamburger done as only Kopp's can do them. Also anyone familiar with a busy Kopp's knows that when you step up to the grill counter to order, you have to be ready to go and spit out your desires rapidly because there is a line of people with similar desires behind you. This is not the time to be discussing the menu or changing your mind. After my husband had ordered everything, the guest wife decided she wanted the chicken instead of a hamburger, so the clerk had to change the order on the computer and then Ami began to think again about what on the menu list overhead he wanted. My husband, as he will admit sometimes happens, .... he lost it and raised his voice and told them he wanted them to try the hamburger and that was that. I stepped in and quietly told the clerk to change one hamburger to chicken and then ordered the sides and the drinks. Everyone was a little subdued after that public argument, but we survived and no one held a grudge. It should be noted that this disagreement was more than the usual Israeli disagreement. I learned long ago shortly after I got married that Israeli discussions often look like arguments to someone who is not accustomed to the heated repartee that occurs in this somewhat hot-headed Mediterranean country. We had lots of discussions like that during our guests stay, but that is different. This public disagreement was not in that category. It was a definite strong chastisement by my husband and made everyone uncomfortable for a while.
     Still it was a pleasant week. We enjoyed showing off our home. We enjoyed showing off what Milwaukee and Wisconsin has to offer. Looking back on the visit, it is interesting to contrast our two cultures. My husband of course is now as American as they come, loving football, the NBA, and even golf tournaments, but I must remind myself of his origins. And I must remind myself about how different and yet how much the same all we human beings are.

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