-By Korrie Graybill
I have blonde hair. I am an American. I am a Christian. These things don’t define me, but I am aware of them. I only speak English. I like my personal space and my religion is a personal matter. In Israel, I am so aware of how different I am to my surroundings. Many Israelis speak more than one language, don’t know what “personal space” means and their religious beliefs and practices are openly talked about and shared. Every day, I am absorbing information about this new culture that I am living in, and every day I am aware.
Walking down the street running errands is a big production for me. I have to mentally prepare myself to watch where I am going, look for street signs, and talk to people. And when I say ‘talk’, I mean, stare at them blankly and say “I only speak English”. There are two reactions that I get here when people find out that I only speak English, utter contempt or complete enthrallment. I haven’t decided which one is better. Almost every road sign is in three languages. Hebrew, Arabic, and English. Here in Akko, with its huge Russian population, add in Russian. I am so aware of how lazy I am not to learn another language. I am spoiled by other countries learning English and catering to my needs. Living here for a couple of months has opened my eyes to the importance of knowing many languages and just how behind America is when it comes to being culturally conscientious.
Religion is another aspect that I pick up on. Everyone knows what everyone believes, and if they don’t, they ask. It’s not a private matter here, its public. I’ve never been so aware of what I believe. Back home, everyone is basically some version of Christianity, whether it be Protestant, Catholic or non-denominational. I’ve never had my religion identify me before. I always tried to express myself with my clothing, or hair, but never religion. Here in Israel, religious beliefs and practices affect more than just the religious. Good luck trying to go anywhere on Shabbat, which is Friday sundown to Saturday sundown. Public transportation shuts done. And with 8 days of Passover, entire aisles in the grocery store close off with food containing leaven. This way of life keeps me mindful of my beliefs at all times.
I am also becoming aware of why God brought me here. I was supposed to be here for two weeks. I wanted to go to the Dead Sea, shop around in Jerusalem, and do a little volunteering in between. When Susan asked me to stay, she was rushing out the door, briefed me on the details, and left. I already knew my answer. I just had to think of every excuse not to stay. And here I am for almost 3 months. I have already met German, Russian, Finnish, Dutch, Australian, Swiss, Canadian, and of course, Israeli people. I have sat and talked with survivors of the Leningrad siege. I have played (and lost) badminton with a 90 year old Russian man. I’ve sat with Jewish families for Shabbat dinners and listened while the wine, challah bread and food was blessed in Hebrew. I am immersing myself into the culture of God’s Chosen People and I am aware.
Being conscious of who you are allows you to reevaluate some things in your life. It holds you accountable for your beliefs. I can’t float on by with the crowd, because frankly, I stand out in the crowd. From my time here in Israel, I find myself walking with my head a little higher and my stride a little bolder, because Israel bluntly asked me “Who are you”, and my answer is in my actions.
[Korrie was our guest manager at Beit Shalom for the last three months. She is a special lady & did a wonderful job. We will greatly miss her! – Editor note]