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Quit apologizing–you’re Israeli now! (Or are you?)


If you’re a person who apologizes, you may find yourself in a distinct minority here in Israel.

Now, me, I’m Canadian.  Apologizing is one of the things we do best.

Here’s proof:

Two days before we left Canada, I was in the grocery store getting some last-minute things to bring with us, and I was pushing my cart down the HUGE, wide aisle, and another woman was coming the other way down the HUGE, wide aisle.  I passed her with my cart and she passed me with her cart, and there was lots of room to spare on both sides.  And as we passed each other, I apologized AND she apologized, at exactly the same moment.


For being close to each other's spaces.  It's hilarious, but it's also true.  We feel very uncomfortable when we are anywhere near other human beings.  In Canada, there's about 1/4 of a square km for every person, while in Israel (I just checked!) - there's 0.0026982436083974 of a square km.

We also don't want to cause anyone a moment's discomfort. 

On our aliyah flight we switched seats in the middle of the night and the flight attendant was confused in the morning, so I apologized - and she said, "You're Israeli now.  Stop apologizing!"

In Israel it's very warm and very close, which is sometimes good and sometimes bad.  Nobody apologizes for anything.

It is a good thing sometimes, to not be too apologetic.  As a nation, Israel sometimes needs to stand up for what it believes in and not let anybody convince us otherwise.  I noticed this bumper sticker on the wall of the bus station in Jerusalem this morning.


It says:  “Israel:  Trust in Hashem, and not in America.”  Sometimes, Israel is so busy apologizing to America, or at least, trying to look nice for the Americans, that it loses sight of its own values.

The only problem with trusting in Hashem is that none of us have a direct hotline to Hashem, which means that sometimes Israelis make mistakes and don’t apologize.  Either way, I guess, is a problem – too much apologizing, or not enough.

Canada, on the other hand, goes too far the other way. 

Canada is very good at meaningless apologies.  We apologize for past atrocities – to Japanese people for making their lives miserable during World War II, to First Nations people for residential schools, to Chinese people for the racist head tax policy of the early 1900s, to Indians (the ones from India) for turning away a ship with 376 of them in 1914. 

As Canadians, we can’t stand the fact that we have caused people a moment’s discomfort.  This is probably why Canada has taken in so many Syrian refugees – 40,000 so far.  We wouldn’t be very good liberals if we paid attention to this 2014 poll showing that 13% of Syrian refugees have a positive view of ISIS – or perhaps we’re hoping that Canada will turn them into nice, friendly cool-climate apology people instead of blunt and brutal hot-climate Middle-East people.

Kind of the way Israel is maybe doing to me in reverse.

By the way, and I hate the way things sometimes get political when you didn’t mean them to, but you know who Canada isn’t so good at apologizing to?  Jews.  In 1939, Canada turned away the MS St. Louis, a German ship carrying 907 Jews fleeing Europe.  They were turned back to Europe where over 200 were ultimately murdered.   Canada was not the only one turning them away, but in light of these other apologies, it’s kind of a glaring shadow.

But as I said, I’m cynical about these apologies, which seems fitting for my new identity as an Israeli.  It’s easy to say you’re sorry for something you have no control over, something you cannot possibly change, and also – conveniently! – something you don’t have to pay to fix.

A friend shared this the other day on Facebook.  This is from the University of Arizona’s guide to "Diversity & Inclusiveness in Classroom":

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The Canadian government seems to have adopted this approach.  “Ouch,” say all these wounded minority communities.  “Oops,” says the Canadian government.  And if necessary, they hold further dialogue. 

Is this any worse than the Israeli way?  “Ouch,” you might say, if you’ve been offended by an Israeli.  “Ouch.  Ouch.  Ouch.”

If it was my kids fighting, and I heard one of them standing still saying, “Ouch,” over and over and over, I’d probably shout, “Get out of the way!”  That’s your first line of defense right there – if someone’s hurting you, doesn’t it make sense to get far away rather than just stand there kvetching about it?  It might make sense to you, but it doesn’t to my kids when they’re bickering with each other, apparently.

Of course, they’re not going to get away, because they’re taking a stand.  They also hate to apologize, but then again, they’re kids.  Maybe all children are just naturally born Israeli and socializing is the process of teaching them to become more Canadian?

Whatever the case, it seems like our apologies say something about us as people.  I don’t know exactly what they say – it’s just something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately.  As with so much, and so many posts these days, I don’t have any hard and fast answers for you.


Tzivia / צִיבְיָה

Sky writing photo credit © butupa via Flickr

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