A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, May 21, 2010

Israelis and Manners According to an Israeli "Manners Instructor"

Israelis take a certain pride in their abrasiveness. Brusqueness and temperamental reactions are considered a national trait. So much so that native-born Israelis have always taken pride in the term sabra, the Arabic, and now Hebrew, term for the prickly-pear cactus typical of the region, defined in the traditional Israeli definition as "prickly on the outside, sweet on the inside."

At various stages of my career I attended speeches by the late Yitzhak Rabin when he was Ambassador to Washington and press conferences of his when he was Defense Minister and Prime Minister (and met him personally once or twice): Jerusalem-born, he was a classic sabra both in biography and temperament. He had his strengths, but hale-fellow-well-met wasn't one of them.

Now, in our age of social self-awareness, an Israeli "manners instructor" (that's a real job?) asks: "Can Israelis learn to have better manners?"

An excerpt:

Rules about table manners are, whether for the adults or children, a very important chapter: "Eat slowly and with your mouth closed, elbows should be kept close to the body, say 'please' and 'thank you' and never use a toothpick while at the table - this is terribly ugly," she advises.

All her criticisms notwithstanding, she also sees many good things about her countrymen. A positive example of good behavior and demeanor, especially on the international stage, is that of President Shimon Peres.

"Oh, he is wonderful!" Lancut Leibovitz enthuses. "I wish we had more of his kind."
We all do, but Peres was born in what's now Belarus 86 years ago, and therefore is one of the last of the European-born leadership (unless you count Avigdor Lieberman, also Belarussian but a far different man). He's no sabra.

Which, of course, gives me the opportunity to note that Shimon Peres is a first cousin of Lauren Bacall. I'll bet you didn't know that, unless you're Israeli or a longtime student of Israel. I cannot, however, picture him in Key Largo.

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