We’re staying in a conservative part of Jerusalem. Most men wear black clothes with broad-brimmed hats. Knotted tassels hang from under their shirts and curled ringlets sway at the side of their heads. Women wear long dresses and either head-scarfs or wigs; although, in spite of our eagle-eyed efforts, we’ve failed to spot any verifiable wigs.
We’re not experienced enough to know what specific form of Judaism the clothes indicate, but it is Hasidic of one sort or another. We’ve discovered that Hasidism is a movement started in reaction to Judaism becoming too rule-based and losing touch with its spiritual roots. So the idea is they focus more on prayer and doing good things, and less on meaningless ceremony; in simplistic theory at least. There are several strands of Hasidism, and these have identifiable approaches to clothing, for men, which makes for a rich experience walking down the street.
We spent today in secular Israel at the Bloomfield Science Museum over near the Knesset building. It’s a good little hands-on museum with wonderful, clear explanations of the scientific principles behind each and every exhibit. The only negative was the pushily-helpful and underly-pleasant staff. They insisted on showing us things in English, which would have been great if they’d demonstrated the slightest empathy with the kids, or even cracked a smile every now and again. We walked away thinking they needed to take a leaf from the Hasidic book and focus a bit less on rote, rules and going through the motions and bit more on what they were actually trying to achieve.
We’ve only spoken to a couple of Israelis beyond the basic level. On little acquaintance, they’ve pointed out that we’re unlikely to hear the words please and thank you very much in Israel. There’s some perverse sort of pride in the idea that they are not friendly or polite.
To the extent that there’s any reasoning behind this; it appears to derive from being a close group in a small country. In much the same way that manners may slip within a family, the idea is that the Israelis’ lack of manners is an indication of their closeness to each other. Perhaps this is so, but most families will also teach people to be polite to those outside the family. Maybe that part of the theory doesn’t scale up well.
We haven’t found many people to be overtly rude, but we’re not seeing a lot of smiles or friendliness either. This is the first place where the boys’ overt efforts to say a few words has not raised a smile or some sense of appreciation in the locals.