Soon after arriving in Israel, we learn that we must be ready to any question asked in the most random places and by the most random strangers. At point blank, you are typically asked where you are from, where are your ancestors from until the third or fourth generation, how much you earn, how much you pay for rent and why you live where you live and not in a different place.
Israeli small talk is like us: practical and “tachless”. That’s why one thing I like about the otherwise depressing memorial season in Israel is going into the Kikar, Rabin’s square, and mixing with the crowd in silence. The square is always full of people sitting on plastic chairs, always too close to one another, and most are in a very kind mood and absolutely not about to ask personal questions for pure curiosity.
In my first years I came with a double purpose: to exercise my Hebrew listening to the speeches and songs, and to feel part of the people: an Israeli among Israelis. Then slowly the Kikar became attractive because during these silent ceremonies it turns into a passive small talk exercise, where the simple fact of being here is a dive in thousands of stories.
It’s enough to look around, 360 degrees, and I can count the known faces, the familiar faces, all the people from the neighborhood, the well dressed and the one wearing a torn t-shirt, the curly, the dark skinned, the tall, the blond, the chubby, the oval eyed, the old. On stage, singers sing songs to which no hands will clap in approval. On the side screens run the stories of the fallen soldiers, touching every stream and layer of the society.
At the end of the ceremony, after the Hatikva, the massive silent small talks ends while we all flood out of the Kikar into an equally silent Tel Aviv, every store or restaurant closed. In a day like this, you’d think we are a quiet and shy people.
*Daniela Fubini (Twitter @d_fubini) lives and writes in Tel Aviv, where she arrived in 2008 from Turin via New York.