The Ins & Outs of Israel According to an Expat

For as long as Clemency Neville can remember, she’s wanted to visit Israel.  But merely traveling there isn’t enough for this Brit; cultural immersion is much better.  When her aunt passed along a possible internship in Israel in the anti-human trafficking field—a big passion of hers—Clemency hopped on the opportunity.  Months later, she says it feels like home and doesn’t want to leave.  Clemency answers some questions about daily life, sights, culture and, of course, food!

Q: What did a typical day look like?  

A: I have a 30-minute walk to work, which is in the center of town. I’m there from 9-4 although I usually stay quite a bit later than that because there’s always so much to do! The office where I work is small, only four full-time staff and then rotating interns. I am a media intern, so I’m working on a wide variety of videos for the organization in both English and Hebrew. I also get to explore Jerusalem to get b-roll, which is great! I love to find new spots to try new food for either lunch or dinner. I go to a congregation on Sunday, a small group on Monday and then just meet up with friends on the other evenings! I always do a Shabbat dinner Friday night with a family or group of friends. Processed with VSCO with c1 presetIsrael Travel Middle East

Q: What surprised you most about the culture there?  

A: Israelis are a unique people. They have experienced so much in the past and continue to. They have a hardness about them, which is understandable considering what they have gone through. The Holocaust, although not talked about widely, is still very tangible here. There are thousands of survivors still alive in Israel, and the generations that have followed are very aware of the past. That being said, I have met some of the kindest people since coming here: genuine, passionate, driven people. Most Israelis have a real sense of purpose.  I mean, to move to a country that receives so much bad press is a very big decision, so you have got to really want it. They definitely understand that there is something bigger than them. 

Another point here is the influence of religion in this region. I mean, most people know this, but to live in it is a different experience. How religions live along side each other, intermingled but also incredibly separated. As it is a Jewish state, the influence of Shabbat is strong—in Jerusalem especially. You will struggle to find a restaurant open from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown! This took some getting used to. Along with the work week being Sunday through Thursday; that had me confused for a little while! Processed with VSCO with p5 presetProcessed with VSCO with a6 preset

Q: Describe Israeli cuisine.  What was cool?  Any weird experiences?

I love hummus. I think I’ve eaten hummus on, in or on its own almost every single day. Other typical Mediterranean food is also delicious—falafel, sabich, shakshuka… you name it, so good. A first for me was eating chicken hearts, which were really tasty surprisingly! I’ve even baked my own homemade Challah bread, a traditional Shabbat food! 

Q: Favorite memory from your time in Israel?

A: There are too many! I have just loved exploring the entire country, from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea to Eilat, Cesearia, Tel Aviv, the Western Wall, and so many more. Just being in the land of the Bible makes the Text come alive. To be able to wake up every morning and look at the Mount of Olives and Mount Zion is something I will never take for granted! Processed with VSCO with c1 presetProcessed with VSCO with b5 preset

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Q: How did your time in Israel affect the way you view yourself, others and the world around you, if at all?

A: This is a big question with many different answers. But, if I had to sum it up, every time I travel somewhere new, I learn so much—about cultures, about history, about conflict, about people. There is so much variety in this world, and I am so passionate about not settling for what’s easy or comfortable, but rather, constantly expanding and adapting to different ways of living. It’s in the “adapting” that we really learn who we are and what our place in this world is. 

In terms of Israel specifically… well, for one, I definitely appreciated Sabbath now! I used to struggle just taking a day—be it Saturday or Sunday—to just rest. In every sense of the world. It’s so easy to get caught up in this world and constantly think about what we “should” be doing. But even God rested on the seventh day! I will never take it to the extreme of many Orthodox Jews, who could not switch on a lightbulb, but I will definitely take the sentiment with me. It is so important for our body, mind and soul to just rest and appreciate life for what it is—a gift. Processed with VSCO with a5 presetProcessed with VSCO with a6 preset

Q: The Middle East is portrayed in the media as extremely chaotic and dangerous.  Did you find this to be true?  If someone were only to read the news, what wouldn’t they know or understand about Israel?

This is definitely not true—at least not right now. I have honestly never really felt safer. I would much rather walk through the streets of Jerusalem late at night then New York City. Obviously I was not around when there was a war or a conflict, and I’ve talked to people who were, so the idea of “conflict” is not a distant memory to many Israelis. Especially since there is mandatory military service in Israel, so every single adult you come across, will have been in the army for two or three years minimum. At the age of 18, this would definitely have a large impact on the average person and therefore the greater population. There are are “areas” that are more dangerous. This, sadly, is correlated with the denser Arab populated areas. I currently live right on the border or Abu Tor, which is an Arab zone, so I always go right out of my house, never left. Not that anything would happen, especially since I am not Jewish, but it’s just about being smart.

Also, from what I have learned, since the building of the Wall (separating the West Bank and Israel), terror attacks have almost been eradicated (dropped by something like 95%). So no matter how much press there is about this so-called “apartheid” wall, the fact is in the numbers. So many Israeli lives have been saved as a result. 

Israel is often called an “apartheid state” in the news. This could not be more wrong. Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. They have full rights for women and the LGBTQ community. There is no religious discrimination (by law, and most of the time in practice). They have many Arab MKs (members of Knesset). There is equal access to education for all. They are about to pass a bill which will criminalize the purchase of sexual acts, an extremely progressive reform. So if I were a simple bystander reading the news about Israel, I would take it with a grain of salt. And I would really try to do some of my own research about Israel and even the surrounding Arab countries. 

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All photos courtesy of Clemency Neville.

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