I barely noticed the ‘we’ the first time I heard it. And yet, over the course of my conversations with Israelis on a trip a few years back, it started to crop up again and again. “We can’t please everyone” sighed one woman, addressing political pressure from abroad. “We think it’s the best of our bad options,” said a soldier of the high border security on the West Bank. Rarely in America do you hear people speak on behalf of their entire nation. In Israel, I found, it’s instinctive.
You’ll find the ‘we’ in any place with a small, population—especially one that finds itself regularly under threat of one kind or another. It’s an unconscious acknowledgement of something Israelis often think but rarely say aloud: whatever our individual beliefs, against a common threat we’re all in this together.
You might not know it, looking at the country from afar. Read the Jerusalem Post, and it can seem as though no two Israelis agree on anything. For all the political dissent we have in the U.S., we’ve always been a two party system. The 535 members of the United States Congress comprise just three political groups; Israel’s Knesset has 120 members, and thirteen parties between them. And yet, the ‘we’ surfaces there too.
You’ll hear that Israeli ‘we’ in any number of places—”Why would we need Starbucks when there’s an Aroma in every shopping mall?”—but most often it’s in reference to a problem that must be solved. It’s not always political issues that prompt the ‘we’ either. Israel, easy as it is to forget, has a lot of the same troubles as the rest of the world. “There’s a big problem nowadays with drug use among the teenagers here,” one Israeli told me. “But we’re working on that.”
Elliott Levitt was born, raised and Jewish Day School-educated in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., but now lives and works in the great city of Los Angeles. A veteran of trips to Israel, he packed his sunscreen, shorts and T-shirts in preparation for a visit to Jerusalem last year. It snowed.