I would be negligent if I didn’t mention Ronny Maman’s new contest that offers a $60,000 cash prize for ideas on how to civilize Israelis.
While at first glance this may seem trivial– we are no nation of Dear Abby or Ann Landers consultants– the contest actually addresses a key issue in Israeli society: rudeness, or as Israelis lovingly call it: chutzpah.
Deadline: January 22nd, 2008 (Tu B’Shvat)
Post: Rehov Achuza 96, P. O. Box 26, Ranaana, Israel
Fax: 09-7409592 (+972-9-740-9592 internationally)
Winners announced: June 6, 2008
The Brain Drain and Israel’s Morale
Morale is a major problem in Israel with many Israelis telling you they would gladly defect to the United States or another country if offered a desirably salary and living conditions. Life can be hard here as the cost of living is high and there are stresses put on the Israeli people that others rarely have to contend with. Yet Israelis greatest complaint about each other is that, “Israelis are just so rude!”
Contests to Make the World a Better Place
Maman is joining an elite group of philanthropic donors in the Jewish world who are asking, “How can I make the world a better place?” and using a monetized incentive system to help accomplish their goals. The Andrea and Charles Bronfman Foundation is, as we know, undertaking a similar venture, as is MIT’s Just Jerusalem/ Jerusalem 2050 contest which seeks intellectual solutions to peace in the Middle East.
Contestants are asked to submit proposals via Mamon’s website (www.derech-eretz.org). Winners will be announced next year and Mamon plans to publish the top 100 ideas in a book on the same topic. Please note that no relevant submission guidelines or contact information are currently present on the English version of the site.
The idea of how to teach respect is a tricky one. When I was training to teach 4th grade with Teach For America, there was a large section on courtesy in the curriculum, such as how to answer a phone, how to speak with an elder, etc. I’m not sure anyone adheres to the rules themselves or even pays attention to them these days. When inquiring of Israeli friends what kind of basic manners education they received, they found the notion at first surprising and second laughable.
My greatest pet peeve with Israeli society is how they treat nature. For such a tiny country, litter is everywhere. I regularly see people– even those who should “know better”– toss trash out the window or throw it on the ground. It’s as simple as finishing a drink, blowing your nose, or spitting out your gum and waiting until you get to the nearest trash can to dispose of it. This almost never happens.
To me, this signifies one of the most basic respects on our lives: respect for our environment. It is as important as the respect we show for our close friends and loved ones. I try to avoid assumptions about cultural relativity and strongly believe that these types of social mores must be embedded into children’s education and parents’ teaching in order to make a difference.
Who Can Answer the Courtesy Question?
The reason I use this example is that our treatment of our environments, whether physical, social, or emotional, is representative of basic courtesies in civil society. I don’t think an outsider can answer this quagmire of Israeli culture and society, but perhaps someone who has spent a significant time outside of the country can bring insight. Maybe a new immigrant who is raising children here would be best posed to address the question. Maman himself spent almost a quarter of a century in San Diego before returning to Israel just recently. No doubt the culture shock of his return was part of the impetus for this contest.
I look forward to reading Maman’s book when it comes to fruition and hope that he is overwhelmed with submissions for his courtesy contest. I am hoping that just talking about this concept will get some of the ideas implemented immediately and make everyone feel at home in this homeland of ours.
Credit: title image sourced from http://www.therudeneighbors.com.