Disclaimer: Please understand the intentions while creating the example profiles of the "typical" American vs. the "typical" Israeli used in the following post. Obviously, this doesn't apply to everyone...just to the "majority" of the groups in the comparison.
"The truth is, if Israel were to put down its arms tomorrow, there would be no more Israel. If the Arabs were to put down their arms tomorrow, there would be no more war" -Benjamin Netanyahu
If you were to simply place a picture of an average young adult American and an average young adult Israeli side by side, besides the abundance of facial hair on the darker skinned Middle Easterner, there isn't a whole lot of difference. Send the American to the beach for a few days to pick up some color, plus a bottle of Rogaine, and they might just become brothers. But seriously though, it's once you make it past that superficial outer shell where the real differences become strikingly apparent. How they grew up, the environment they grew up in, and the paths that they follow after graduating from high school are just on completely opposite ends of the spectrum. And this is exactly what we will explore for the next few minutes.
Growing up in Israel is the farthest thing from the "American Normal". From a very young age, people are exposed to violence, terror, the army, and a host of other issues. This stuff isn't on TV. It's not in some movie. It's far from being on the other side of a massive country. It's stuff happening in people's backyards, at their favorite markets, as well as in the skies over their neighborhoods. Can you imagine sitting in school or your favorite restaurant, then all of a sudden you've got just seconds to run to the closest bomb shelter? Honestly my, and most Americans, closest experience to something like this, would be a tornado drill...and I'm sorry but there just not even in the same arena.
But unquestionably, the biggest influence on Israelis growing up has to be the fast-approaching requirement to serve their military in defending the countries borders. Their whole life leading up to the age of 18 or so, is scattered with different events related to this upcoming commitment. Maybe their cousin just drafted to a special unit, or their uncle is a general, or a member of the family or a close family friend (many times more than just one) lost their life in a past conflict. Many attend preparatory and combat fitness programs in order to strengthen themselves before. Their schools and communities are constantly holding army related events to help these kids decide in which direction (in the army) they would like to go. As you can clearly tell though, the environment is just soooooo different from the growing up years as an American. For Israelis, it's all about what unit you're shooting for and how much you're willing to sacrifice to protect your friends, family, and country. As an American, it's about which college you got into and what you'll begin studying. You're not thinking about how you can contribute best to your nation or how you can prepare yourself mentally and physically for some of the most trying years of your life. It's just...a different mindset...a COMPLETELY different mindset.
So where these two paths really begin to fork is at the age of 18. This is the time the Israeli actually drafts to a combat unit, and the American begins their college career. One shows up to an army base, and the other shows up to a college campus. One gets to dress in style while the other gets thrown in 30-year-old green pants and a shirt. One is thinking about how they might "survive'' their first semester. The other is thinking about how to survive a deadly conflict in Gaza or Lebanon. One is told this is their time to express themselves and enjoy the college lifestyle while the other is put in a line and told to shut the fuck up. Clearly, the process has started and this is what truly begins to separate the two cultures. These are the two very different lives of a young adult Israeli Vs. a young adult American.
These intimate comparisons are endless and could continue to build a clearer picture in your mind I'm sure. But that's not the main point. The main point is just to understand how different these two worlds are. The Israeli has begun an intense and potentially life threatening journey with one of the most reputable armies on the planet. The American has also begun a unique and memorable journey, but with a likely focus on getting done what needs to get done so they can show up to the next frat party on Thursday night. These two journeys mold a completely different perspective and build wildly different human beings. Imagine comparing the shitty days of an IDF soldier vs. an American college kid. Hahahah what comparison...?
So what does this mean? It means that there is a definitive reason why Israelis are so much more mature and grounded. Don't be fooled, Israelis still like to party. And they still get caught up with a lot of the BS everyone else does on a daily basis. But big picture, the army experience influences them so heavily in all aspects of life. It's something that can't exactly be measured or described perfectly. There's just the feeling. And it's also not to say that the "American College" journey isn't admirable and worthy. It gives and teaches different things for sure. But another question remains, which one is more valuable to shape these young adults for life?
To be continued...