Reviewed by Dr. George Simons at diversophy.com
Several years ago, I was hired by an Israeli company to do a cross-cultural workshop for managers of a US Philadelphia organization that it had acquired. Basically, as it was explained to me, the US personnel were terrified at the prospect of continuing to deal with the Israelis whom they labeled as "tank commanders", in your face, demanding, argumentative. Given that, I did my best to acquaint my participants with Israeli values and behaviors such as the specific form of directness known as dugri that were a part of everyday life. The soft-spoken managers from the City of Brotherly Love were utterly amazed that the Israelis could mix it up, shout at each other, and then linger over a pleasant coffee together at meeting’s end. Both my participants and I would've benefited greatly had this handbook been available.
While the author is careful to warn us that the so called “cultural characteristics” of any group are lived out in various ways and to different degrees by its members, they still remain good starting points and can often help to explain mismatches that are likely to occur as we attempt to become familiar with and collaborate with each other. Lautman makes this clear and easy, by labeling and discussing dominant Israeli characteristics, using the word ISRAELI as an acronym. Each letter stands for a particular cultural perspective and the behaviors associated with it, as they commonly appear in the encounters of outsiders with Israelis. She does an excellent job of showing how these various characteristics are intertwined with each other.
The characteristics are not only explained, but particularly valuable are the author’s enjoined tips for managing situations in which these characteristics seem baffling or disruptive, tips about what to expect and how to react in an appropriate manner when they emerge. One feature that I particularly liked, not usually found in books of this nature, was that the author provided perceptual and behavioral tips for Israelis as well as outsiders. After all, intercultural encounters are a two-way street. The author does not hesitate (in Israeli fashion?) to tell it straight for potential homeland readers. No one on either side is blamed for their culture, but rather all are made aware of what is useful and what is not when encountering each other and alerted to simple changes that can alleviate friction.
There are certain reasons why cultures develop as they do. These emerge when we discuss each other's histories and stories. Some Israeli characteristics, for example, seem to harken centuries back to Talmudic debating style, while others are the product of more contemporary narratives. In the case of Israel, certainly an important one of these is the acculturation challenge faced by a very diverse Jewish Diaspora immigrating in a relatively short period of time to a new homeland. The author also notes the paucity of vocabulary in the modernized Hebrew tongue, a feature that makes nuance difficult. This, in turn, is reflected in the brief and direct use of English as a second language, English being so necessary for a country whose cultural familiars and trading partners are not its immediate geographical neighbors but in the global marketplace.
While most of us are familiar with the frightening dynamics of Middle East politics and conflicts, we are likely to be ignorant of the inner workings and products and accomplishments of the tiny state of Israel. Lautman offers us bits and pieces of this in brief biographies of successful Israelis as well as making us aware of the creativity found in the important inventions and technical contributions of Israeli genius.
The book is written simple, easy-to-read language and offers useful illustrations, making it both a pleasure to peruse and accessible to second-language speakers.
Osnat Lautman, 2nd edition (2018), ISBN-10: 9789659250400, ISBN-13: 978-9659250400