To take a vacation to an exotic location is always exciting, but spending four months in Israel gave me a new perspective on nearly every aspect of daily life. With politics, religion, and high levels of military presence - the whole atmosphere of this country made me feel foreign and included at the same time. While there were many obvious differences, I was especially intrigued by a small changes that I encountered early on.
The first big culture shock that I encountered was at the end of the first day. As all people need to do, I had to use the bathroom. When I had finished my business I searched for toilet paper and found a rectangle box that dispensed toilet tissue in about three by six inch pieces. At the time, I did not think too much of it.
My curiosity intensified during our first תיול(Tee-yool/ trip). After no more than an hour of hiking from our dorms, we were already engulfed in an ancient terrace farm. Staring down 50 rows of empty space where the past years harvest stood, we sat to catch our breath.
With this amazing landscape so close to our living quarters, the magnitude of the distance I have traveled hit me all at once. The signs written in another language, the aura of the community, and everything else we had experienced in less then a day of being this country all hit at once. I felt as if I had been here forever, yet I was a stranger all the same.
During this down time our מדריך(ma-dree-k/ counselor) pulled out a roll of toilet paper and tore a piece to blow her nose. Confused as to why she used toilet paper as tissues and the opposite was used in our bathroom, I asked if they had a reason. The explanation I received came as a surprise to me, as well as to my peers.
The reason she carried a roll of toilet paper for tissues was just common practice. The reason for the tissues in the bathroom had a religious aspect. The custom is on שבת(Shabbat/Saturday) Jews are not supposed to do any work or labor, such as tearing toilet paper. This minor aspect of daily life had been changed for religious customs. With Judaism being the major religion and intertwined with law, daily life is visibly different than at home.
Coming into this trip we expected to learn a lot, but our first big shock coming from the topic of toilet paper came as a surprise to everybody. This little religious influence left us scrambling to question everything we saw, and changed our entire experience. The little topic of toilet paper, made the biggest difference.