When I was seven months pregnant, my husband and I took the bus to Shilav, one of Israel’s premiere baby stores. Armed with “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” and my American brother and sister-in-law’s recommendations, we knew exactly what we needed. But, as it turned out, our saleswoman Racheli knew better than everyone.
With four kids of her own and a few grandchildren, Racheli asserted her expertise while whisking us through the store. When we wondered aloud if we really needed the most expensive mattress, Racheli piled on the Jewish guilt. When we thought we could live without the French baby bath, Racheli clucked her tongue. But when we asked where we could find a bookcase to complete our baby’s furniture set, Racheli raised her eyebrow.
“Why do you need that?” she asked. “Babies can’t read!”
In the land of milk and babies, this was the first of many times that our American sensibilities would clash with Israeli baby standards. From prepping for our little boy to introducing him to the world, here are five Israeli conventions that shocked this American mom while preparing for a baby in Israel.
1. Infants should constantly be lying flat
Choosing a stroller proved to be as intense a process as opening up a bank account in Israel. Living in a Tel Aviv walk-up apartment, we knew we needed something light. But purchasing the City Mini was only the first step. Next: Should we get a bassinet for our infant or a car seat that snaps in? In the US, the car seat reigns, but in Israel, you’ll get scolded if your baby isn’t lying flat.
In fact, during a later trip to Shilav, I was holding my baby in a sitting position on my lap, when the salesperson paused, looking extremely disturbed. “I’m sorry to interrupt you, but I really must say something,” she said. “Your infant should never be seated like that.”
2. Babies should be bundled up
In America, the rule is to dress your baby as you dress yourself. But in the balmy Mediterranean winter, parents are urged to clothe their babies in an additional layer. This meant that while I wore a cardigan and jeans, my baby was in an undershirt, cotton onesie, a furry outerwear onesie, and a woolen hat. I felt suffocated just looking at him.
Yet, our Israeli doctor’s orders were apparently not universally accepted in Israel. While walking up Tel Aviv’s Ben Yehuda Street, a Russian woman admonished me. “Your baby is overheating! Take off his hat and his socks.” Was she a nurse? No idea. But I wasn’t alone in preferring American baby-dressing standards.
3. Crib standards are from the 1980s
After selecting the best crib set from Shilav, our favorite saleswoman, Racheli, was horrified when we proceeded to put only two fitted sheets in our cart. “What about bumpers and a blanket?” she cried. “Your baby is going to freeze!”
With few exceptions, Israeli stores sell drop-side cribs. But the cribs are picture perfect, decked out in fluffy comforters and colorful bumpers. You won’t find one of those depressing images of a baby lying in a straight jacket—I mean, sleep sack—in the center of a massive crib. Even in the hospital, our little baby was wrapped in a bulky blanket. Each time I returned him to the nursery, my heart lurched. I could not believe I was colluding with the hospital to commit this cardinal sin. Of course, he looked nothing less than serene.
4. Babies aren’t measured for a whole month
I delivered via planned C-section and only met my beautiful boy six hours later. My husband was the first family member to hold our baby, and he watched the nurses administer all of the initial tests and medications. But, for some reason, he couldn’t recall our baby’s length. And it wasn’t written on any of his documents either. So, when family and friends asked his weight, we had an answer. How many inches was he? Awkward silence.
Turns out, Israelis don’t measure babies in the hospital because they don’t want to stretch their legs. Instead, they do so a month later during the first Well-Baby Clinic appointment.
5. It’s incredibly hard to book a mohel
With a scheduled C-section in the Jewish State, we thought it would be a cinch to find a mohel—even one who was a doctor, too. Turns out that if you want a mohel who will come to Tel Aviv, will perform at a Conservative synagogue, and doesn’t do metzizah b’peh—placing one’s mouth directly on the circumcision wound to draw blood away from the cut—you’d better start researching months in advance. We contacted eight mohels before we found one that said he fit the bill—all for the price of $700. As we learned, being a mohel is the most lucrative profession in Israel.
Two months in, I’m getting used to the constant advice from strangers everywhere I go—from the supermarket to Rothschild Blvd. And I’m even taking some of it, depending on my mood.