When actress Noga Milstein, 32, first moved here from Israel, she lost a fair share of good men to cultural misunderstanding. “This one time, a guy I was seeing texted me that he got delayed at work, and could we maybe reschedule our date for sometime later this week,” Milstein told The Jewish Week in a recent phone interview.
Rescheduling wasn’t a problem, but translated from Hebrew, the mild, semi-official tone of the message read like disinterest. “I’m looking at my phone and all I feel is rejection … so I answered ‘No.’ That was the end of that relationship.”
Milstein is the writer, producer and co-star of “Next Stop,” a new comedy about Israelis adjusting to the dating scene in New York. The show runs on select dates through April 14 at the Broadway Comedy Club (53rd Street and Eighth Avenue, nextstoptheshow.com).
“Next Stop” describes the assimilation process of two Israelis-turned-New Yorkers, Maya (played by Noga Milstein) and Chazan (Ben Perry). Maya, who has been in the city for three years, signs up to a dating site in search of a savvy, American-born urbanite for a partner — “Like Mr. Big, from ‘Sex in the City,’” said Milstein. Chazan, fresh off the boat and Israeli to a fault, is looking for a Jewish woman to show him the ropes — and maybe help with his immigration status, if things work out. The two like each other in writing, but are dismayed to discover, once they meet in person, that they are both Israelis. They part in a huff and meet again only a year later, after life in the city has altered them both.
Meanwhile, the comedy follows their separate trajectories as they navigate through — or more often, crash into — every cultural barrier an Israeli transplant here must overcome.
Manners, for instance. A notoriously sore point for Israelis, Chazan demonstrates just how mystifying American etiquette is to him when he tries to win over a dithering American date by setting a clear ultimatum. “No, no, no. You don’t understand,” he cuts her off mid-sentence. “Where I come from, there is no ‘patience.’ You have to go to bed right away. Otherwise, Boom! [it’s over].”
Another big issue is the difference in pacing. Israelis generally seek to set up a date immediately; the “getting to know you” phase comes after they determine if they indeed want to get to know you. Not so with Americans. When the characters of Maya and Chazan first meet on the website, not knowing that either is Israeli, Maya tells the audience, “I couldn’t wait for him to ask me out, but those Americans take forever.” Chazan, believing Maya to be an American, says, “I wanted to ask her out, but my friend told me that in New York, if you want to get a date, you need to text a girl for at least a week.”
Besides dating, the show satirizes other assimilation glitches, from figuring out Starbucks’ very particular language to complying with practically any type of official procedure — another sore point for Israelis. “In Israel you yell at a sales rep on the phone for a minute and you get what you want,” Milstein complains. “Here, to work in a summer camp for kids, you have to fill out a 10-page application online, a foreign person form, be examined by a doctor and then — then you have to go [to be vetted by] the police!” Milstein is honestly appalled by this.
Even the mixture of luck and determination through which the show came together has a quintessentially Israeli feel to it. The executive producer of “Next Stop” is the Israeli Academy Award-winning actress Mili Avital; Milstein met her teaching her son Hebrew “for like a second.”