Just as the Torah portion recalls the sin of the 12 spies, here’s 12 good things about living in Israel. This week, Jews read the Torah portion Shelach Lecha, which recalls the sin of the spies. These were the 12 men that Moses sent to scout out the Land of Israel before entering. When they returned, their reports were distorted and negative and caused a 40 year delay before the children of Israel could enter their land.
Today, despite the challenges that come with living in Israel, we – who have decided to make Israel our home – are witness to all that is good and special about living here. We’re able to have influence and be a part of Jewish history and not merely a spectator. To ‘rectify’ the sins of the ancient spies – and modern day spies – this message serves to shed light on just a bit of the good of life in Israel.
Just as the Torah portion recalls the sin of the 12 spies, I’d like to share 12 good things about living in Israel. Too often, the positive side of Israel ‘beyond the conflict’ is obscured.
12. The entire Jewish world focuses on us. When Jews around the world pray for dew, rain, or peace, it is not for weather in America or peace in Zimbabwe – but rather in the land of Israel. When you pray for peace, it is for peace in Israel and Jerusalem – my home. When Jews celebrate Jerusalem Day or the three pilgrimage festivals (Passover, Sukkot, and Shavuot), they focus on the city I live in.
11. Safety. Despite fear mongering or the misrepresentation of the news, Israel is a safe country. I feel much safer walking the streets of Jerusalem at one in the morning than I feel in Washington, DC even in the middle of the afternoon. Random acts of violence are very rare in Israel. In addition, in Israel, we live long lives. The life expectancy for an Israeli man is 77.44 years and 81.85 years for a woman but in America, it is shorter – American men live over two years less (75.15) and women a year less (80.97).
10. Innovation and ingenuity – Israel ranks third in ingenuity in the world, second in quality of university education, and first in R&D investment. Only the US has more start ups in the world – yet Israel is only a fraction of the population. But, what does that mean in reality? It is an Israeli-developed processor that powers your computer, Israeli technology makes your small speakers give quality sound, it is Israelis that invented voice mail, Israeli doctors that find cures to diseases – Michael J. Fox is looking to Israel for a cure to Parkinson’s disease. When Warren Buffet looks for a good investment outside of America, he looks to Israel. These are my countrymen that are improving the world.
9. Israel is real – The Talmud says that mitzvoth (commandments) performed outside of Israel are just for practice for when the Jewish people return to Israel. Today, when I put on tefillin, or say a prayer, I know it’s for real – and God is a local call. Life isn’t just about catching the next dollar or empty meaningless lives. In Israel, it’s about making the world a better place, it’s about being a part of Jewish history and not just a spectator. It’s about LIVING LIFE. I don’t need to scuba dive or bungee jump to feel alive. I can do that every day in Israel.
8. Great food and wine – It’s not Manischevitz here! – Israeli wineries make some of the best wine in the world (Domaine du Castel – praised even by the French, and the one thing they know is wine – and Golan Heights Winery, for example). Restaurants from around the world – Mexican, Chinese, Thai, American, Italian, Brazilian, and Japanese, among others – make some of the tastiest food in the world. Even better – most of it is kosher!
7. It’s my history – Not someone else’s history, Israel’s holidays are my holidays and Israel’s history is my history. Whether it’s King David settling Jerusalem, the sights in which Biblical events took place, or modern Zionism and the building of the State of Israel, it’s the history of my ancestors. The founding of Tel Aviv? It was my family who was doing the building. When the American founders were reading the Bible for inspiration, they were trying to duplicate my people – not the other way around. When the president wishes the country a happy holidays, or when the supermarket cashier does, it’s my holidays. No December dilemma for me! And that means more vacation days as Jewish holidays are national holidays here.
8. A caring community ‘ ‘How are you doing?’ isn’t just a formality. In Israel, whether it’s the man or woman on the street, or the supermarket cashier, the people care how you are. It’s not cold, impersonal living.
7. Kosher food courts in the mall. Kosher restaurants in the street. – Business lunch? No problem!
6. The fulfillment of Biblical prophesy – When a bride and groom get married in Israel, it’s a fulfillment of the words of Jeremiah. When Jews from all over the world – Ethiopia, North Africa, Europe, America, and the four corners of the globe – live in one area, it’s Kibbutz Galuyot – the ingathering of the exiles we pray for in our daily prayers and mentioned numerous times in the Bible is happening every day here.
5. A country that mourns together, a country that celebrates together – Memorial Day isn’t an excuse for a long weekend, a trip to the mall, or a barbeque. Rather, an entire country comes together to remember those who died so we can be a free nation in our land. Independence Day isn’t just an excuse for a barbeque (although it is the national pastime on this day) but a day to celebrate together as one nation. We don’t watch the fireworks on TV in our own homes, but in our streets and neighborhoods as a country.
4. 180 miles of beach – Who needs an expensive Mediterranean vacation? We are that vacation! On the shores of the Med, Israeli beaches are world class. There’s no place in the world quite like the Dead Sea. Who needs an expensive vacation? Just take a day off and go to Tel Aviv or Netanya or Eilat. The world’s best scenery and beaches. And, above all – no jetlag!
3. The language of the Bible and the Jewish people is our everyday language – Atem medebrim Ivrit? Ani medeber Ivrit. No need for translations – this is the original. Israeli children speak the same language as Abraham and Moses. The language of the bank, of the court, and, yes, of the criminal is the language of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. Who needs translation? Here, it’s the original! Shalom!
2. It’s the fulfillment of a 2,000-year old dream. Who says dreams don’t come true? Ever since being exiled from our land, the Jewish people have prayed to return. Ever since losing sovereignty thousands of years ago, we have prayed for its restoration. Every day, every moment, every Jewish event has contained a dream to return to the land of Israel under Jewish rule. In the Grace after Meals, we prayed for an end to exile. For thousands of years, being in exile was not a choice. In 1948, being an exile became a choice. In 2004, my exile ended and I chose to be a free person in my land.
While our ancestors were mourning Jerusalem, today, I can celebrate Jerusalem at home, under a Jewish and democratic government, as a sovereign person in my land.
1. It’s home. ONLY in Israel are the words of Hatikvah true. Lihiyot am chofshi b’Artezenu – To be a free people in our land only happens in Israel.
Home may not always be fun, but it’s always home! And, as Dorothy says in the Wizard of Oz, ‘there’s no place like home.’