Waiting in the supermarket line, strangers share cheesecake recipes.Here are some of the reasons I love Israel, in no particular order: The clock radio rouses me with “Shema Yisrael,” the Jewish pledge of allegiance, and the weather is nearly always fine. On Memorial Day and Holocaust Remembrance Day, the act of remembering halts traffic. The Israel Prize recognizes lifetime achievement for actresses and rabbis, scientists and singers.
Mother’s Day is celebrated on the yahrzeit of Henrietta Szold, who organized Youth Aliya with Recha but who had no children of her own. All citizens have health care, and the fight is on to get coverage for foreign residents. If my car overheats, even men in designer suits will leap to help me.
Twenty-five percent of Israelis have been close enough to hear a bombing, yet two million of us were out vacationing on Pessah. That’s resilience. An evening of singing is still a popular grown-up pastime. Entire families show up for military graduations and bring enough food to feed an army.
A circumcision ceremony, brit mila, is important enough to take an hour off from work. Israelis give out their cell phone numbers – the difference between our private and professional lives isn’t neatly delineated. Supermarkets deliver. We have more IVF per capita than anywhere because we love children.
Our beggars are courageous; they solicit on even the highest-risk street corners. Nearly every family story includes persecution, battle experience, and the upheaval of uprooting – yet Israelis are optimists.
Street musicians are good enough to play in chamber orchestras. Despite the stress, creativity flourishes; Israel has more start-up companies than any country outside the US. We’re talkative – voice mail was invented here. We get excited about cyclamens, almond blossoms, and drive far to see budding Lupins (tormosim).
On Friday, religious or not, everyone is hurrying towards Shabbat. Check out the bakery lines. Aliya stories can make the evening news.
We celebrate Independence Day by holding a Bible contest. The fastest food is still falafel with its incomparable aroma. Blue and white flags fly from cars and buildings. “Where were your grandparents from?” is a common question. Where else would anyone care about my grandparents? You don’t have to be best friends or kin to be invited to a wedding.
You don’t have to be best friends or kin to attend a funeral. By the number of scientific papers published (more per capita than any other country), you’d think researchers were in ivory towers. Most do hands-on works, and many serve reserve duty.
First graders read the Bible in the original Hebrew, and celebrate when they get their personal copies. Humous is ubiquitous. Political discussions never stop, not even in the swimming pool.
We follow the level of the Kinneret more faithfully than we do our stock portfolios. Even soldiers carrying heavy M-16’s will stop to help a parent with a stroller. Streets bear names of prophets and medieval poets. Calendars change on Rosh Hashana because that’s our real New Year. Malls have kosher food courts.
Airplanes have sky marshals, just in case. We have more museums per capita than Italy. We raise cows in the desert with yields like those in Holland. Before Pessah, cleaning products are the lead supermarket items.
Even in our prisons, Pessah – the holiday of freedom – is celebrated with a Seder. We have only one Seder; but Purim, our dress-up holiday, lasts three days. In Jerusalem, it’s hard to tell who’s in costume and who isn’t.
A new garment or a new haircut elicits a salutation, something between “wear it well” and “enjoy its newness.” Israel is the first to offer help and send rescue teams to countries coping with disaster. Israel sent medical staff to care for our people home after the terror attack in Mombasa and then Israeli fighter jets guided the plane home.
For all the talk about the greening of the planet, we’re the only country in the world that started the 21st century with a net gain of trees. (Thank you, JNF!)
And, number 49: Israel has the highest concentration of hi-tech companies except for Silicon Valley, and also the most yeshivot. After a calamity, police have trouble keeping bystanders away who want to help. The question “What would you like to drink?” instead of “Would you like a drink?” is a measure of hospitality. Waiting in the supermarket check-out line, strangers share cheesecake recipes. Plain folk know the most obscure languages.
Tel Aviv rose from a sand dune and looks glorious. The time of the Saturday evening news is adjusted to suit Shabbat observers. My children and grandchildren can be born in the land of my ancestors.
(Originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post)