On the eve of Israel’s 69th birthday, I thought about compiling a list of 69 things I love about Israel, but I’m fairly sure that’s been done already, and that there isn’t time to read all the way o the end, since you should be out celebrating. It’s also fairly obvious that Israel is great because of its technological advancements and its democratic contributions to the Middle East, so there’s no need to delve into those right now.
Since it’s 2017, I thought maybe I could limit my list to only 17 everyday things I love about Israel – personal reasons, things so many people take for granted or may not even be aware of if they haven’t seen it for themselves. (A few years ago, on the 10th anniversary of our aliyah, I had a totally different list, just proving the point that there are so many things to love!) I’d love to hear what you think makes our small country great.
1 – Socialized medicine. Our son has had 5 surgeries in the past 6 years, and we’ve paid about $60 for each one. And gotten excellent care.
2 – Fresh bread every day. The bread here may get moldy after a day or two because there are no preservatives, but it (almost) doesn’t matter because it’s super fresh. EVERY MORNING. So you can eat it quickly and then buy a new one.
3 – The view. When I look out my windows, I see rolling hills and lush green mountains, and sunsets which just don’t seem to exist in suburban New York.
4 – Field trips to Jewish historical places. A class trip to the Liberty Bell can’t really compare with a trip to Ma’arat Hamachpela. Both may be historical, but only one is OUR history.
5 – The relatively cheap price of vegetables. Salad dressing may cost double the price here than it does in other countries, but the vegetables themselves are much cheaper (and tastier too!). Maybe that’s why we have less obesity than other developed nations?
6 – 4 year-olds who go the park by themselves. If that happened in the US, the parents would get arrested. But I’ve got to admit, it’s pretty liberating.
7 – Daily minyanim on trains – with Torah reading. You haven’t seen the best of Israeli society until you’ve the eclectic mix of people joining the daily prayer group on the morning train. Soldiers, men without kippot and ultra-Orthodox men all praying together without judgment or fighting. Don’t believe the papers – peace within the Jewish people IS possible!
8 - Having only one seder. No explanation necessary.
9 – Birkat Kohanim. The priestly blessing takes up about 10 pages in the Artscroll machzor because it’s an uncommon event outside of Israel and there are lots of explanations and supplements that people say during the prayer, which is recited solely on holidays. In Israel, it’s recited every day, which is pretty cool, if you ask me.
10 – Hitchhiking as the norm. It’s pretty ironic that traveling on public transportation is often more dangerous than taking a hitchhike (aka “tremp”) with a random stranger. But the truth is, hitchhiking is an innate part of Israeli culture, and it’s awesome that people are so willing to help each other out.
11 – Memorial Day that means something to EVERYONE. Our young country has been around for 69 years, or roughly 25,185 days. Today we are remembering 23,544 people who fell in service of our nation, which means that we’ve lost someone for nearly every day of our existence. In this small country, each loss is a deep wound that will never be fully repaired. I hope that this number never increases, and that we, those living in Israel today, can properly live the dream so many have given their lives for.
12 – Multi-culturalism at its finest. I absolutely love working with a diverse group of Jews, Druze and Christians; native Israelis as well as people from Russia, England, Israel, Sweden, the United States and Germany who all made their way here for similar reasons – because no matter what their religious views are, Israel is home.
13 – Holiday items on sale, not just for sale. There’s no question that you can get Jewish food worldwide in advance of holidays, but in most places holiday items are sold at a premium rather than at a discount. For example, I just paid 1 shekel (27 cents) for a bag of marshmallows today – the item wasn’t just for sale, they were practically giving it away!
14 – Donkeys as a means of transportation. There are few things that I enjoy as much as seeing a donkey being ridden on the side of the highway. Except perhaps a flock of sheep, which is also fairly common in these parts. I absolutely love the fact that even in a highly-modernized society people are still using donkeys as a way to get around.
15 – Pango. Granted, I don’t get out all that often, but when I do, I never have money in my wallet, so paying for parking with an app that doesn’t require coins is a lifesaver. Getting reminders and being able to renew without actually going to your car is pure genius. (They may have this in other countries, but they definitely don’t have it where I hail from, which is the only place I ever drive besides Israel).
16 – Paid maternity (and paternity) leave. I know this is a given in most socialized countries, but since I don’t come from one of those, I can appreciate paid maternity leave deeply. If only President Trump paid his taxes properly, the U.S. could probably afford to implement this basic service…
17 – Chocolate milk in bags. It’s the questionably “healthier” equivalent to Capri Sun. Fun for kids and adults, and refreshing at all times.