There are many things that make Israel a wonderful place to live. It isn’t just the beautiful beaches, the sense of history all around you, the pace of life(in 2 paces-either agonizingly slow or way too fast) and the knowledge that by doing the slightest thing, like shopping at a small, family owned store, you are helping the country to thrive as well as encouraging entrepreneurship, even at a tiny, local level.

I love meeting and speaking with the girls at the coffee shop in the mall.

They are pleasant and sometimes when I’m there real early in the morning, before the place gets busy, we sit together and they tell me about their families, the time they spent in the IDF, and we just sit like old friends, and they are both younger than my kids, but they call me “Saba Amerika’i” “American Grandfather.”

The guys who work in the bakery, even though I don’t always stop in (cause I really have to drop some weight and chocolate cake and fresh baked bread are my deadly enemies) wave hello, come over for a few minutes to talk, tell me a joke, or, when my wife isn’t around, sneak me a cookie.

Today, my wife and I met a friend from Canada whom we got acquainted with over Facebook, a gentleman from Montreal who is here visiting his son and grandchildren. Now, I only know this terrific guy from the computer, but I told him to call me when he is here and we could get together for a coffee. We met at a cafe on Ben Yehudah in Jerusalem this morning. My wife joined us after braving the fierce crowds of last minute shoppers in the Mahaneh Yehudah market and we spent a couple of hours talking, eating and laughing like we had known each other all our lives.

You want to know what makes Israel special? It’s the people, the feeling that everyone is a neighbor, that we all share something in common that goes deeper, even deeper than the faith we all share It’s the secret of our survival in this tiny, troubled Jewish country. We’re all in the same rickety boat, trying to stay afloat while the waves crash against the sides of our small craft and the sharks are circling around waiting to devour us when the boat goes down.

Is it a fearful thing? No. If anything Israelis are the most optimistic people in the world because everyday our flag flies, everyday our kids can play freely under the sunshine, everyday old people can sit in the park and read their newspapers, play backgammon, or just sit and kvetch, is a testament to our inner strength and courage.

How else could we live here with missiles to the north and south of us, enemies still threatening to slit our throats and a potential existential threat less then the distance from New York City to Chicago.

Yes, we take a lot of pride in our brave men and women in the Israel Defense Forces, all the branches of that heroic and gallant service. It fills me with pride and pain, pride that Jews will fight for their right to live and pain that our young boys and girls spend 2 or 3 years of their lives when they should be involved with spending their nights out with friends, not laying on the ground on a cold night in ambush waiting for the terrorists who come to kill us. But the price of freedom is always paid for in the lifeblood of youth and the tears of family and friends.

Yes, Israel is a very special place, it is the land where my people were born and it is the place where I shall be laid to rest. Until that day comes, it is my heart, my soul, my home.

Shabbat Shalom from Ma’aleh Adumim in liberated Israeli Yehudah, guarding the eastern approaches to Jerusalem, the eternal, united and indivisible capital of the Jewish people.