“So what’s the better country, Canada or Israel?”

This question, posed to me recently by a hotel front desk clerk, left me shocked and unable to respond. Shocked, not from the question, but rather from my inability  to  respond instantly in favour of either of the two countries. And  this as a native born Canadian, visiting Israel on his tenth trip.

As a polite tourist I could have easily responded by saying ” Israel of course”. But, such a subterfuge was not the Israeli way. Neither could I bring myself to state categorically ” Most definitely Canada. ”

” I’m not sure. I’ll have to think about it and get back to you. ” was the somewhat lame reply I gave.

And think about it I did, over the course of the next five weeks.  At times I wished he had never asked the question. That those words had never been uttered in the first place.

 ” What was there to think about ? ”  I wondered.  Repeatedly I had told all my friends that Israel was the most amazing country and that I was filled with emotional awe and pride on each of my trips. Lately my trips had become twice yearly.

However Canada was the land of my birth, home to my children and grandchildren. With a proven track record of positive involvement in the world’s conflict zones, the land of the maple leaf is a destination of choice for many around the world seeking a new and better life.

If the question had been raised relative to any another country, say France or Italy, it could have been easily answered.Eretz Israel is the promised land and home of the Jewish people ! Canada is not even 150 years old. As the world’s second largest country it shares the world’s longest undefended border with the United States. Israel in turn has barely known a minute’s peace. Israel spends an inordinate amount of it’s annual budget on defence. Canada spends millions on road salt and snow removal !

We have water and trees in abundance. Israel has had to plant most of her forests and seek ways to recover the water she needs. Israel is home to the Technion and the Weizmann Institute. Canada has the National Research Council and is home to the Blackberry. Ottawa, Canada’s capital, has the Arboratum within our Experimental Farm. Israel has the Jerusalem Botanical Garden.

Visions of pluses and minuses arranged in columns flashed before my eyes. These in turn would lead to weighting factors and ultimately this whole scheme could devolve into quadratic equations ! This later prospect shook me out of my mental balancing act.

I was beginning to see the merits of dual citizenships ! Conversely, this made me aware of the mental anguish refugees must feel as they think about their former homeland from the safety of a new country of refuge.

How was one to decide ? Could one even decide what was important ? GDP ? Affordable housing ? Health care ? How did economists and sociologists decide ?

In the end I decided that public libraries and municipal swimming pools were a  yardstick I could use. Ottawa, the capital of Canada, is roughly the same size as Jerusalem. They have similar population sizes.

There are 33 branches of The City of Ottawa Public Library system in which one can read a book, magazine or newspaper. Computers are available to reach the internet. Clients can borrow adult and childrens’ books, dvd’s and cd’s. This figure does not include all the other Federal, organizational, educational, University, religious and private libraries which are also located in the nation’s capital.

Similarly Ottawa has 18 Civic indoor swmming pool/sports complexes. There are a further 9 outdoor ones. Once again this figure does not include the pools found in hotels, private organizations (JCC), golf and country clubs and commercial athletic facilities. To say nothing of the summer beaches to be found on the city’s riverbanks.

How do Jerusalem’s library and pool statistics compare ?

However, would their absence be important should I find myself living in Jerusalem where other more important things such as Synagogues, classes, lectures, concerts and archaeological sites are to be found in much greater variety than exist in Canada ?

As my holiday was nearing its end I approached my friend at the front desk one afternoon and announced in a firm voice ” In answer to your question I’ve decided it’s Canada, I think “.

Hardly conclusive, but at least I was able to reply in an intellectually honest manner that would permit me to live with my conscience.
However, I still ponder this question from time to time and have noted that it informs my assessment of events as they occur both in Israel and here in Canada to this day.