I was recently asked by an old high school friend to write about my Israel experience for her kid’s elementary school class in Denver, CO.

This is what I wrote:

Hi everyone! Greetings from Israel!

I was asked by Shannon to write a little bit about my experience of living in Israel for your class. I understand you’re learning about our country and you wanted to hear a first hand account of what it’s like here.

First of all I want to thank you and your teacher for taking the time to find out more about Israel. There is much to learn about Israel and the Middle East and I won’t cover nearly everything here, but I’ll do my best to give you small look into my and my familie’s life here.

A little background. My name is Yoav and I was born in Hawaii in 1973. I lived in the United States from age 0-30 except for one year after high school and before college that I lived in Israel.

Back to that one year after I graduated high school. I grew up going to summer camps in the Midwest run by a youth group called Young Judaea. The culmination of Young Judaea was to spend a year in Israel after high school.

In the summer of 1992 I packed my bags to go live and study in Israel, a country I had heard much about but had never experienced first hand.

During that year in Israel I did a lot. I studied about Jewish and Israeli history, I lived and worked on a Kibbutz and a Moshav helping my host family with their banana fields next to the Kinneret. I volunteered to teach new Ethiopian immigrants to Israel English. I traveled the country from North to South and saw many places like the Old City in Jerusalem, Acco, Tsfat, Eilat, Tel Aviv and more. I was even was part of a program with the IDF where we did a sort of shortened version of basic training. At the end of the year I left with many friends and a sense that even though Israel was not anything like the country that I had grown up in, that if I had the chance to make it happen one day I would love to go back and live there.

You see, part of Israel for me is hard to put into words. First of all I am Jewish, and Israel is the only country in the world that is a mostly Jewish country. If I had to describe that feeling to your class I would say being here for me is like being Christian and living in a country where the majority of people are Christian or being Muslim and living in a country where most of the people are that religion. There’s a certain sense of comfort, a sense of belonging and a sense of joint history and understanding.

My dad and his parents, lived through the holocaust after being part of the 25% of Dutch Jews to survive the Nazis. There’s an understanding here that Israel has the Jewish people’s best interest in mind and G-d forbid if there was ever another holocaust, that Israel would be a place that any and all Jews could find safety and security.

In 2004 I moved back to Israel after living in Seattle. I met my wife who is Israeli and got married in 2005. We now have three kids. Karen age 8. Romy age 5 and Eytan who is 5 months old. My kids were all born in Beersheva, Israel in the Negev region of Southern Israel where we’ve lived for the past 10 years.

I like to to say that I love living here. It’s warm enough to wear shorts most of the year, the people here are very warm in a way I haven’t seen in any of my travels to other countries. The economy is doing well. I’ve had the same job in marketing for the past 10 years. Our country is the size of NJ if not smaller so everything is within a day’s drive. No plane rides necessary to see family and friends. The education system and health care is very good and also much more affordable than many other Western countries.

But some times life here can be challenging too. Israel lives in a dangerous neighborhood. We are surrounded by some countries like Egypt and Jordan who we have peace with and others like Syria and Iran who don’t like us at all. We also have many Arabs living in Israel and some of them don’t like us either. Israel is home to around 2 million Arabs that enjoy the same freedoms as Israeli citizens that I do. There are zero Arab/Muslim countries where Jews live in big numbers and enjoy the same security and freedom that the Arabs have here.

Israel is the one country in the The Middle East that, like America, stands for democracy, freedom of religion and the equality of all people. Many of our neighboring countries do not share that vision.

Hezbollah in Syria, Hamas in Gaza and even the PA support violence against Israel which can make our lives difficult.

This summer my family and I lived through our fourth war or military operation in my 10 years of being here.

If you’ve never heard a bomb siren at it’s loudest, seen rockets being shot at your city overhead or heard the explosions there is no way I can put in words what it’s like. The first time I went through it I was scared. Everything was new and I didn’t know what to expect. Now after having had close to 3,000 rockets fired from Gaza at my city of Beersheva alone, I’m sad to say I’m used to it. It’s still not normal to go through a war with people trying to terrorize and kill you, but at least now I know what to expect.

My kids were at home all summer this year. They were supposed to be having fun at camp with their friends, but that got canceled. They should not have to live through wars, but they do. My kids and many Israeli kids are, I’m proud to say smart, happy and healthy. Maybe they’re even stronger for having lived through what they’ve gone through.

The saying I use to hear from my parents when I was growing up was:

“when I was a kid I had to walk to school in the snow, uphill both ways!”

For my kids they can tell their kids:

“when I was a kid I lived through 4 wars and over 3,000 rockets being shot at my city alone!”

Israelis often ask me: “Yoav, you and your kids have American citizenship, what are you doing living here?” By the way most Israelis love America.

My answer to them is that for the times when we have peace, I love living here. When we have war, I know that I am living here for a reason. If someone wants to take something from you know it’s worth fighting for. By living in Israel I’m a part of fighting for this country that I love and support. I could go back to the U.S., but my sense of purpose is not the same there. Here I know who I am and what I stand for.

I founded a non-profit org a few years back called 57seconds to raise awareness of the rockets being shot at civilians in Israel from Gaza. That is something I would not have done living in Seattle.

If your class has any questions for me or my family I’ll do my best to reply.

Wishing you all a peaceful, happy, healthy and successful year ahead!