One might think that living in Israel surrounded by existential threats, such as most of the neighbouring regimes imploding into internecine fratricidal conflict, and with the Mullahs of Iran racing towards their self-declared aim of nuclear weapons capability, that the citizens of the Jewish State walk around in a dazed sense of perpetual fear. Whilst all of the preceding facts are grave cause for concern, it does not seem to impact on the day-to-day reality of the citizens of Israel. In fact, most Israelis when asked what the biggest problem is facing Israel, will respond that the economy and internal conflict amongst Jews are their most pressing concerns.
I would like to share some of the unique aspects of daily life here in Israel that continues to make it a very special place for the Jewish people. The following partial list contains a few examples of things of “Only in Israel” moments that I have personally experienced over the past few weeks:
- I went to our local bank on Tisha b’Av only to read the following sign on the door: “This branch is closed due to the destruction of our Holy Temple!”
- I went to the O’Sullivan pub in Modiin with a couple of kippah wearing mates. It looked like a typical Irish pub, but only in Israel will the waitress inform us that the munchies have a certificate of kashrut of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel!
- I was in the Nachalat Binyamin artist market with my kids and wanted to buy a particular clock for our kitchen. The vendour/artist did not have a credit card machine, and I did not have enough cash. She gave me the clock anyway, with her business card, and asked me to post a check later!
- I was in the Rami Levy supermarket last week and was looking for a quite place to daven Mincha. I noticed that there was a synagogue IN the supermarket (next to the drinks in isle one)!
- Finally, I was guiding a group on the Golan Heights a couple of weeks ago and was teaching about the Israeli war-hero of Yemenite ancestry, Avigdor Kahalani. When we returned to the bus I noticed that our bus driver had an uncanny resemblance to him. I asked him about it, and he replied that he was also a Yemenite Israeli and of course he knew Avigdor and they often had barbeques together!
As we were standing on the sight of the “Valley of Tears” on the border with Syria, enjoying the scenery we heard a distant rumbling in the background. One of the American participants asked me what it was. “Oh that,” I replied nonchalantly, “That is the Syrian civil war.” What a surreal moment! A few hundred meters away Syrians are butchering each other in an ongoing civil war, that the world does not seem to care about, and here in Israel, life goes on.
Israel has always been under threat since its establishment. Despite this, our people don’t hunker down in fear. This is because we Jews now, after almost two stateless millennia, have the ability to defend ourselves and be in control of our own destiny! Despite all of our problems and issues, just like, or even more than, any other Democratic country, Israel has made remarkable achievements that it can justifiably be proud of to make the world a better place for all of its inhabitants. In addition we have created a Jewish homeland, with a unique feeling of one big Jewish family that now contains the majority of the Jewish population in the world. Only in Israel!
Sometimes, just seven decades after arguably the greatest tragedy the Jewish people ever suffered, it seems “like a dream” that we have our own state. As Natan Sharansky so eloquently wrote after his release from a Soviet Gulag:
As I travel around this land, which I saw for years in my dreams and prayers, its striking beauty and magnetic power are somehow more compelling than I expected. I find it impossible to comprehend how the variety of the entire world could be compressed into this tiny wedge of earth, with its hills and forests, its plains and deserts, its roaring waterfalls in the north down to the motionless surface of the Dead Sea. And in the center of all this stands Jerusalem, the pinnacle of beauty and spirit, the city of King David which has united our people through these thousands of years.