The other day I was driving in the industrial zone of Givat Shaul, in Jerusalem. It was boiling hot and everyone on the street looked bothered. Then came a major traffic jam. A huge delivery truck, it had appeared, stopped in the middle of the road and the driver got out of the vehicle. To the tune of a hundred honking horns, it felled like the entire nation of Israel, including myself, expressed their anger in harmony. Then I saw it. The driver escorting a blind man across the street. Once done, he got back in the vehicle and got on his way.
As the year ends here in Israel, the question begs: who are we in Israel?
Are we the divided, politically obsessed, corrupt, “never agree on anything,” poisoning-Facebook- post-type of people, that the tabloids in Israel love to remind us daily? (Never mind what the media abroad like to say about us….) Or is there something more to the reality of Israel?? Who am I to say, as everyone sees it differently facing their own reality.
What I do know is that for the past 2 years I have been interviewing and collecting accounts of people in Israel for a book I recently published called United Nation, exploring the humanitarian story of Israel, in a collection of over 40 stories about Israelis working toward Tikun Olam or “Improving Global Humanity.” The conclusion of the book for me tells a narrative which I strongly believe is lacking from the national discussion and needs to be told. I discovered that in a place where the value of life is often portrayed to be most lacking, in fact is the one place where it is most prevalent.
I learned that Israel has over 32,000 charitable organizations, more than any other country per-capita in the world and assisting in every sector possible from medicine, healthcare, Disabilities, education, poverty, immigration, coexistence, environment, animal protection and on and on. In addition, some of these organizations have volunteers into the hundreds and thousands, showing that beyond three-years of army or national service in the country, the values of contributing toward society permeate the make-up of our people in every part of life. I also learned that since 1958, Israel has always been amongst the first countries to offer international aid following natural and unnatural disasters worldwide and we have sent over 140 official government delegations to areas of need since then. Including recently in Houston, Florida, Italy, Nepal, Japan, Haiti, Kenya, Turkey, New Orleans and so many more.
(Volunteers helping a person with a Disability on a hike. Credit: Etgarim)
I could continue writing pages of articles relating the stories of the book but I guess to prevent that, you can get the book and read them for yourselves. What I do want to do is leave you with two short incidences, that for me capture the essence of the story. Both these events are not connected to charities but rather reflect a hidden reality into the unifying factor that sits at the surface of almost all major events in the country:
In 2015, Annette and Lior Solomon, two young Israelis scheduled their wedding long before Annette’s father passed away suddenly. The couple’s invited guests assumed that Annette would be mourning and that the wedding would be cancelled. So very few guests showed up to celebrate. Facing the empty wedding hall, a relative of the couple, posted the heartbreaking situation on Facebook and to everyone’s surprise, two thousand random people showed up to celebrate the special occasion.
The year before that, during Operation Cast Lead in 2014, Sean Carmeli, a lone soldier from America serving in the Israeli army was tragically killed when his APC was struck by an anti-tank missile, killing him along with 13 other soldiers from his unit. There were concerns that the soldier, who had split his time between Ranaana and his home in Texas, would be laid to rest with few family members and friends attending as there was not enough time for his family to fly to Israel. But when word got out that Sean was a fan of Maccabi Haifa soccer team, fans of the club posted a photo of Carmeli on the team’s Facebook page, asking people to attend the service at the military cemetery in Haifa, in the north of Israel. Over 20,000 people arrived to pay their respects.
I wish you a good, healthy and sweet New Year!