Here we are again. Another year (though this one has been packed with little annoying Corona viruses). And though I tried, many of this year’s reasons centered around COVID-19 and Israel’s forward-thinking approach to the pandemic. So here we go… my sixth year as an Olah and 73 more reasons to love this little powerhouse of a country.
73. Nothing is better than the delicious nishnushim that customers get to munch on while the restaurant prepares your food (fried eggplant, pickled vegetables, etc.).
72. Only in Corona Israel can you go to the local dog park and also catch Kedusha and duchening from the masked, socially distanced minyan in the adjacent exercise machine park.
71. MasterChef is Israel. The judges are super kind and care about each contestant like they would their own family. They are no stranger to hugs. Chaim Cohen could be your Saba, Aharoni is your fun uncle who loves to travel, Michal is your best friend who knows all the best spots to eat, and Ayal is the poet whose beautiful words we all struggle to understand, even as we figuratively eat them up.70. Galgalatz plays hip songs by Bruno Mars, immediately follows them up with more traditional songs of Jerusalem (both in English), and then shares with you the news in Hebrew – at the top of the hour, of course.
69. You know you’ve become Israeli when someone opens their car door into yours (while you’re sitting in it) and it doesn’t even bother you anymore. Meh, it’s a small country – it happens.
68. In this country, you cannot presume to know who does or does not have money. A guy could wear a ripped t-shirt at the local chumusia, chomping on a shawarma, and wear a Rolex. You just never know.
67. This country’s scientists and doctors make amazing strides in medical technology all the time – the most recent being a potential cure/treatment for Glioblastoma!
66. When you’re playing in a park and your little 3yo decides to run away, you don’t have to worry too much about a stranger grabbing them. They have enough energetic, spider monkey children of their own – they don’t need yours as well.
65. Israelis love each other – with their hearts AND their bodies. This country tops the WORLD in kidney donations to strangers, as of this month, topping 1,004 to unrelated recipients.
64. A bus driver called me this afternoon to say that when he finished his route, he carried out the routine check on his bus to ensure nothing was left behind by his passengers. Apparently, one thing was left behind: a colorful arrangement of flowers. He felt terrible and imagined that a passenger had forgotten a beautiful gift that he/she had wished to give a loved one during these tough times. But when he looked at the note attached to the flowers, this is what was written: “Dear Driver, thank you for putting yourself in harm’s way so that people like me, who need public transportation even during this challenging time, are able to get to where we need to go. God bless you” (chapeau to David Jablinowitz, one of our country’s amazing storytellers).
63. Even as rude as Israelis can be, they are, at times, the guardians of politeness. A man walked into a cafe and asked the owner, “bourekas?” The owner responded: “Boker Tov.” Confused, the man asked, “what?” The owner repeated himself. Finally, the man wished him a good morning. Owner: Ok, now you can speak (Author’s note: I was also taught the same lesson, and now, being Israeli, am passing it on).
62. Druzim (one of the religions celebrated in Israel), of which there are only 145,000 in our country, have contributed enormously to Israel, militarily, technologically, artistically, and more. Here is a beautiful painting by Fatma Shanan.
61. The importance and joy of the winter rains. Where there is a name for the first rains and a separate name for the last, and delicious pastries just for the wet season. Where you can hear the thunder and strong winds blowing at night, helping to make your sleep deep and relaxing.
60. If those storms blow things off your mirpeset, and they invariably will, people will do their best to return them to the appropriate owner. We are all on the same ark, anyway.
59. Our students don’t wait for the real world in order to do amazing things. Aseel Nama, a student at the Technion, discovered previously unknown asteroids for NASA, who then named them after her! So look at the skies and see if you can find ANI1801 and ANI2001 (Aseel Nama Israel).
58. Israel has no fewer than 220 bird species, including a griffon vulture, a nubian nightjar, and the bird with the best name – the great tit.57. We are a nation of parents. At the age of 9, children are permitted to cross the street and walk themselves to school (and back), but they’re never unsupervised. Other parents out and about watch them like hawks to make sure they’re safe all the way to the gate.
56. Israel has amazing communities. There are a plethora of ways you can get needed items for free from friends or even strangers: Marie Kondo groups, agora, etc. Need a TV? We’ve got the digital, legal, version of the trench coat.
55. Helpers are everywhere, even if it’s the person checking train travel vouchers who trusts and waves you through when you simply cannot get the website to work (likely user error, cue embarrassment).
54. The sheer speed at which Israel vaccinated almost 60% of its population in fewer than eight weeks. The government procured enough vaccines for Israelis and our unique healthcare system – a mix of socialist fundamentals and entrepreneurial spirit – was able to quickly deliver the shots. All this so we can now open our restaurants and bars and return to whatever passes as normal these days!
53. I love that for a week before Yom HaAtzmaut, around the beginning and end-times of school, you can walk around and hear all the kids singing patriotic songs in their ganim and schools, and then practicing again when they’re on their way home. Little voices singing about their homeland really warm the heart.
52. As we do every year, this year is no different. Israelis care for others like we do ourselves. Last month, there was a series of explosions in Bata, Equatorial Guinea, Africa. We sent a delegation of 67 regular and reserve troops who spent a week there, performing life-saving operations, giving emergency training, and helping extract people trapped beneath collapsed buildings.
51. Israel is taking great strides to equalize opportunities for start-ups for Israeli Arabs. The Hybrid accelerator of the 8200 Alumni Association is a bridge for talented Arab high-tech pros to the competitive world of entrepreneurship. It started five years ago and now no longer collects government funding.
50. On Yom HaZikaron this year, restaurants around the country held a table in reserve for our fallen soldiers. With an empty chair, an upside-down cup. A white tablecloth for the pure intent of the soldiers fighting for Israel, a red rose for their spilled blood. A slice of lemon for the bitter end that befell them, salt for the tears of those left behind who miss them. And, of course, a lit candle in their memory.49. In this country, there is a song specifically for the blossoming of the almond tree. This song, taught to all Israeli kids (and some American Jews in Hebrew Day Schools – ahem), indicates the coming of Spring (unlike the melting of icicles from a tree branch).
48. In all of our history, very rarely have there been 73 years with comparatively few injuries and deaths. Apparently, our little Jewish country is doing something right for us.
47. Here, you can always tell who the Israeli-born kids are at the park – they’re never wearing shoes! This country is so old school and I love it.
46. Be careful with whom you share your relationship status. You might end up with a suggestion or two from the person next in line at the supermarket. And if they really like you, they might set you up with one of their family members!
45. The Showroom Bakehouse in Tel Aviv. IMHO, the best American-style doughnuts in all of Israel.
44. In Israel, when the bus driver is new or makes a wrong turn, the passengers always help out with directions. Never worry; Israelis love to help.
43. The kalaniot in bloom in the south! Though, shamefully, I haven’t yet had a chance to see them (thank goodness I have no allergies).42. The iconic boop-boop-boop on Kol Yisrael (Israeli Broadcasting Agency) was almost cancelled… until Israelis rose up en masse to keep it. The squeaky wheel gets the grease and it is still heard at the top of each hour. Thank goodness!
41. There is mandatory army service in this country, so the subject comes up early with children and students. They learn about tanks, soldiers, those who give their lives, serving their country (both in the army and in Sherut Leumi) in the different ways possible when they’re older. And you have some fear and a lot of pride when your five-year-old tells you suddenly and confidently, “I want to be a chayal when I’m bigger!”
40. When there was a massive oil spill on Israel’s coastline, people’s first reaction was to gather forces and head to the beaches to clean up. Thousands of Israelis banded together, along with workers of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and even IDF soldiers, to pick up pieces of tar and other contaminants from the shoreline.
39. Work together with someone who lives in/near your area? Chances are they’ll give you a ride home without a second thought, even if it’s only a couple streets away. And then they’ll continue to ask you if you need a ride even if you tell them otherwise.
38. When you listen to the siren on the eve of Yom HaZikaron as you’re putting your three young children to bed. You all stand quietly with your eyes closed, thinking of those we lost, your husband (before you even met him) who was mere feet away from a gunshot that took someone else’s life, and as tears leak out onto your cheeks, your three-year-old slips her little hand into yours and squeezes.
37. Not only does Israel have 137 beaches (where they fit in such a tiny country, who knows), but they’re gorgeous as well (chapeau to Alumah Rivkah Photography).36. This country runs on WhatsApp, Bit, and chutzpah, literally. So if you need to get something done, whether with a business, a local vaad, the city, or a person, as long as you have their phone number, you’re set!
35. Tel Aviv’s Florentin neighborhood is the most dog-friendly neighborhood in the world. The neighborhood itself is a very hip place to walk around, filled with street art and its eclectic arf-mosphere. It also has the most dogs per capita in the world. If you’re a doggo lover, grab a puppy snack and head down to the Florentin Dog Park or Park Hamesila; the friendly pup owners will likely let you have a turn with their dog (most of whom were rescued from shelters). Big hearts all around!34. Israel may be the first country worldwide who has reached herd immunity for COVID-19, according to Sheba Medical Center’s experts. The percentage for immunity for SARS-CoV-2 is much lower, so our 71% (56% vaccinated, 15% recovered) is sounding pretty good right now. Once our borders open (and you’re vaccinated), come and visit to see what the big fuss is.
We’re so good, we can beat the whole world without a functioning government! – Avi Woolf (@aviwoolf on Twitter)
33. In Israel, women have always had a significant role in agriculture and business – as pioneers in pre-state Israel and today as well. From Rachel Yanait Ben-Zvi (the wife of the second president and avid agronomist) to cheesemaker Michal Mor Melamed. Or winemaker Lina Slutzkin. Or olive oil maker Hanan Zoabi Manadreh. Is it just me who is getting hungry?
32. We have a bobsled team! What!? FEEL THE RHYTHM!
31. Sadly, I missed International Good Deeds Day (April 2), but 1.5 million other Israelis did not; they volunteered their time to others and to the planet. This annual initiative was launched in 2007 by businesswoman and philanthropist Shari Arison (owner of Bank HaPoalim) and now, millions of people, in more than 70 countries, donate over four million hours of volunteering, making this day the largest and most far reaching global day of good. Love that Israeli ingenuity and selflessness!
30. The sheer number of parks and playgrounds for kids is astounding. Over week-long vacations, it is very popular for parents to take their kids to a different parks every day (starting, of course, in Park Ra’anana – which is inclusive of all kids, regardless of abilities). Chutz m’Corona, these are good times to be a kid.
29. If you’re a wine lover like me, you’ll be in heaven here. There are 35 commercial wineries and 250 boutique wineries. Yes, you heard me. ALMOST THREE HUNDRED wineries to check out. Accounting for travel, you’d likely have to be here about a year to hit all of them.
28. With that wine comes its pair, chocolate. Israel finds itself THIRD in the world, per capita, in consuming chocolate. What’s your favorite?
27. Move over Venice! In Ramla, you can row a boat through its ancient underground reservoir. You’ll have to do your own singing though (Italian or Hebrew, your choice).26. Hummus. Hope you love it because this country eats over a million pounds of it every year. By the way, don’t make a rookie mistake – it’s pronounced KHOO-moos, not humm-us.
25. And on that note, tehina (pronounced teh-KHI-na) is also pretty high on the list of yummies here. Our favorite? Adding it to vanilla ice cream. Oh. My. Gawd.
24. In 2012, a team of crafty Netanyatis (residents of Netanya) broke the world record for the largest sock mosaic, using 12,000 in total. So that’s what people do with all those lonely, unpaired socks! I’m so excited – I am 1% of the way there.23. Just because something is old – very old – doesn’t mean it isn’t relevant. In fact, in Israel, the opposite is true. Some buses and stations around Israel bear the biblical (Leviticus) inscription, “You shall rise before the aged and show deference to the old,” so as to encourage courtesy among passengers.
22. In 1995, women started being recruited to combat positions in the IDF. This made Israel one of the few countries in the world with compulsory military service for women. Thank you for kicking ass, ladies.
21. Rosh HaNikra. Grottoes, kayaking, super steep cable cars, and more. Don’t forget to wish Lebanon a good morning while you’re there.20. Maccabi Tel Aviv F.C.’s original colors were blue and white. In 1942, they changed their official colors to blue and yellow in solidarity with the Jews in Europe, who had been forced to wear the yellow star. It was never changed back.
19. Big attitude, little Israel. We’re home to the smallest desert in the world (the Judean desert) and the country itself is half the size of Lake Michigan. So cute!
18. Speaking of big attitudes, Israelis love setting records. My personal favorite is the silly one set in 2017 by Bini, the Israeli bunny, who made the most slam dunks in one minute: seven. Bini is also a prolific artist, but very modest, and though he and his human, Shai Assor, live in LA, they never forget from where they come.17. We are a nation of readers. In Israel, more books are translated into the local language than in any other language in the world (in relation to the number of inhabitants). In other words, you will never be left alone in your bathroom or bedroom ever again.
16. If you mail a letter addressed to G-d, it will be mailed to Israel and placed into the Western Wall. Over one million notes are placed this way. Take that, Santa.
15. Israel celebrates its Mothers Day on the 30th day of Shvat (late winter), the date that Henrietta Szold – the founder of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America – celebrated her birthday.
14. The first ever live heart (miniature-size) was printed at Tel Aviv University using a 3D printer that utilized human tissue taken from a patient. The entire heart was printed, complete with cells, blood vessels, ventricles, and chambers. It even pumps with an Israeli accent.
13. Archeology is everywhere in this country and you’d better keep your eyes open. The Judean date palm tree (originally thought to be extinct), was resurrected following the chance discovery of 2,000 year old seeds in a clay jar. What have you found lately? I have about 120 single socks.12. As the sun slowly sets on Friday and the Sabbath comes in, life slows down, whether you’re religious or not. The streets begin to empty, the sidewalks become quieter, and the skies turn pink. Stores begin to close, busses are nowhere to be seen, and the feeling of calm descends across the country. Observant or not, this peace is palpable and delicious.
11. Kafkafim and jean cut-offs (on guys and girls both). Now that’s an image.
10. Find cherry tomatoes delicious? You’re welcome. They were created by two professors at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University. Eat them with rotev shum and you’re all set.
9. Eilat. Gorgeous, fun (snorkeling, banana-boating, sightseeing, underwater tropical aquarium, great holiday destination), duty free, and a Free Trade Zone to boot! Bring your wallet and your snorkel (and a swimsuit, of course)!8. Sometimes in Israel, things are pretty backward (kinda like our language). Our most common way to mop the floor here is sponja: flooding the floor with copious amounts of soapy water and then using a long-handled squeegee to push the dirty water outside or down a drain, and then waiting for it to dry. Makes perfect sense.
7. An Israeli company has developed an atmospheric water generator – something out of the future. A machine that can create clean drinking water from the air. This magical machine has already been deployed in disaster situations all over the world to assist others (next step, wine from the water!).
6. Apparently there are (at least) seven different ways to eat a Krembo (Israel’s favorite winter snack). How do you eat it (hint: a spoon is wrong altogether)?
a. hold the krembo by the cookie, eat the marshmallow/chocolate together, finish with the cookie;
b. take the cookie off, eat the cookie, then eat the chocolate/marshmallow;
c. eat the cookie and the marshmallow at the same time (use a very large mouth);
d. peel off the chocolate and eat it, then eat the marshmallow, followed by the cookie;
e. flatten the krembo (smash!) and eat it all at once;
f. eat the cookie, then the marshmallow with a spoon, then the chocolate casing;
g. separate the cookie, eat the marshmallow, then the chocolate, then finish with the cookie.5. The experience of real coexistence at the Rami Levi in Gush Etzion, where Arabs and Jews happily help each other prepare for Iftar and Yom HaAtzmaut, respectively.
4. Mangaling, salads, beach trips, and family time on Yom Ha’Atzmaut. The smell of grills and meat permeates the country (even in vegan Tel Aviv). Just be sure to buy all your supplies before Yom HaZikaron unless you want to get caught in a wave of people with the same idea who forgot they did very same thing last year.
3. This thing. The nafnaf, a uniquely Israeli “invention,” though I use that term loosely. Despite having the option of gas grills, Israelis prefer the simpler grill life: coals, lighter fluid, newspaper, and the “invention,” that is, whatever works to fan the flames (perhaps a plastic plate, blowing on the fire, maybe the spatula used to flip the food…. or if you were really clever, you went to the corner and bought the hard plasticky naf-naf sold there).
2. Atlit Yam, a popular place to dive between Atlit and Haifa, is a bit of a mystery. Though it’s not really clear how the late neolithic era village got submerged, when discovered in 1984, it was hailed as the largest and best-preserved prehistoric settlement ever uncovered off the Mediterranean coast. The 8,500 year old village contains rectangular and round structures, 65 human skeletons (eek!), seeds of wheat, barley, lentils, and flax, and thousands of fish and animal bones! Just another reason to get licensed to dive.
1. Always and forever at the top of my list: Each year, I learn so many new things about my country. I’ve lived here almost six years (2,120 days, to be exact), visited countless times before making Aliyah, and I still haven’t seen, discovered, or heard it all. I am excited that I have a lifetime to become even more Israeli than I already am, and become thrilled each time I can share my country with someone new. So Yalla! Come for a visit so I can brag more. Israel, there is no other land.
אין לי ארץ אחרת!