Each year, as Israel’s Independence Day approaches, I think about everything related to this country. Sure, there are things that annoy the crap out of me, and there are days where it just feels like any other country, but not this time of year.
So without further ado, for my penultimate list of reasons (one for each year she lives) to love this beautiful country.
74. When you’re sitting in the springtime sun at one of the numerous parks near your cozy apartment, and a little toddler rambles up to your almost-2-year-old, attempting to sing a Pesach song with her. Culture seeps into everything – even tiny humans.
73. In March 2022, Israel opened a field hospital in Ukraine, the first of its kind, with dozens of doctors and nurses and multiple wards on the grounds of an elementary school in Mostyska, outside Lviv. Not to mention all the other humanitarian aid we’ve sent to help.
72. Israel is a desert, or maybe it was. But now we produce 20 percent more water than we need. How? With an unprecedented wealth of technological innovation and infrastructure. Now we are a source of hope for other water-deprived countries and we are happy to help (Israelis love to be heroes, after all).
71. I know it’s been a few years, but yes, still and always, Gal Gadot (one day I will meet her and chat with her over a coffee — maybe even play some shesh besh (backgammon)).
70. Aaaaahhhhh (that’s a sigh of relief, not a scream) – if you need to relax or heal your body and soul, just head to the Dead Sea. We knew it already, but now Travel & Leisure has agreed that it is the #1 healing spot for 2022.
69. Sometimes babies are born with devastating heart defects; babies in medically under-served communities have it especially hard. But now (with a new partnership between med-tech startup Datos Health and The Heart Institute at Sheba Medical Center), there is remote home monitoring of pediatric cardiac patients, which has been shown to reduce mortality from 15% to less than 5%!
68. We could have been living in Ever. Seriously. Ever was one of the names thrown around for our little country. Can you imagine? Living Happily Ever After in the Middle East? INCONCEIVABLE.
67. Sometimes you don’t need to spend a lot of money to make something look timeless. For example, the famous image of Israeli leaders in front of the picture of Herzl (signing the Declaration of Independence). The drapes (hung nude paintings on the walls – whoops), chairs from nearby cafes, and borrowed pictures and flags. “Looking great, guys! This is a picture for the ages. Just cover up those ladies in the back.”
66. Speaking of Theodor Herzl, I’m declaring it now — he was the original hipster. Come on, look at that ‘stach!
65. We’re kinda loveable. Pamela Anderson has honeymooned here, Mayim Bialik travels here all the time, Johnny Cash visited and sang about us (as did Leonard Cohen), Sasha Baron Cohen, Cindy Crawford — shall I go on? Just think, you could walk around Israel and see all types of famous people (if that’s important to you, of course).
64. Let’s say food is your thing and you have a culinary tongue. Seek an Israeli chef and you shall find. They cook in and for restaurants all over the world. From Michael Solomonov in the USA to Alon Shaya in New Orleans and Denver, and the famous Yotam Ottolenghi in London, get your taste buds ready. B’te’avon!
63. It is soooo much less expensive to travel (now that COVID is “over”). You can find obscenely cheap tickets to the most romantic/fun/sexy/historic cities in Europe – and you have time to hop over for a weekend! Can’t say that in the States.
62. Secular Jews also appreciate Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, which, to me, is a big thing. They turn it into a family day, riding their bikes around their neighborhoods, and many fast. The whole country suffering, hangry together.
61. Music lover? There’s a new internationally acclaimed (boutique) guitar that is breaking into the scene and they are made inhouse by two Israelis in Jerusalem: Macmull Guitars, started and run by childhood friends Tal Macmull and Amit Sadras. They build about 130 guitars each year (so far) with the strictest quality. Gorgeous things, they are.
60. There is a super weird aloe drink called Sappe that is absolutely delicious and fun to eat. Some may disagree and say drinks shouldn’t be chewable; they are wrong.
59. The Negev is gorgeous. It’s not a barren wasteland as many, including myself, have thought. In the spring, it has rolling green hills and the largest planted forest in Israel, Ya’ar Yatir, which you can just drive through, walk around, and lose yourself in the quietness of the expanse of trees. Take off your shoes and ground yourself – you will thank me.
58. Speaking of the south, everyone eventually goes down to take the obligatory pictures with the ocean of red anemones called kalaniot in Israel (her national flower). There’s a reason for it; they are stunning and overwhelming and make for an unforgettable experience in the winter months. Fun fact: They come in different colors!
57. But wait, there is also a hole in the middle of our desert. That is, Makhtesh Ramon, a massive, wind-carved crater. Once thought to be an impact crater, they recently discovered it’s actually the cause of erosion. It’s still considered a romantic spot due to its heart shape, and for more adventurous couples (or friends), there is rappelling and expeditions.
56. Don’t be cruel and head over to the Elvis American Diner just outside of Jerusalem. It has performances, collectibles, and memorabilia to break the heart of any Elvis fan.
55. The Social Event of the Season, also known as the Jerusalem Wine Festival, is worth attending. It’s reasonably priced and delicious. You get a wine glass at the entrance and then you choose where to fill it up. L’Chaim!
54. While we’re on the subject, kosher wines have come a long way in the past decades, and there are some fabulous wineries (like the Vitkin Winery just outside of Netanya — one of our favorites). Some of the best wines can be found at Basher’s Fromagerie (who has also come a long way since his start at the shuk in Jerusalem).
53. I love the culture here and how it is hugs you from the age of 3. At gan, they learn about our holidays, our Hebrew language, our Jewish and Israeli history, and everything that makes us who we are, regardless of the country of origin. Jewish by culture, Jewish by religion. For once, we are not the minority and we don’t have to explain everything to others.
52. Shabbat in an observant neighborhood. It’s quiet, unless you count the joyful screams, shouts, and laughter by the countless children playing in the local parks, chasing each other around synagogues, and scooting around on little bimbot (scooters).
51. Uzi’s Hummus (Netanya).
50. HaPortugezi meat restaurant (Bitan Aharon). Bring your appetite and trust me when I say the meal for two is more than enough.
49. The easy morning walk on the way to school and gan with our children. It’s not a long walk, maybe 10-12 minutes, but we see and wave to friends on the way, race with our children each block, enjoy the sunshine, and maybe, just maybe, grab a coffee on our way home, hold hands, and enjoy our time together walking in the fresh, quiet air.
48. The lurch in your heart as the siren for Yom HaZikaron flares up. You hear the increase in sound and think of those who sacrificed their lives for this tiny country. And you wonder why you cry when you don’t personally know anyone who died.
We joke about how we are all family here, but the truth is that we really are. We joke because it hurts too much to feel the pain every time one of us is killed or murdered. It’s too raw and we’d never psychologically survive if we dwelled on our losses. But the siren reaches deep down into our soul, wrenches the emotion free, and wrings it out, dripping through our tears.
47. Yom HaAtzmaut immediately follows Yom HaZikaron and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The height of celebration matches the depth of despair, and we realize the direct connection: that those who died were the silver platter on which the State of the Jews was served.
46. Meal trains and Tehillim groups. When someone is sick, has a baby, a death, or needs help, the community knits together and provides food for the family — for however long they need. It’s remarkable.
45. WhatsApp. How does anyone function without it?
44. In Israel, even if your adorable almost-2-year-old is screaming her head off, a kind lady will offer to hold her for you so you can finish checking out at the grocery store, and you don’t have to worry she’s going to take her away.
43. A few years ago, I know, but when Netta won Eurovision, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called to congratulate her, she, in shock, answered him, “Bibi??”
42. Because there are those of us with hope for the future and are glad to hear we’re not alone. When the Head of the Joint List (Arab party) told the Arab policeman to throw their guns in the faces of their commanders, they responded, rightly, by saying, How can we effect change if we’re not a part of the system?
41. On Pesach, McDonald’s will gladly serve you a cheeseburger, but be aware: it’ll be on a KLP (kosher for Passover) bun.
40. The French Jews have helped bring divine kosher cuisine to Israel! Merci beaucoup!
39. In many stores, you can walk out with a product without paying for it (provided you promise to come back with the money). This has happened to me no fewer than three times, one time being my engagement ring!
38. Good deeds abound. People will rinse off your car after a sandstorm, help you carry your groceries, and keep an eye out for a child if you have to run somewhere on an errand for another child.
37. If you lose something, retrace your steps. It’s very likely that someone found it and placed it somewhere highly visible – on top of bushes, a fence, a bench, or a car roof.
36. Israel’s Timna Nelson-Levy — for winning a gold medal at the European Judo Championship. The first Israeli woman to win a gold in that championship since 1993! Mazal tov!
35. In IKEA Israel — color-coded meat and dairy knives!
34. As The Times of Israel’s own Sarah Tuttle Singer tells it:
“Tensions are brewing in Jerusalem — violence erupted on Temple Mount recently. But at our little supermarket on the seam between East and West, this is what I saw: the shopkeeper and a customer were chatting in Arabic. The customer was buying a bottle of tamarind — a sweet drink perfect for breaking the fast on Ramadan. A Jewish Israeli woman very big with baby waddled to the counter holding a bag of ripe avocados.
“How much are the sunflowers outside?” She asked the Palestinian shopkeeper in Hebrew. “35 shekel a bunch, but 30 for you.”
“Thank you!” She said. She rummaged in her purse. “Next time,” she said.
The Palestinian man who bought the Tamarind said something to the shopkeeper, paid him, and left. The Israeli woman paid for her avocados.
“Don’t forget your sunflowers,” the shopkeeper told her. “I wish! I don’t have enough money this time,” she said.
“Oh, that’s okay,” the shopkeeper said. “The man who just left paid for them for you. He wants me to tell you b’shaah tovah — may the baby arrive in a good time!
33. In Israel, a 13-year-old boy can prove he can go see a PG-13 movie by showing pictures of him with tefillin (though I wouldn’t guarantee it every time).
32. Only in Israel would a new Siemens oven comes with an email of directions, and a closing suggestion straight from someone’s grandmother (translated: “Some believe that the first thing to bake in a new oven is a cake — so we have attached a simple and delicious recipe for apple pie with caramelized nuts”)
יש המאמינים שהדבר הראשון שצריך לאפות בתנור חדש הוא עוגה – אז צרפנו מתכון פשוט וטעים של עו תפוחים עם אגוזים מקורמלים
31. Shabbat keys in hotels are the real metal ones. Even if you’re locked out and the key card doesn’t work, you can always ask for that one.
30. We really, REALLY value our history. They are relocating a prison to allow archaeologists to make a discovered mosaic — believed to be the earliest one dedicated to Jesus — accessible to tourists and allow for further investigation.
29. Israel is where you want to live if you’re single. For better or worse, no one will leave you alone until they have found you a date, then a second date…. Likely with their grandson, brother-in-law, or best friend.
28. My husband and I have made friends with random people we’ve consistently seen on the street on our way to and from our kids’ school — one is Chaymon, a ridiculously amazing glass artist, the other, Omar, our always smiling, talented, and hard-working Arab neighborhood landscaper.
27. Pop-up minyans (at least 10 men who get together to pray)!
26. Some of the wackiest Hebrew words: cotton candy is “grandma’s hair”; a ladybug is “Moses’ cow”; scarabs are “chipushiot pharoah”; ptitim are “Ben Gurion’s rice”; and a piggyback ride is an “abuyoyo.” If you have to ask…
25. Only in Israel do you post on Facebook a picture of your coffee machine (because you forgot to put the cup under the nozzle) and end up having a private conversation with a person you’ve never met because they have the same machine, the same capsules, but that they don’t drink decaf — and you don’t either, but you never realized you were… until he told you. P.S. We still haven’t met!
24. My Hebrew is improving if only because of the million and one Israeli WhatsApp groups I’m in, all with the same people.
23. Here, my 6-year-old tells me he doesn’t like the tzfira (siren) because it makes him sad. Me too, kid. Me too.
22. I can go to the local pharmacy and fill all my prescriptions for three months (for me and my kiddos) for 120 shekel (under $40).
21. No matter how religious they are, most Israelis hold a seder on Passover night.
20. On average, Israeli men are much better looking than any other nationality on the planet. Just sayin’.
19. Krembo. Vanilla. ’nuff said.
18. Eight- and 6-year-old boys might be up past their bedtime, giggling and chatting with each other, but the moment the 8:00 p.m. siren goes off, there is silence from their room and you know they were standing in their beds, respecting those we lost.
17. Shai LaChag — the gifts you get from your workplace for the holidays twice a year. What a happy surprise!
16. The beaches! The ice cream! The matkot! The sunsets! Summertime is Israel is hot, no joke, but the Mediterranean will help you cool down.
15. I will always love that I can drive just a few hours and see the most gorgeous mountain, the Hermon in the north, or east and visit the moving city of Jerusalem, south and witness the dry, yet green wilderness of the Negev, and head west to splash in the waters of the Mediterranean.
14. Neve Tzedek — a major cultural neighborhood that is super picturesque, has quite a few cool museums, and a delicious restaurant named Regina (I sense a foodie pattern here).
Nachlat Binyamin — another great neighborhood with amazing shopping, including jewelry and tons of fabric. Literally. A dream for someone who sews (and, completely unrelated, stop by Goshen for dinner on your way out).
13. In efforts to help achieve more equality and provide increasing opportunities to under-served communities, Tsofen, founded in 2008 by Arab and Jewish hi-tech and civil society leaders, seeks to integrate Arab citizens into hi-tech firms and the expansion of hi-tech in Arab towns. Is it working? Since its founding, Tsofen has placed over 2,500 candidates in hi-tech positions (30% of all new Arab engineers). Keep it up!
12. Israelis believe in apologizing! But they’re more likely to do so with actions, not words.
11. Eilat, the vacation city. So much to do, so little time (my recommendation: go in the off season).
10. You may be moving from your home to make aliyah, but really, everyone will come to you. Israel is the gravitational center and all roads lead to her.
9. Because there are musical artists who commemorate loss in upbeat, heart-wrenching songs like this (Avihai Hollender).
8. Cafe kar (iced coffee) vs. ice cafe (blended iced coffee drink) — even after you understand the difference, the battle rages.
7. Sea turtles are my #1 favorite animal, and there is an Israeli Sea Turtle Rescue right around the corner from where I live. They help injured sea turtles recover and return them to the ocean, and help their population grow by keeping them safe (feel free to donate to their cause of modernizing their center).
6. She codes; Israel’s largest tech community for women, is expanding. The community has been teaching coding to 50,000 women across 45 branches, intending to attain equal gender distribution among software developers in Israel.
5. When you haven’t been to your local bakery lately with the kids (due to a new job), the guys behind the counter start missing you and ask your husband where you’ve been. “We werry, you know” (spoken with a thick Israeli accent).
4. After your purchase, those same tough guys behind the counter reach over to give your son a kif (high-five), calling him a “gever” (man).
3. After the Abraham Accords, Israel has entered into a ridiculous amount of impressive agreements with Arab countries, hopefully bringing forth a new era of understanding and innovation that will benefit everyone.
2. On Passover, to help them enjoy their holiday vacation, an Israeli astronaut read a children’s book to my kids (okay, not just mine) from the International Space Station. I was in heaven, figuratively.
1. Israel is my home. Because the health insurance is helpful and affordable, because my kids are growing up with a Jewish and Israeli identity, because they correct my Hebrew. Because this country pushes me to become a better version of myself, because Israel is harsh, but loveable (like a tough savta — grandmother). For all the above reasons and more, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.