Living in Israel: Why I’m Smiling

An austerity budget, renewed talk of a chemical attack (do you know where YOUR gas masks are?) and a bank shooting can make for some pretty grim times here in our little country.

Yet despite the somber news (and the report from a few weeks ago that Israel is only the 25th best country to be a mom), I’m just happy to be here. And I’m even more happy to be raising my kids here.

However, I shall attach a disclaimer: These are my personal thoughts and opinions. I’m not wagging my finger at you if you don’t live in Israel or don’t want to live in Israel. I just want to let you in on why I’m smiling, no matter what the headlines scream at me.

So what are the things that make me happy to be a mom here?

Living a meaning-filled life

Growing up in Israel means being part of a country that your own ancestors helped build. A country that is so wrapped up with our own history as a people that you can’t tell the story of one without the other. A country that you and your generation will continue to build, proudly shouldering the duties that come along with being the Jewish people in the Jewish homeland. This knowledge, this responsibility, this history permeates every moment of our lives. Subtly, yes. (I mean, we don’t run down the streets screaming, “Oh the meaning! The history! The responsibility!”) But it’s there, always. A few weeks ago, I attended the Yom Hazikaron “tekes” (ceremony) at my kids’ school. I was near a sixth grade boys’ class, and we were all standing, awaiting the memorial siren. During the few moments of idle time, the boys were being typical sixth grade boys—pushing each other, laughing, making inappropriate noises. Then, the siren sounded, and they immediately fell silent. They stood respectfully, as they had been taught, with heads down and hands behind their backs. Some had their eyes closed. The transformation between goofing-off sixth grade boys and respectful, attentive, thoughtful young men was immediate and striking. They knew. They knew what the day was about, in a profound and ultimately personal way.

Youth groups

A number of youth groups exist in Israel, for every flavor of Israeli youth. My daughter is finally old enough to attend Bnei Akiva, the youth group of the national religious movement. I figured that since the group represents the ideal of “Torah v’avodah (Torah study and work),” they would spend their time engaged in Torah. That all of their activities would focus on learning about Israel and Judaism. Once, I asked my daughter what she did. And she went on to describe an art project. Another time, a game. And then I realized that their goal isn’t to preach about “Torah v’avodah,” it’s simply to live it. So they have prayer time, and learning time, and also just “being” time, fulfilling the beloved Israeli value of “gibbush” (bonding). From my (admittedly limited) experience so far, they are not trying to mold my daughter into something different or more than what she already is. They want the kids to live a Torah lifestyle, and the best way to teach about that is to … live a Torah lifestyle. Just coming together, being with your peers and counselors, creates connections and builds a love of Torah and Israel in a meaningful, organic, enjoyable way.


Kids here are independent. And that makes their mothers happy. I don’t have to schlep my 10-year-old in the car to visit every friend or attend every birthday party. She walks. She walks to Bnei Akiva, to school, to friends, to computer class and judo lessons. And she walks her younger siblings to their friends and birthday parties. (This, by the way, is nothing. 10-year-olds are practically adults. Many a morning do I see the 6-year-olds walk their 3-year-old siblings into gan.) Part of this independence—in addition to trust, safety, etc.—is thanks to the public school lifestyle we live. In America, it’s normal to commute 30 minutes or more to get to your Jewish day school. Here, my kids’ Jewish day school is the neighborhood public school. When school is in the neighborhood, friends are in the neighborhood, so the social life stays in the neighborhood. And in the neighborhood, you walk.

Appreciation of nature

There is a big emphasis on agriculture, the environment and nature, on understanding our responsibility for the things around us. My son’s kindergarten visited the local ecological farm every month for a year, where he got to press olives and cut down wheat. School trips are for hiking, fulfilling God’s long-ago edict to Abraham, “Get up and walk through the land.” The school has a little garden, where the kids get to grow, and then eat, their own produce. My kids regularly point out plants and trees that they actually know the names of, which vastly outstrips my knowledge of “the green one” or “the pretty one.”

Jewish learning AND secular, all rolled into one

In America, my children attended a typical Jewish day school. In fact, I taught at one for many years. I was “the English teacher.” So I taught the students for half a day, covering reading, writing, math and social studies. They also had “the Hebrew teacher,” who taught about the holidays, Torah and Hebrew language. Here, my children have one teacher. The same woman teaches my son about Shavuot, how to read, laws of prayer and addition facts. The same teacher encourages my daughter to strive for excellence both in math and in Torah. The reason for this is probably due to budgetary concerns (“Pay for TWO teachers per class???”), but along the way, it’s created a holistic Jewish approach to education. We are not only “Hebrew” or only “English” learners throughout our lives. Both are integral to us, as children and as adults, and the education system reflects and encourages that synergy.

A life naturally infused with Judaism and Torah, a country that values family, friends and nature. Plus, you can let your kids walk around by themselves.

What’s not number one about that?

About the Author
Gila is a mother of 3 living in Modi'in and chief blogger for Jewish Values Online. Sometimes earnest, sometimes snarky, always honest.