‘Only in Israel’ – a folklore movement to support your decision to live here

This week an Israeli bus driver stopped his bus in between stops in order to let a special needs person on his way to his first day of work get off closer to his destination.

What a beautiful “Only in Israel” moment!

Enters my dear hot-blooded sister Devora. She partook in a discussion online about this event. Most people were writing what a beautiful act this was while Devora, bless her, wrote that she thought it was terrible what the driver did. She wrote that as far as she was concerned, what the driver did was very illegal and very dangerous.

After Devora told me what she wrote, I told her to take a chill pill (which she did because she knows I’m always right) but the truth is that I can relate to her party-pooper response.

The “Only in Israel” idea irks me too. When I hear about these moments, they are often unconvincing and I wonder what it is that makes people cling to the idea as if these anecdotes are part of the essence of our Zionism and our lives in Israel.

Clinging to “Only in Israel” moments could be compared to being in a relationship that isn’t so great but that has sporadic good moments. In order to convince yourself to stay in such a relationship, you might say to yourself, “I feel so great when I’m with Shimon… OK, so it only happens once every three months, but still… Only Shimon.”

An Anglo-oleh phenomenon

I have a feeling that “Only in Israel” is mainly an Anglo-oleh phenomenon. And I think we’ve developed this approach in order to combat a serious issue we have to deal with – the paradox of choice.

Us Anglos are the luckiest olim. We moved here because we chose to. But that freedom comes at a price. Most of us always know that we could go back if we so choose. The limbo that is created as a result, leaves us constantly needing to prove to ourselves that our decision to be here is a good one. Otherwise we might have to seriously consider moving back to the old country.

And so, you end up with many Anglo-olim who are constantly trying to convince themselves that they do, indeed, want to be part of this “difficult yet beautiful” Zionist story. And what better way than through supposedly meaningful “Only in Israel” folklore tales.

Although I am most definitely one of those who periodically struggles with my decision to live in Israel, I can’t fully buy into the “Only in Israel” movement. Something about it seems unauthentic and it feels like we’re trying too hard. Yes, I am as touched as the next Zionist dudette when I hear a do-good story, but good things happen everywhere and so do bad things.

I am not convinced these scenarios are truly Israeli and I think that ideally it shouldn’t matter.

One of the happiest places on earth

So is there a more in-depth way to connect to the Zionist dream?

The fact is that Israel is one of the happiest places on earth and I don’t think it has much to do with “Only in Israel” tales. If you look around at the people who really are pretty happy here, who don’t think of the old country as an option, they don’t seem to mention “Only in Israel” stories because it’s sort of inconsequential to them.

So, if you find yourself feeding off of “Only in Israel” moments, you are probably not yet truly in the Zionist zone. You probably need to stop trying to convince yourself that Israel is OK and just live as if it is (Yes, there is plenty of room for improvement, yadda yadda… That’s not the point.). I think you need to find the people who never even think about “Only in Israel” moments, stick by their sides, and see how it is that someone really can be happy here without having to constantly convince themselves that their decision to live here is justified.

See if they ever mention “Only in Israel” moments and then we can decide if my theory is right – that the truly committed Zionists have no need for folklore, besides the real stuff, because they’re just too busy going about their lives here, being so unbelievably happy that they are even happier than Canadians.

About the Author
Deena writes about life, relationships and her beloved Jerusalem. She organizes "Jerusalem Encounters" and shares hand-picked cultural events in her online calendar, Things to do in Jerusalem.