The Blessing of Israel

For those of us who have chosen to live in Israel, the blessing that is this nation is readily apparent from the minute we step out our front door…to the minute we close our eyes to sleep at night. Readily apparent, but still sometimes we miss it.

Today, I went to Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital to have a CT run on my lungs. A few months ago, an Arab man drove through a red light and smashed into my new car. Though he apologized very politely, the car was totaled, and a short time later, I was taken to the hospital happily to find that I wasn’t seriously hurt other than some painful damage from the seat belt and the exploded air bags…But, while the doctors were running their standard tests to make sure…they came back 12 hours later with the suggestion that I might want to go to a lung doctor to check a suspicious spot in one lung and maybe a breast surgeon to check some thickening on the inside of one breast (which corresponded perfectly with the injury from the seat belt).

The lung doctor thinks it’s nothing – as a dedicated non-smoker all my life, I am, he assures me, in the little-to-no risk category but, suggested I do a follow up CT a few months later. So, today, while I sat there waiting for the Arab technician to call me in, I watched dozens of Arab patients, nurses and doctors walk passed. I could easily recognize people from many nations – India, Ethiopia, Sudan, several Arab nations, several European nations and what appeared to be some Scandinavian countries as well.

A Bedouin woman came with a young child – he was moved to the front of the line for a CT and was quickly taken inside while my spot for a routine CT dropped one slot down.

“Do you speak Hebrew?” they asked her. She didn’t respond.

“English?” another tried. Finally one of the nurses came over and spoke to her in Arabic. She nodded, responded, and the child was taken inside. You’ll be next, the nurse told me with a smile.

Yesterday morning, I drove through the Arab neighborhood of Shuafat attempting to shorten my trip through town. Nothing happened. I wasn’t stoned; run off the road, firebombed or shot. From one direction, cars were driving through red lights and blocking the intersection, from another, cars had managed to get stuck in the intersection and several times I watched the light rail come to almost a complete stop waiting for cars to move.

When I got close to the intersection and had a green light, I honked the horn and signaled to the Arab driver who was about to pass a red light, that I needed room to ensure my car was not on the tracks. He stopped and allowed my car to pass and, in the way of drivers everywhere, I signed back my gratitude.

We are a nation at war. But this is truly not a war between Arabs and Jews or Judaism and Islam. It isn’t about ALL Arabs hating ALL Jews or ALL Jews hating all Arabs.

Israel is a democracy (well, except for this ridiculous law about Israel Hayom not being allowed to give away its product for free). It is an amazingly open country where its citizens have access to one of the most affordable and best medical systems in the world. Twice now, my family had access to world-renowned surgeons – fully covered by our medical insurance. Our universities are, for the most part, among the top in the world. Our economy is thriving. We have the latest and greatest technical devices available in huge malls and modern shopping centers.

We have skiing in the north (okay, so maybe not comparable to Switzerland, but not a total embarrassment). We have snorkeling and scuba diving in the south (okay, so maybe it’s a bit more modest than the Caribbean, but still so relaxing and wonderful). We have lakes and canoeing (which we call kayaking even though it’s really just rafting) and the white water sections are more water than white.

But we have so much more. The sun shines on most days in this country. Even in the midst of winter, I can usually walk outside with little more than a sweater and now, in mid-November, I have yet to turn the heat on. At most, I’ll close the window in the evening.

In terms of crime, we are safe driving and walking almost everywhere. The first thing I would do when I lived in the States and had to drive at night…was lock the door of my car. Even before putting the seat belt on or starting the car – here, I rarely lock the door at all while driving. And yes, the Arabs are stoning the heck out of as many roads as they can but again, on the scale of drivers to destruction, the media’s reporting far outweighs reality.

I will work sometimes late into the evening, take the train alone and then drive home without any concerns. In the States, I would hesitate to carry any real sum of money and hold my pocketbook close – here, the thought never crosses my mind. I am so safe here, so at peace with my surroundings.

By far, the greatest blessing of living in Israel is simply the people. No matter where I go, there is immediate help available. With no hesitation whatsoever, I will readily converse with almost anyone – someone sitting next to me at the hospital, on the train, in the elevator. Fifteen people will offer me directions and if twelve of them are wrong, that doesn’t change the fact that they gave me instructions with the purest hope that they were helping.

“Why do you need a CT?” asked the woman next to me because it never occurred to her that she didn’t have a right to appease her curiosity. And when I told her about the driver and the red light, she spent the next five minutes commiserated about miserable drivers and the hope that the CT would indeed turn out to be routine.

I have lived here for 21 years and for all those years, I have never been alone. Whatever I needed, was a person away. A year ago, just days before Rosh Hashana, I had difficult shoulder surgery…and two days later, my community sent me 20 trays of food to cover my family for the entire holiday, and in the weeks and months that followed, as I struggled with physical therapy, friends knocked on the door and brought me food, offers to shop, even to clean my home.

A few nights ago, yet again, my community gathered together and in the space of four hours, raised 13,000 shekels for charity – all through donations. Almost daily, people post requests for rides, the chance to borrow something, and more.

It’s so easy to focus on the bad – the terror that is happening yet again, the so-called occupation as the root of all evils. Food is expensive, housing impossible. Traffic in the morning and the cost of gas and cars! I’d earn more in America and who wants to work on Sundays? Jeans and shoes are cheaper and there’s no Target or Costco or whatever store is the latest thing.

But honestly, I have never been in a Costco or a Target; and I managed to pick up a very nice pair of shoes just the other day on Rechov Yaffo in Jerusalem. The salesman was wearing Tefillin while he sorted through boxes to bring me the size I needed and blessed me as I left the store. An old man told me I looked too young to be a grandmother and then told me he had four great grandchildren and aren’t we lucky to live in Israel. My children receive a Jewish education for a fraction of a fraction of the cost; kosher food is readily available. Holidays are irrevocably connected to the land, as they were meant to be. My children have never had to hide their Jewish identity, never once (well, except perhaps in Turkey or Poland).

As the next Intifada takes hold the media focuses on rocket attacks, rioting and more…what was, a few weeks ago, a commitment to ignore the attacks has now changed to an ever present need to fill the Internet with images of violence. Like the other seasons of terror that I have survived already, I remembered today that it is important to stop and focus not on what they would take from us, but what is ours to protect.

In all the 21 years I have lived here, I can tell you that I have never regretted a minute of my choice to move here, never thought that maybe it would have been better if we’d stayed and raised our children in the US. Two of my sons have served in the army; the third one already has the date when he will enter. One daughter served; another, at the age of 14, sometimes speaks of options she has when she will choose her path.

The blessing of Israel is ours for the taking; all we have to do is not be blinded by the headlines. Yes, there really is another intifada – did you think there wouldn’t be, or that there wasn’t one going on for a long time already?

But if I’ve learned anything in the years I have lived here, it is that what matters most is the peace we have with the neighbors who live next door to us rather than those who live across borders. What matters is our ability to share the best of what we are, even if that effort is not recognized by others.

The world will never thank us for all that we do as a nation – not for those we saved in the earthquake in Haiti, the tsunami in Indonesia. They don’t really remember our rescue teams in Turkey and Kenya…nor do they really care about all the things we invent and the discoveries we make. So we have to stop wanting this, stop needing this. Instead, we have to focus not on them, but on us.

We have built a most amazing country – a kind one, a free one. We have built one that encourages neighbors to care, to help, to donate. Thousands will change their plans at a moment’s notice and attend a funeral so that the parents of a young woman will know we care; tens of thousands will go to a funeral of three teens and walk for hours because we want the parents to know we too feel their agony and pain.

We will dance as a people, cry when we need to. We will smile at a child playing innocently and four mothers will rush to stop the little boy from going into the street. Sometimes, in the midst of all that is happening, we have to remember. In 66 years, we have built a nation to be proud of and that alone is more than most nations and people of the world can claim.

May God bless Israel – because we strive to be, and usually succeed, in being a light unto the nations.

About the Author
Paula R. Stern is CEO of WritePoint Ltd., a leading technical writing company in Israel. Her personal blog, A Soldier's Mother, has been running for more than 5 years. She lives in Maale Adumim with her husband and children, a dog, too many birds, and a desire to write her thoughts and dream of a trip to Italy, Scotland, and beyond.