The land of Israel has been around for thousands of years, but a mere 75 years — the diamond anniversary — have passed since the bloody and painful birth of our country in 1948. Each year since I made aliyah (2015), I have written and shared a list of things that I love about Israel, one for each year. This year will be a little different.
This year, things are a little more intense than usual (even in a Middle East country) so I’ll be focusing on my Israel, the one I’ve known my whole life, and the one I’m sure you remember as well.
Story #1: Happy Anniversary!
My husband and I sat for a coffee on a beautiful spring morning and met this lovely couple celebrating their 55th wedding anniversary. The wife is originally from Belgium and they raised three kids. We met them through our friendly 2-year-old daughter, as usually happens. The husband offered her a little Aroma chocolate and we became friends.
We learned their story, heard how they have lived in Tel Aviv for decades (not religious), and have three successful kids. Their middle daughter became religious, went to a highly regarded girls seminary, went to the army, and is now serving in the Israeli Air Force. And as they tell us about her, the mom is beaming. The sheer, unbiased pride in her daughter is blinding me and warming my heart. Then we meet this daughter, as she surprises them at the café with happy, brightly colored balloons wishing them happy anniversary, hugs them both, and chats with them briefly, before she leaves with a smile on her face.
Story #2: Group Photo
We are up in Park Nesher, walking across metal bridges that cross deep canyons of trees, dozens of meters high above the ground. It is a stunning national park and an unusually hot day for springtime. People from across Israel have come to go hiking in this area and take pictures at several impressive spots, but the photographer is always left out (unless you are brave enough to ask someone to help).
Trekking back down the long path (now downhill for us), my 2-year-old and I came across a large tour group led by a religious fellow dressed in a white shirt, black pants, tzitzit — the whole shebang. He was trying to take a picture, but didn’t have a tripod. I (dressed in a black tank top and shorts) asked him if he wanted a picture with his group. He declined at first, but then he smiled, asked me who was going to hold my toddler, and when I put her down to stand on a rock, he joyfully ran over to the center of his group, crouched happily, and I snapped the shot. “Now it’s a group picture!” I said.
Story #3: The Siren
Tuesday morning, Yom HaZikaron, Hubby and I were eating out with a friend at the new Aroma in our neighborhood in Netanya. The whole café was buzzing and packed since no one was at the office today (or tomorrow). All the tables were full, people were waiting in line to order, kids were happily running around outside, adults were munching on crunchy salads and spicy shakshuka and chattering about life.
Suddenly, my friend nudged me and I realize that cutting through the noise, the 11:00 a.m. siren had started. Life stopped.
This was my first real time in public during a siren. Most years, I’m sitting in an office and stand with my coworkers. One intense year, I was driving on a major road. I literally stopped in my lane, parked the car, and exited my car, standing. This year, the chattering suddenly stopped and the silence enveloped us. Even the children were quiet. No one spoke. No one moved. I closed my eyes and thought of all the Israelis who had given their lives for this country, soldiers and victims alike. Arab Israelis, Jewish Israelis, Druze Israelis, and more. May they never be forgotten.
Story #4: Flavors of Ethiopia
Hubby and I love Ethiopian food, and we found a place in Netanya that is friendly, delicious, spicy, and good service — Malkam Magiv (sorry if I’m butchering the name), in the city. Previously, we ordered it to our place and greatly enjoyed it, but there’s nothing like experience.
One Thursday night, we got a babysitter and went. It is not in the fanciest location, but it plays authentic music and serves amazing food. We were welcomed by an older Ethiopian woman wearing a beautiful, colorful headscarf and a younger one with beautiful skin and a huge, welcoming smile on her face.
As I watched both Ashkenazim and Ethiopians eating there — whoever had good taste, basically — the older woman began drinking something from a very cool metal container. It was “buna,” Ethiopian coffee, and I begged a cup. DELICIOUS.
Story #5: Local Color
Netanya is a mini-melting pot of Israel. More like stew, really. But one of our most interesting and kind people is Omar (got a promotion recently, so sadly, we see him less often). He takes care of the city, making sure the areas are clean, safe, trees are trimmed, sidewalks are clear, and much more.
Each time we see him, he invites us to join him in a cup of black coffee and we chat for a few moments. He used to be a professional photographer and teacher, tells us about his kids and grandkids, and how he loves meeting new people, good people.
This is my Israel.
The one filled with achdut, unity, where you remember that everyone is different, but underneath, we are all the same. Where her citizens have come her from all walks of life, from poverty and riches, from the US, South America, Russia, Morocco, Australia, Africa, Canada, Europe, Ethiopia (and more) to find… something unique, something personal, something eternal.
We speak French, English, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Amharic (and more), but mostly Hebrew.
And we love. We love so deeply, from the time the sun rises to the moment it sets, and we love as the moon and stars cross the sky. So much that sometimes we get scared. And we forget that we are all living on the same land, our land. A land of dirt and sand, blood, salt, and tears, soil and gravel, milk and honey.
We walk this land as a family that fights for its future, that is devastated when it is hurt, that dances with Temani singers as the blue, silver, and white shimmers across the sky and with waves of cheering adults and children sleeping in their arms. But we never break.
This is the Israel I know. This is the Israel I love.
3,000 years old. 75 years young. And so, so many more to celebrate in this tiny, blindingly brilliant diamond of a country. Happy birthday, Israel.
אין לי ארץ אחרת
I have no other country.