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JewishJournal.com

July 16, 2008

What’s so good about Israel? Let me tell you!

http://www.jewishjournal.com/opinion/article/whats_so_good_about_israel_let_me_tell_you_20080716

The hills of Judea
From Wikipedia.org

The hills of Judea
From Wikipedia.org

It took me six years of living abroad to love Israel as passionately as I do. As soon as I returned from two months of living in China, two years of high school in Italy and four years of college in the United States, I became convinced that there is simply no better place than Israel for Israelis.

You see, Israelis have this inexplicable urge -- a genetic disposition perhaps -- to want to live abroad: "Israel is too small," "Israelis are too nervous," "life under terrorism is unbearable." They just need to get out.

Israeli youths drool over the possibility of getting a European passport from their deceased, Holocaust-surviving great-grandmother and leaving the Middle East behind, wrapping it with a cloud of dust. If not to Europe, Israelis fancy winning the green card lottery or marrying an American stranger in the midst of Manhattan, just to be able to live and work legally in the United States.

Against the common view that life elsewhere is better, and with a bag loaded with juvenile experiences abroad, I confess to you that life in the heart of the Middle East is 10, if not a hundred times better for Israelis than anywhere else in the world.

What's so good about Israel?

The question by no means seeks to undermine the quality of life elsewhere. As my Chicago friend says, "It is what it is."

What I intend to do is argue that there are phenomenal things about Israel that Israelis often tend to overlook, forget or maybe are genuinely unaware of. I'll explain precisely what I mean.

Let's start with how real everything in Israel is. I personally think there is something charming about how Israelis always tell you the truth, whether you like it or not. If you're fat, they won't call you "big." If you are stupid, they won't say you are "cerebrally challenged." If they're upset with you, they won't pretend you have just made their day.

The absence of the politically correct allele from the Israeli genome might be considered rude in the eyes of a foreigner. But the fact is, that it creates a culture of openness that melts down interpersonal barriers and ultimately makes Israelis feel and behave as though they were all brothers and sisters.

Camaraderie is indeed another forte of Israel's society. In Judaism we say, "All of Israel are responsible for one another," and "All of Israel are brethren."

Nowhere else in the world have I found the same level of genuine concern about a total stranger as I have in my own country. Here, if you fall off your bicycle in the middle of the street or in a dark street corner, be sure that within seconds you will be surrounded with at least five absolute strangers who will be there to offer you a hand and put you back on your feet (without actually stealing your bike).

Whether it is the imprint of the Israel Defense Forces' unit cohesion, the Jewish sense of a shared destiny or the remnants of a socialist system, Israelis strongly -- and genuinely -- care about each other. It's simply lovely to know there is always someone who'll be there to help you out and that you're never truly alone.

Beyond the realness and the camaraderie that characterize Israel, Israelis indulge in one of the most exotic and enjoyable lifestyles found anywhere in the world. It takes a Manhattan-based investment banker to appreciate the fantastic work-life balance struck in the Holy Land.

While Sundays aren't off, Fridays recently have become half workdays, thus leaving the average Israeli employee with no more than 60 hours of work per week, at the very most.

The rapidly urbanizing society has become a cradle of the cafe culture. Whereas Starbucks startlingly went bankrupt here several years ago, local Israeli coffee chains are bustling with young, as well as old chaps, who enjoy both the indoor air-conditioned ambience and the outside, sunny street corners, chatting heartedly with friends and co-workers.

Add to that the incredibly yummy and healthy Mediterranean diet, largely based on fruit, vegetables and olive oil, and you get a bunch of Jews who are relatively fit and absolutely handsome. And conclude with long beaches and a never-setting sun, and you get something like California, but holier.

For years, some of my friends have tried to convince me to make the most reasonable decision by staying abroad. I would be lying if I told you that the temptation wasn't there, usually quite dormant, but at times, vibrantly itching. But after living by myself on three continents for six years and retuning home at the age of 25, I doubt it that I will consider such an idea seriously ever again.

Israel is the only place that is right and truly fun for Israelis. Leaving Zionism, brain drain and religion aside, there is no better place for Israelis other than our very own country.

It may sound completely bizarre at first. It may take years of living abroad to realize that. My recommendation, however, is to check out for yourself the validity of my argument. If you find yourself back in the Jewish heart of the Middle East after a long journey abroad, let us all know.

And more importantly, don't forget to remind us why you came back.

Shira Kaplan is a Harvard student. She is currently completing her thesis on Iran's crisis behavior in the post-revolutionary era. She served in the Israel Defense Forces for two years before enrolling at Harvard.

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