Today, Israel celebrates 64 years of existence. That’s really not much. It’s almost nothing in a scale of countries to age, but in this short period of time, we sure have been through a lot. In 64 years, Israel has been through wars, diplomatic issues, growing population, ground development and many other things every newborn country is going through. But to me, the most amazing thing that happened here was the new culture that developed. Israel is nothing like any other place on this planet.
Those of you who have been to Israel probably noticed this unique population who have a unique way of life. If not, come visit us again, or simply ask your state’s ambassador in Israel what is so special about this place. For the 64th birthday, “Yediot Ahronot”, one of the grand national papers, asked the foreign ambassadors to tell what is their favorite thing about Israel. Liselotte Kjærsgaard Plesner, the Danish ambassador, said that the two things she loves most about Israel are the entrepreneurship, in which Israelis are known to excel, and the tomatoes. Spain’s ambassador to Israel, Alvaro Iranzo, said his favorite things are the coffee shops in Tel Aviv (“Tel Aviv is a city I will never forget.”) The French ambassador, Kristoff Bigot, said the thing he looks up to Israel for is the Israeli openness and solidarity (“Israelis have the most amazing energy, honesty and straightforwardness.”)
As Israelis, we love complaining. To us, the government is unable to deal with anything, simply because we always know better. One common sentence in almost every conversation between Israelis is: “if only we will be the ones who run the state, we would be in a better place right now”. In between complaints comes our Independence Day, and for this special holiday, everything is right. Suddenly, there is no bad news, the papers are colored in white and blue, and everyone throws barbecues with big smiles on their faces.
A couple of days ego, my friends and I talked about the things we love most about living in Israel and being Israeli. Here are mine:
1. The scenery: Deserts, cities, snow, beaches, nightclubs and Kibutzes- Israel’s got it all. There is a local destination for every mood. Having everything only a couple of hours’ drive away is truly a remarkable achievement, which doesn’t only bring tourists, but also makes us feel like we live in the most unique place in the world.
2. The warmth: Israel is hot. Very hot. In summertime I sometimes feel like I am about to melt. But having almost no winter is not the kind of warmth I love about Israel. The warmth I am talking about is the human warmth. We may push in lines sometimes, or steal hotel shampoos, but when a fellow person is in need, you can count on the closest Israeli to provide assistance. Once you meet an Israeli you become his/her friend, before he/she even knows your last name or where you are from. It’s the willingness to think of others, friends or strangers, before oneself, that sure puts a smile on my face.
3. The solidarity: We live in a world that follows the rule ‘every man for himself.’ But living in Israel, this is quite impossible. We all do things together, and are joined by the same emotions at the same time, sometimes without our even noticing. I believe the Israeli solidarity is mostly due to the fact that we all serve in the army. The recruitment for the purpose of serving our country brings us all together, young and old. Moreover, because we live in a small place, where everything concerns everyone, most of us, if not all, don’t go through the day without reading the entire paper. When Gilad Shalit was held captive, everybody joined the efforts to bring him back home. When he returned, the news channels followed the story for the entire day, as there was not a dry eye from north to south; This past summer, we all shared the joint struggle of the middle-class in the demand of ‘social justice’; When we were informed that our source of water, the Kineret, is drying out, all households started saving water.
These are just few examples out of many. All of this togetherness, the shared experiences and the fact that we are still writing Israel’s history, really makes us ‘feel’ each other, and I am grateful for that.
4. Original creations: nine Academy Award nominations, 13 Grammy Awards, 10 Nobel Prize winners, one Miss World winner, seven Olympic Medals. This is a source of indescribable pride. It shows how amazingly talented Israelis are, and how far can the Israeli mind go. The ability to conquer almost every mountain top in pop culture surely puts Israel on the map.
5. The way everyone knows everyone: So we all serve in the army, and share a very small piece of land with relatively few higher- education academies and universities. This is a sure recipe for a situation where no one is a stranger. We often call each other “brother” or “sister”, and there is surely a good reason for this nickname. We are all like this one big family, and pretty much stuck up each other’s behinds, but in a good way. It is very likely for an Israeli to recognize every day at least one name which appears on daily papers. When two Israelis meet, here or abroad, all they need is two minutes, and you can count on them to find out why they look so familiar to each other. Whether it’s from the military service, university, hometown, scouts, or volunteer work - we are all connected to each other.
6. Bamba: Israel sure stands behind many delicious foods, but the one Israeli invention which is, to me, one of the most Israeli things there is, is the Bamba. This peanut butter snack from heaven is all Israeli and all good!
7. Jerusalem: I don’t consider myself very religious, but there is something about that city which takes my breath away. Seeing the tower of David at night, smelling the goods at Ben-Yehuda market, touching the Western Wall, eating the local Hummus, hearing the magnificent combination of a Rabbi, a Priest and an a Muazzin all together calling for service - this is Jerusalem. It is an out-of-this-world experience for all five senses, and a spiritual home for visitors and residents from all over the world.
8. The optimism: I am often addressed by people who live abroad that ask me how come I still live here, with the missiles and the threats and the unpopularity in some parts of the world. My answer is one of the most famous Israeli sentences: Everything will be all right. This sentence, combined with the strong belief that everything will, in fact, be all right, is the Israeli essence. No matter what, we stick with our home, with the country that our parents and grandparents built. We sure have been through a lot, and who knows what tomorrow will bring. But don’t worry, be happy!
9. Israeli Breakfast: chopped salad with tomatoes, cucumbers and onion with fresh-squeezed lemon juice on top, along with an omelet and 5% cream cheese. Add some bread, and fresh made cappuccino, and you have yourself a perfect Israeli breakfast. I make sure to have one outside, with my friends, at least once a month, on a Saturday morning. The food, the sun and local gossip - that’s the good life.
10. Driving a French car, purchasing products online from the US, always saying that Europe is much safer, having a Facebook profile picture of you near the Great Wall in China, mixing words in English while talking to your friends, and constantly planning your next trip abroad, but always knowing there’s no place like home.
For your birthday, my dear Israel, I wish you many more years of fulfillment. May you never stop developing and may you always be an important part in our lives.