I get many comments on or about this blog, and I enjoy each one. Wait, that's not true...I enjoy MOST of them. There are a few, like the one I deleted this morning (from yet another brave "Anonymous" who wrote jews=parasit ..jews=pig ...jews=dog kakakakak :) ), that I don't enjoy - although I do enjoy deleting them! But most are supportive, sweet, complimentary.
This morning, I got a nice comment from Tom, who likes the blog, and then asked this question:
What's it actually like in Israel?
I love this question because it suggests a genuine interest in my country. It doesn't assume; it doesn't condemn. It simply requests that I do something I love to do - explain what Israel is like. So here goes.
Israel is a country like no other. It is a country of joy, in a place where all others would think there should be none. It is a country of miracles, of unbelievable awe. It is a country built and sustained on faith - the deep kind that simply fills you with the knowledge that this land is yours and all is right with the world so long as you can awaken here each morning, go to sleep here all night and know your children will do the same.
Its people are warm and caring in a very honest and direct way. Perfect strangers will come up to you and tell you that you haven't dressed your child warmly enough or that you really shouldn't buy that candy for your child. And you don't ever mind this because you know it comes from love -worse, you'll actually be shocked to find yourself do the same one day and wonder how that could have happened.
Israel is a country of incredible beauty, of a variety you might not have realized existed before you came here. The beaches are lovely - yes, there are others that are more lovely in the world, but it doesn't feel that way when you are seeing the sun kiss the Mediterranean waters while you sit on the shoreline.
There are tall mountains in the north of Israel - beautiful and green, that give way to amazing valleys. Within these areas there are many small towns with the most amazing views. I've always loved Kfar Tavor - a small town at the base of Mount Tavor and each time I drive through, I am so grateful that Israel is small enough that I can drive there and back in a day. When you drive up north, you see the desert fall away, and as the mountains rise up, the trees and greenery begin. Suddenly, the Sea of Galilee comes into view, a refreshing sight after the barren heat of the desert.
There are two "vacation areas" in Israel - way in the north, in the Galilee and in the Golan Heights where there are water falls, the Jordan river, mountain hiking and amazing views; and the southern city of Eilat, which opens to an under-water world you can only imagine exists. The fish are so incredibly gorgeous; the beaches so clean, the water so clear.
The Negev Desert fills most of southern Israel. It takes over the land gradually as you descend from Jerusalem and see the trees become fewer and fewer. You can drive along the Dead Sea and see the amazing blue-green of the water and blocks of salt just floating or attached to the seashore.
(opposite: Elie picking blueberries in the north years ago.)
The center of Israel is filled with cities and towns that are as modern as anything you'll find in the US or England.
We have a huge hi-tech industry busy developing some of the world's greatest innovative ideas. Medical breakthroughs and scientific wonders. Did you know the disk-on-key was developed in Israel? The Pentium? Drip irrigation? ICQ? All developed here, like parts of the cellular phone technology that began an industry that has changed how we live our lives.
And yes, amidst all of this, is the Israel you hear about in the news but is so small compared to the way it really is here. You'll hear (and read) that a terrorist tried to attack a cafe or ram a tractor into a bus and you'll think that that is all there is to Israel. It's a part of what we live with, but so small that for the most part, our lives are amazingly peaceful. That's right - peaceful. We walk even at night without fear - even children, especially women.
If I get stuck on the side of the road with a flat tire (three times in 15 years here), I know that some amazingly sweet young man will pull over within seconds and change the tire for me. He will never ask for payment, never expect it and should I dare to offer, will look at me as if I am insane. The most I was able to do one time, was offer him a home-baked cookie from the batch I was taking to friends.
It would never occur to me to fear this stranger who stopped to help; and it would never occur to him to harm. He is one of us; I am his sister, his mother, his wife, whatever. I am family. My husband had a terrible headache one night as we were returning with his sister, brother, and our children from the north. It was relatively late at night; all stores were closed. We pulled into the last place I thought I could find an open store and all was closed and so I knocked on one of the houses and explained.
Moments later, they came out with medicine, water, and an offer for my husband to come inside and lay down and rest for a short while. They were genuinely surprised when we thanked them for the medicine and water, but declined the place to rest. They were sure he would feel better if he would sleep for a short while. This is what Israel is actually like.
My son was coming on the bus yesterday when I called him and we figured out that the bus would actually take him further out of the way. He asked the driver if there was any way that he could stop to let him off. This is an express bus from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem's Central Bus Station - stop to stop...with no stopping. The bus driver promptly pulled to the nearest bus station and wished the soldier, my son, a peaceful Sabbath. This is what Israel is actually like.
If you take all the pieces of the puzzle, you may begin to see what my country is like - too often, all you hear about is one tiny piece. It is a frightening one, a depressing one. Yes, we have no peace with our neighbors who have been on a 61 year campaign to rid themselves of us. But on a day-to-day run, their campaign is nothing compared to what we have built and will continue to build.
Israel is the most amazing country - strong because it has to be, caring because that's what we are. Our emergency teams have flown around the world, at a moment's notice. We have pulled survivors from earthquake-destroyed buildings, we have rescued survivors from the great tsunami a few years ago. And, because of all that we have suffered here, we have become world experts in identification and handling of dead bodies - giving them the honor and respect they were denied in death.
Israel stands for Jews around the world, so no where can a country attack its Jewish citizens without knowing Israel will respond. We have gathered our people from Yemen and Ethiopia and Russia, even under fire. And today, quietly while the world does little to stop the suffering in Darfur, Sudanese refugees know that if they can somehow get past the Egyptians (who have beaten them and shot them), these Moslem refugees may actually find shelter in Israel.
We welcomed the boat people from Vietnam, some of whom still live here, when the world debated and wondered. We stand, even if we stand alone, against Iran because we know what till happen if Iran goes nuclear.
And yes, we put our sons on the borders of our country and ask them to sacrifice three years of their lives defending our land at a time when they too would prefer to get on with their lives, have fun with their friends, go to bars, and do nothing that has anything to do with wearing a uniform and carrying a gun.
What is it actually like in Israel? A lot of times, it is like living in heaven here on earth - waking to the beauty of this land and simply thanking God that today, yet again, you were lucky enough to awaken here.
May God bless the land and the people of Israel with health, with happiness, with prosperity, and yes, with peace so that the day will come when our sons won't have to go to war and those living outside of our country will come without fear and find out what Israel is actually like.
(Thanks for asking, Tom - I hope this in some small way answers your question.)