Special thanks to Reesa Stone for this post in honor of Israel’s 65th birthday celebration.
Reams and reams are written in the days before Israel Independence Day about how wonderful it is to live in Israel. Indeed, Israelis have just been ranked the seventh happiest people in the world. This, despite the wars, the growing isolation and anti-Zionism in the world, the terrorist and missile attacks. I’ve decided to add to the list from my own perspective as an immigrant ex-Winnipeger, a veteran resident of 28 years in Beer Sheva, and an observant Jew, in no particular order, my 65 facts (one for each year of modern State of Israel’s existence) that still make my heart flutter and why I thank G-d every day that I live in Israel:
- Everyone has two birthdays, a Gregorian and a Jewish one. (editor’s note – this is because we have the Gregorian calendar that most of the world uses plus the Hebrew calendar that informs the Jewish and Israeli people of the timing of the Jewish holidays, birthdays and yahrtzeits, which are anniversaries of the death of a loved one that are observed by the family.)
- In some years, there is as much as a month between the two birthdays. We call this period the birthday ‘Chol Hamoed’ (a term used for the intermediary days of Passover and Sukkot), and reserve the right to celebrate anytime.
- There is only one possible three-day holiday. In Israel, only the first and last days of Pesach (Passover) and Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) are chagim (holidays) and not the first and last two days, as is the case everywhere else in the world. The only holiday that is two days is Rosh Hashana (Jewish New Year), so when it falls on Thursday and Friday, we add Shabbat and have a three-day holiday. We never have to worry about Sukkot or Pesach. Which means that
- We have only one seder (traditional Passover festive ritual meal). If there is no other reason to live in Israel, this is it. We have one seder on Pesach and finished.
- Bread is VERY hard to find during Pesach.
- Jewish holidays are national holidays. We don’t have to ask for extra time off work, or to postpone exams for Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) or Pesach, or for Shabbat (Sabbath) for that matter. The country shuts down automatically.
- It is understood that you will take off from work on the day your child is drafted into the army (editor’s note – and that you go with your child to the induction center to take photos and see him or her off).
- Israel is such a small country that it is possible to visit many different places in a short period of time.
- It’s even possible to literally walk the country’s length and breadth.
- Not only is it possible to walk Israel’s length and breadth, it’s considered a mitzvah to do so. During vacation times, attractions, holy and historic sites, walking trails, and nature reserves are clogged with people touring, visiting, picnicking and enjoying.
- Falafel (little fried balls made of chick peas) is available everywhere, all the time. And it’s cheap.
- Ice cream is available everywhere, most of the time. It’s still an Israeli trait not to eat ice cream in the winter. This quaint trait, however, is changing.
- Pita and laffa (Iraqi bread) are considered staple foods and are available in any supermarket.
- Most supermarkets are kosher and are closed on Shabbat. Those few shops that provide non-kosher food (usually meats and shellfish) have signs on them proclaiming they are not kosher.
- The sunsets are not only beautiful, but mark, not the end of another day, but the beginning of a new one. (Editor’s note – In the Hebrew calendar, the days go from sunset to sunset instead of sunrise to sunrise)
- Snow days are almost national holidays. It’s a given that if snow falls anywhere in the country, people are going to take the day and go visit it.
- Snow days are very rare. Even after living here for so many years, I really don’t miss the snow.
- From May to October, you can plan any event outdoors and not worry about it being rained out.
- The Hoopoe is Israel’s national bird – not the mosquito.
- The Hoopoe, (doochifat in Hebrew) like all things Israeli, comes with its own story. It is said to have carried King Solomon’s invitation to the Queen of Sheba to visit Jerusalem. The rest, as they say, is history.
- Neot Kedumim, a park located not far from Jerusalem, is dedicated to educating Israelis about the natural flora of Israel. All plants and trees mentioned in the Bible have been planted there, often in the same arrangements as recorded. This gives one an idea of what was meant when in Sefer VaYikra (Leviticus) it is said that the Kohen is to take the ‘cedar of Lebanon and the hyssop’…
- The Jerusalem zoo is home to all the animals mentioned in the Bible (along with many that aren’t).
- The shoemaker to whom I take my shoes to fix is one of the liberators of Beer Sheva who fought in the War of Independence in 1948-49.
- Heroes are everywhere and dress up as ordinary people.
- After the liberation of Beer Sheva in 1949, the first park that was built was called Allenby Park, named after Field Marshal Edmund Allenby, who liberated the city from the Turks during the First World War in 1917.
- Every year, there is a ceremony in Beer Sheva on October 31 marking ANZAC day. ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Armed Corps. October 31 is the day in 1917 that Allenby and his troops made up of Australians and New Zealanders liberated Beer Sheva.
- A few years ago, Allenby Park was re-dedicated and a new statue of Allenby was unveiled. Not only did the British ambassador come for the ceremony, so did Edmund Allenby’s grandson and family.
- Israeli universities have a second sitting for all exams. This practice was adopted for those students who had army reserve duty during the first exam period.
- During the Lebanon War in 1982, a third exam sitting was implemented, for those students who missed both the first and second sittings due to the war. ‘Moed gimmel’, as it’s called, is still available for those who need it.
- When my son was in the army, I sent out an email on the Beer Sheva email list requesting information on where to find some equipment he requested I buy. Not only did I receive dozens of replies with the information, I also received offers to borrow the equipment, or even just to take it for free.
- Many of those emails also included words along the line of “I am including your son in my daily prayers for the welfare of our soldiers”.
- Some of those people who added my son to their prayers needed to first ask me his name, as they were complete strangers. But that didn’t matter because
- Soldiers, no matter their age, are everybody’s children.
- A lecturer in one of the colleges was fired when he did not admit a student in army uniform to his class. It was a unanimous decision.
- Various presidents, prime ministers, and members of Knesset (Israeli Parliament) speak (or spoke) Hebrew with a foreign accent.
- When people comment on my accent, I mention the above to them. It always makes them smile.
- When there was a chance that the Israeli national basketball team might qualify to play in the European championship a few years ago, a national debate ensued as to whether they should play or not. The final game of the championship was scheduled for the evening of Yom HaZikaron (Israel’s Remembrance Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism). It seemed inappropriate to play a championship game on that night.
- The Europeans agreed that if Israel did qualify to play in the final game, they would move the game to the afternoon hours, so it would finish before sunset and not conflict with Remembrance Day. The Israeli team did qualify, and the game was moved to the afternoon.
- The Israeli team agreed that if they won the championship, there would be no celebrating that night. (They lost anyway…)
- In previous years, Israel has not participated in the Eurovision Song Contest because it was held on Yom HaZikaron.
- Verses from the Bible or the commentators have become idioms in everyday Hebrew. Rashi’s “What’s the sabbatical year to Mt. Sinai?” roughly translates to “what’s that got to do with the price of tea in China?”
- In Hebrew, anything outside of Israel is called “outside the Land. As in “she went outside the Land for a vacation.” Because, for us, there is only one Land. (editor’s note – this is known as “chutz l’aretz” in Hebrew, abbreviated as “chul.”
- Part of the state education curriculum is trips to various areas of the country.
- Most schools have a siddur (prayer book) party at the end of Grade one, celebrating the children’s ability to read from the siddur.
- Most schools also have a chumash (Bible) party at the end of Grade 2, celebrating the children’s ability to learn Torah.
- My children’s schools took the kids to Jerusalem for their chumash party. What better place to celebrate learning Torah?
- Streets in Israel are often named after Jewish and Israeli figures.
- In Beer Sheva, each neighborhood has a theme for its street names. In one neighborhood, all the streets are named for animals found in Israel, another for pre-state historical figures, while in my neighborhood all the streets are named for places in Israel.
- The main street in my neighborhood is Jerusalem Street.
- There is one older neighborhood where each street is named for one of the twelve tribes of Israel.
- When that neighborhood grew and more names were needed, the new street was given the name Osnat. Osnat was the wife of Joseph, son of Jacob.
- If a street is named after a person, the street sign often comes with little explanations of who the person was. Explanations such as “medieval Jewish commentator,” “Supreme court judge,” and “Chief Rabbi of the IDF” make walking down the street an educational experience.
- When there is a pigua (terrorist attack) or a grad missile attack, the phone lines crash within five minutes. This is because everyone across the country is phoning everyone to make sure everyone is ok.
- It is not unusual for thousands of people to attend a funeral of a terror victim or a soldier killed in battle.
- It is also not unusual for thousands of people to visit the families of a terror victim or a soldier during the shiva period. (editor’s note – shiva is the 7 day mourning period immediately following the burial of the family member)
- It is also not unusual for thousands of people to pray for the quick recovery of wounded soldiers or terror victims or send presents or even come visit.
- Then, when a family of a killed or wounded soldier or terror victim celebrates a wedding or a birth or a bar mitzvah, thousands of people follow their simcha (celebration) and rejoice with them. This is because
- Kol hayehudim eravim zeh lazeh-All Jews are responsible for each other, in sorrow and in joy.
- Strangers passing you on the street will greet you with Erev Tov (good evening), or Shabbat Shalom (Peaceful Sabbath – have a good Sabbath), or Chag Sameach (Happy Holiday).
- Flowers are everywhere. All year round.
- Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, where I work, is a world leader in research in water use, de-desertification, and agriculture.
- One of the smaller BGU campuses in the city is dotted with experimental fruits, thorn-free sabra plants, and one-of-a-kind trees.
- When asked, our very secular neighbor happily joins us to make a tenth in a minyan (10 men together needed to say certain prayers)
- We know when mincha (afternoon prayers) is on Shabbat at the neighborhood synagogue by watching for groups of men walking down the street.
- My children are all sabras (native-born Israelis).
AACI Jerusalem – Dr. Max and Gianna Glassman Family Center
Pierre Koenig 37, corner of Poalei Tzedek 2 (across from Hadar Mall)
Buses # 10, 21 & 49 stop on Pierre Koenig across from AACI; 71, 72, 74 & 75 stop at Tzomet Habankim, a 10-minute walk away.
(02) 566-1181 for more information about any programs or to register.