Beyond the Cusp

April 5, 2019

Unexplainable Joyousness in Israel


As Olim who have been in Israel only a few years, we are constantly amazed at how absolutely wonderful and friendly life is. This is even more amazing as we have not learned sufficient Hebrew to actually talk to Israelis such as store clerks or when attempting to make medical appointments and other similar arrangements. Most of the time, if the people we get on the phone do not speak English, they will actually follow through and provide a person to call back who speaks sufficient English to deal with whatever it is we are attempting to accomplish. But that and the fact that, even when there is not an English speaker, they will calmly and politely play charades as we use presumed common gestures to get our message across. This has led to some interesting misunderstandings as you can probably guess. Still, we are making progress in teaching all of Israel English, or at least in our small circle. Yes, there are those who are assisting with our learning Hebrew, but the rest of them will learn English by the time we become proficient in Hebrew. But our experiences are but a small part of the whole. Israel ranks as the thirteenth happiest nation on Earth. That is at least according to the survey which placed Finland as number one and Norway close behind, or as we call them, the frozen chosen. Almost everything we have dealt with thus far has been at least pleasant even if the people at the bank cannot agree amongst themselves how to get things done. This, along with other small aggravations, is largely due to Israel being a rather young nation not yet a century old. But let’s take stock at all the reasons and problems which make Israel appear to be misplaced even making the top one-hundred, let alone thirteenth.


Israeli Defense Force at Play on a Beach

Israeli Defense Force at Play on a Beach


There are almost innumerable reasons against Israel even ranking on a happiness scale when you take a first look at the news and other coverage of us. Often the first thing that people point to is that Israel is surrounded by nations which wish to kill her down to the last person. They add that these enemies stretch for thousands of miles east and west and a fair distance south with Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and then Europe heading north and then west. Turn eastward just north of Turkey and you will soon be in Russia. It is a wonderful neighborhood as long as you remain within our tight little borders. Then there is the fact that Israel is on a war footing 24/7 with threats of war being thrown in our faces regularly. Currently, Hamas is debating whether or not they wish to risk an all-out war with Israel or just to walk that tightrope where Israel does not respond with full-force. Iran is behind the scenes right now encouraging Hamas and Islamic Jihad to press the envelope even if they end up crushed by an Israeli response. Iran is thinking that if they can press the envelope and not quite get an all-out Israeli response, then they may just succeed in making Bibi Netanyahu appear to be weak and thus lose the upcoming elections. What they are apparently unaware of is what the actual result of their efforts are producing. These attacks are overt and obvious in their intent but still they will cause some voters not to vote Likud because they are not responding with sufficient force and much of what their responses have been are seen as farcical. Those who decide not to vote for Likud in order to replace Bibi are not going to vote for any party which is to the left, they are going to vote for one of the two main choices which are more Zionist and to the right. They might decide they want to vote for a party which has a military man who has seen combat and understands how the military function, a general who trained in a combat position for example. Seeking a general one might immediately jump to the Blue-White Party which touts having four generals of which three have been Chief of Staff. That sounds so very impressive until one inspects their military careers and finds that they often were overly cautious to the point of giving an appearance of timidity. One of the four generals in this party is one who might make an excellent Prime Minister except he is not heading the party, the biggest paper pusher of them all is the leader, and we will leave it at that. So, to whom are you intimating?


The person we refer to is not known for his military career despite his service being quite exemplary. This general was the head of the Otzem Pre-Military Academy now located in Yated. He established the academy in 1993 in Bnei Atzmon which was within the limits of Gaza. He oversaw their orderly evacuation with passive protests while doing all they were able not to make the IDF soldiers become uncomfortable with their necessary efforts to remove the students. His intent, as best as we are able to ascertain, was to minimize the stress and shock of the events to both his students, who were training to be IDF soldiers, and the IDF soldiers tasked with their removal. To those who have challenged his decision, we can only inquire what they would have had school age children do while remembering that this was already an uncomfortable and potentially scarring set of conditions. He thought of the children in his charge as well as the IDF soldiers, some may have come from the academy, and did what he thought best means of causing them the least chance for any permanent psychological trauma. Rabbi Levi explained about our former general that he did not want to enter politics, “It should be said in his praise that he didn’t want the job and needed to be convinced.” This gentleman was a combat helicopter pilot, so he definitely received combat training and flew whirlybirds, something which takes great skill, dexterity, concentration and stamina. Helicopters are some of the most intricate of the aircraft as some of the controls are counterintuitive in how they are used. I was only trained on a simulator when I trained as a crash-rescue airfield firefighter as we had to pass a simulator test just in case we were required to move a helicopter away from a crash scene or for any other reason. Training for moving fixed-wing aircraft, airplanes, was vastly more simple as those you just roll along the ground and steer them the same as one would a car. Helicopter pilots have my greatest respect for their abilities. Finally, he served as IDF Chief Rabbi for six years, a very select and prestigious position. We are speaking of the quiet strength of Brigadier General (res) Rabbi Rafi Peretz, the newly elected leader of the Jewish Home Party. Confession, we belong to Jewish Home and have since we selected a party when we named the party we preferred so as to be able to vote in primary elections and other party activities. I am also a member of their Central Committee which approved Rabbi Peretz.


But there are other reasons why Israel making the top twenty of a list of happiest nations on a list where it initially appears to be a list of the most socialist left-leaning nations favoring Europe is surprising. The fact that the United States ranks at number nineteen, six positions below Israel, is another surprise. Israel is the most sanctioned nation by United Nations resolutions and faces an international movement, the BDS movement, aimed at isolating Israel economically from the rest of the world. The nation consists of largely desert regions yet much of the northern half of the country is green and filled with farmland. Israel has a limited access to fresh water but has made up for the lack of fresh water sources with desalinization plants to augment the water provided largely by the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). Israel basically has two seasons, so we are either having rainy weather or the hot and dry weather of our summers. In Israel, we are usually very happy to have rain but by this time of the year, we are becoming anxious for the summer. By the fall, we are really ready for the cooler weather despite the rains, or possibly, because of the rains, which accompany the cooler weather. Regions of Israel receive snow, specifically Mount Hermon where the Israeli ski resorts thrive during the winter months.


Skiing on Mount Hermon

Skiing on Mount Hermon


As happiness is often thought to reflect wealth, with Israel ranked just over thirtieth in the world proves that money is not everything. Israel ranks thirtieth in a Quality of Life Index. These ratings would lead one to expect Israel to rank similarly for happiness, but we rate far higher than many expect. Much of this has to do with things which are less easily measured. One is that Israel is a rather religious nation and that applies to all the different religions practiced within our borders. We have a wide choice of fresh fruits and vegetables which are largely grown within Israel through some of the most advanced agricultural methods, innovations and scientific developments which include variants of grains, fruits and vegetables which are better adapted to the climate in Israel. The agricultural wonders are only likely to increase as more of the southern Negev Desert is made arable through irrigation and further adaptable plants are developed through cross breeding and other methods. Many of the Israeli innovations, which are shared with developing nations around the world, can be read about with a number of informative videos in this article titled, 12 Ways Israel Feeds the World, an article which contains many interesting facts. The fact that Israel assists many nations from providing special cell towers, which are powered by solar energy and advance batteries for previously isolated villages in Africa to being one of the first nations to arrive to assist after natural and other disasters and almost always the last to leave, to sharing agricultural advances and medical advances, procedures and inventions often at no cost to the nations we assist. Knowing that your nation is actually fulfilling its desired aim of being a light unto the nations gives one pride. Realizing we do this giving freely, even to the same nations which condemn us repeatedly in votes taken at the United Nations General Assembly as well as countless United Nations agencies, we still get no reassuring support. Israel actually does what we would preach we do if we were to go around beating our chests and yelling, we did that. Instead, we arrive quietly and depart quietly always having the people with whom we interacted very happy that we came and lent a hand. Below is CNN news coverage of the earthquake aftermath in Haiti and the second is a special case from Haiti, George, a dancer, had his leg crushed requiring amputation. The Israeli doctors made arrangements for George to go to Israel and be fitted with a very special prosthetic specifically designed allowing him to return to his life’s love and career as a dancer. He is an excellent dancer even with his new leg.


The people of Israel are a mix which comes from every corner of the world. We are not a purely European group of Jews who had nowhere to return to after World War II. The Arab world across the Middle East and Northern Africa forced out virtually all of their Jews who were mostly only able to find one nation willing to take them in, Israel. Israel sent aircraft and boats to assist these refugees, over eight-hundred-thousand in all, in returning to their new home in Israel. We will not claim that there were not difficulties as when you almost double the population in a short period of a nation under fifteen years in age, there are difficulties in finding employment, housing and virtually everything one could imagine. In many cases, these Jews were permitted one suitcase each and those were inspected to make sure that they were not leaving with any item of wealth such as money, jewelry, paintings or other such items. The Jews from these Arab nations were just as destitute and quite traumatized just as the survivors of the Holocaust had been when coming to Israel. They also arrived in a nation being threatened by the same world they had just been expelled from and they would see wars as the Arabs attacked Israel in three major wars in barely over her first twenty-five years. Still, the people have a vibrancy and love of life which is infectious. The love and pride in their homeland is also evident and we all agree on one thing, despite any problems, we are home where we will not become victims of the government and be thrown into death camps with an intent on eradicating the Jews. We are in our country and for better or worse, we know we are home, and that is a very wonderful feeling for a people who have been victimized, persecuted and attempted to be eradicated throughout history, and as Jews, we remember our history. Why is Israel so happy? Perhaps it is the air, the people, the great food, the ice cream shops almost every other block, the beaches, the skiing, Jerusalem, the history and the fact that it is home and always has been the home we dreamed in which to live. We cannot explain why, but we can only be surprised that we are not rated higher. Sure much of the world loves to hate us, but at least now our own country will not hate us and mistreat us because it is actually and really our own country finally and at last, after over two-thousand years, we are home.


Beyond the Cusp


February 1, 2016

Blessings We Have Found in Israel

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Israel gets some bad public relations if one depends on the news, editorials, talk radio and just about any mass media, even movies and other entertainment. Living in Israel very quickly dispels all the lies. Are there a few choice people who might make one take a less than superb view, but such are rare and even they warm with time. Needless to say, not knowing or speaking the language causes some difficulties but there is almost always somebody there to lend a translating hand. There was the time we were at a McDonalds and the woman at the counter spoke no English and two what had to be young High School age girls came in and realizing the communication problem immediately became our translators without being asked. Generally there are those who willingly offer to give directions to whatever place you need to find in ten minutes to make the appointment and it is your first time in the city and you got off the bus where you thought was the closest stop. That time we only missed by one or two stops and had to walk about a mile or so, you get used to walking in Israel because so much living is city center style European life, an initial system shock after life in the outer suburbs in the United States.


Our friends, acquaintances and relatives are quite surprised when we relate the ease and general atmosphere in Israel. When we tell them that we have found Israel more accommodating and generally having a softer and more easy and comforting nature they tend to express great surprise. One might expect that in Israel life would have an edge on it with the constant threats from virtually any direction and the added unpleasant surprise with the Iranian nuclear threat and President Obama and his team’s animosities and threats thrown at Israel but they would be quite wrong. Probably the best description we could give as a true barometer of Israel and Israelis would be to take everything ever attributed to Israel and her people by the United Nations General Assembly and the United Nations Human Rights Commission or virtually any other United Nations agency etcetera and take it all and place the initials of the United Nations in front of them but in small letters and then read the entirety as one word. An easy example would be if some United Nations commission claimed Israelis harbored a genocidal hatred then all one need do is take the two words and place the letter un in front giving you ungenocidal and unhatred and you would produce an honest appraisal. Sure it would take ignoring your spellcheck and do some translations where ungenocidal would become accepting of others people who are different and unhatred would become lovers making the entire accusation translate into accepting and caring for peoples who differ from Jews and accepting, caring and considerate of people who are of any other stereotypical, racial, religious or nationality different from Israeli or Jewish. A closer inspection of Israeli actions around the world will better exemplify this example.


When Haiti was struck by that devastating earthquake, the Israelis were amongst the first to have responders on the ground evaluating any special needs. Israel had the first field hospital which was equipped with X-ray equipment, a gynecological unit, a neonatal unit, burn center, surgical rooms, prosthetics and physical therapy, emergency room, and virtually every department and specialists which was on the ground and set up within six days of the earthquake. This hospital remained on the ground even after the search and rescue units had stood down. Israel also opened clinics in areas where urgent care not requiring the abilities of a full hospital were present and when the Israelis left Haiti a number of these clinics remained completely equipped with diagnostic, monitoring and other equipment and Israel had trained people in the area such as orphanage, school or other personnel who would be capable of offering care after the Israelis had left.


When Typhoon Haiyan spread destruction throughout much of the Philippines, Israel arrived with an one-hundred-forty-eight person team, including search, rescue and medical services and a fully functioning field hospital with one-hundred tons of aid. Making rescue and aid assistance even more difficult was when the typhoon struck, the region was still reeling from the Bohol earthquake in October before. One of the more interesting reports on the Israeli presence at the time was on television news where an on the scenes reporter had been directed to a small village not on one of the main Islands by the Philippine government when she requested assistance in reaching the “most remote village” to report on how they were coping with the aftermath of the storm. Imagine her surprise to find a clinic operated by Israelis already set up and operating while training the local villagers on how to treat people for emergency aid and familiarizing them with the equipment which the Israelis would leave behind as well as the clinic itself with one Israeli aid worker to remain behind and work for the next six months or so with the villagers to assure that they have received whatever training might arise.


When Nepal recently had their massive earthquake, once again Israel was amongst the first to respond and the operation was much like the one in Haiti with one exception which was remarkable; Israel took care to the most remote of places, some of which had rarely if ever seen support even from the Nepalese government where Israel set up satellite care units often referred to as clinic in a backpack, though we would hate to have to carry such a backpack, they are quite heavy (pictured below). These remote aid clinics provided urgent and critical care close to the, and often on the, mountain slopes treating climbers and vacation goers as well as native Nepalese citizens. They also operated as a remote triage for when victims were stabilized and given what treatment was available at the clinic and once the patients were stabilized for transport having them taken to the main Israeli or other field hospital.



The Israeli and Nepalese medical staff who operated the IsraAID mobile clinic in the village of Tar, ten hours northeast of Kathmandu. (Photo credit: Melanie Lidman/Times of Israel)

The Israeli and Nepalese medical staff who operated the IsraAID mobile clinic in the village of Tar, ten hours northeast of Kathmandu. (Photo credit: Melanie Lidman/Times of Israel)



Israel has sent aid groups to other areas struck by natural calamities with teams having gone to Japan after their earthquake and tsunami disaster, Myanmar after the tsunami, Turkey after they suffered an earthquake and offered assistance to the United States after hurricane Katrina swamped New Orleans and destroyed entire fishing towns along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, and reportedly one of a very remote few to offer assistance to the United States. When one considers the Save a Child’s Heart program and how it saves children of all ages who have debilitating if not life-threatening heart problems as well as setting up entire departments in hospitals around the world and training their staff and physicians on how to diagnose and treat these children including training the heart surgeons on how to perform these sensitive and vital surgeries, Israel leaves all the equipment the staff was trained on with the hospital.


And the Israelis you meet, see, work with and just generally run across are some of the most patient people and really do try to help in their own manner. They may sometimes have difficulty in expressing things in English but many are actually happy and anxious to use their English and respond well when one states the words in the correct syntax as that is important to them. Sentence structure in Hebrew is different than in English and thus literal word for word translations quite often makes for what at first one takes as Yoda speak from Star Wars, perhaps it was direct translation of Hebrew to English that was the basic transference used to make Yoda syntax. Our Hebrew is embarrassingly inadequate to even make a scheduled appointment and get the day of the week correct not to mention the time as some places use a twenty-four hour clock which reminds all of military times.


Then there is a tight knit group of what are referred to as Anglos, basically English speakers, and we have events, trips, sightseeing, Torah, Talmud and Bible classes for men and women and we have found our level of social activities is vastly more active and on a level of friendliness equal to our best of times and friends back in the United States. Another thing which leads to such is that Israel is a rather small nation, approximately the size of New Jersey, though that is misleading as the southern two-fifths, or forty-percent, of Israel is made up of the Negev Desert which is rather sparsely populated. Where New Jersey has a population of nine-million, Israel’s population is just over eight-million. Of course there are some groups who pretty much stick to their own group of like-minded and religious viewpoints such as the Haredi. In much of Israel where there is a mix of Arab and Jewish populations there is no evident difference in the treatment and the interactions are natural and as normal as humanly possible. In the area we reside there are Arab and Muslim stores and employees in larger stores or other places of employment are seamless as to their fitting into the society as a whole. At the regional hospital there are Muslim and Arab nurses, physicians, technicians and all positions and everything functions, as we said, seamlessly. The street signs are all written in Hebrew, Arabic, and English with some towns sporting French or Spanish or Russian, though we have yet to see one which had more than four languages and usually just the three required languages. What is always amusing is when a store has its name actually an English name but the letters on their sign is in Hebrew. What gets confusing is that when you read some of these signs you try to think what the prefixes and suffixes are as Hebrew has many words result only in a letter prefix or suffix. Some examples of prefixes are the ‘v’ which means ‘and’ along with an ‘h’ which means ‘the’ while the suffixes often give one the gender of the word as well as if it is singular or plural or includes the speaker or listener in the plural group and so on. Over half of learning Hebrew are the prefixes and the gender and singular versus plural of the words. Someday we will get a reliable translation program for our phones, or should we call them what the phones have become, life assistants and general applications from pictures to recordings, getting e-mail, surf the Web, record our every move and change of mood on Facebook, well, not quite, and most important movie or still camera and recorder.


Basically, virtually everything UNcomplimentary about Israel are UNtrue. Contrary to popular belief they are not contrarians. Israelis are like all peoples, there are the great, the good and the we wish they were nicer types. Many fall all over themselves attempting to make our lives as stress free as possible which had to be stressing on them. Of course it might be that as the ancient Hebrew scholars made a point of hammering into our stories and writings, people will only treat you as well as you treat them and life can be like a mirror to one’s soul which is revealed by ones actions when it appears nobody is watching, because, as we are taught in Judaism and is likely taught though with a slight difference, there is always somebody watching us from on High and nothing escapes that view as our innermost thoughts to our most expressed emotions. We can also count that such observations tell whether we’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake. Still, there is something else which permeates through the society at large. There is an air of optimism and hopefulness. You feel a vigor for living life and finding meanings where other places simply ignore and accept things as is. In Israel there is this striving to be better as a people and as individuals. There is also a level of acceptance which makes one more comfortable simply being themselves as all will be just fine in the end. There are more young children than we were used to in the United States. This too adds to the optimism as a society with declining populations is what is destroying Europe right before our eyes. They are dancing their last dance in Europe and if things continue as has been the scenario we in Israel will become all the more isolated and an Island of freedom and democracy in a sea of misfortune. There is still hope for Europe but only if they turn their ship of state around and rediscover what gave them the impetus to live life to the fullest and explore the world, that spark of life which made passing their ideas and ideals on to the next generation, something difficult to do when there are so few children born to the indigenous Europeans. Israel will only grow stronger as the Jews of Europe make their final decision and that plague may soon prove to be a prophesy for the United States though that need not be their future written in stone. The United States has a far better opportunity to reverse the slipping trend before the slope becomes too steep and wet for any traction and down becomes the only direction. We are both glad we have come to Israel and Israel has proven to be a wellspring of optimism and life, a future of light and enlightenment, more than a completion as it is an opportunity to grow with such splendor and a kaleidoscope of choices each colored so vividly and vibrant. It is really hope eternal or as close as we have seen on Earth. It is great to be at home, the home which was destined and a good, no, great home it is and will grow from there. Needless to say, but we do not expect the United Nations to understand as they are the people of ‘UN’ and that sums them up in total.


Beyond the Cusp


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