Israel’s beauty is a definite asset. (photo by Cynthia Ramsay)
During the month of Elul, as we approach Rosh Hashanah, which this year falls on Sept. 9, Jews traditionally practise a kind of spiritual stocktaking. These are days when we look inward – assessing what happened to last year’s dreams, asking pardon for the wrongs we have committed and hoping, by repentance, charity and prayers, to be written into the Book of Life for the coming year.
I doubt if you would find many people in Israel who would say that 5778 was a particularly good year. The facts speak for themselves – no progress in the peace process, international isolation and antisemitism. These are the liabilities, and they are not figments of the imagination – they are real, and have led to a fall in the general morale.
But what is there to put in the assets column? There must surely be something to balance the account. Otherwise, why are there olim (immigrants) who stay on year after year, new ones motivated to come, and Israelis who go on trying to find solutions for seemingly insoluble problems, both on the personal and the national planes?
There were times during the last year when I was tempted to despair. But, even as I said the words, I knew I wasn’t fooling anyone, least of all myself. Because the positive things I have found in Israel I know cannot be duplicated anywhere else in the world.
First, I have found a family – the whole house of Israel. How wonderful to walk the streets and know that everyone is your brother or sister. Of course, just like in a real family, there are times that this same sibling is rude or aggressive and you react with bitterness towards their manners, opinions, behaviour. But, while you feel free to criticize them, let a stranger do it and you jump to their defence.
You argue that they live under continual tension, are wearied from fighting five wars and from the ongoing hostilities; that they have lost many dear ones and must always be prepared to cope with terrorist attacks. And, while you are explaining them and defending them – just like in a real family – you know even more that you love them.
With this realization comes another. You know that, if you are ever sick or in need, you are among people who care about you. There is nowhere else in the world where people take so much responsibility for one another, who care so much, become involved so much.
Nor is there any other country in the world where the youth are so magnificent. At an age when teenagers elsewhere may be sowing their wild oats and are their parents’ despair, our boys and girls are putting on uniforms and quietly devoting the fun years of their lives to serving their country. There is no fanfare or extraordinary praise. They do it as a duty, conscientiously, modestly. They are Israel’s riches that no inflation can ever devalue; they are our hopes and our future.
Israel is a unique ethnic mosaic. It has taken in Jews of every background, language and social level; it has provided a home for the homeless; a refuge for the persecuted. It doesn’t ask an immigrant, “What are you bringing to us – what skills, what capital?” Those who bring little or nothing are no less welcome. Israel, as a whole, really cares.
And it is a beautiful country, no matter where you travel. Haifa, seen at night from Mt. Carmel, is diamonds scattered on black velvet. The Galilee – terraced rows of grey-green olive trees and lush vegetation of date-palms. Cosmopolitan sidewalk cafés in Tel Aviv. Scarlet sunsets over the Dead Sea and deep indigo twilight over Eilat. And Jerusalem – our eternal city – the special, spiritual, abiding jewel in our crown.
Yet, that is not all. There are so many more things you could add. Really, there is no end to them. It is a country of enormous achievement – in agriculture, in science, in high-tech, in the arts. It is a country where every festival – religious or secular – is celebrated, to a greater or lesser degree, by the whole population. With all their troubles, Israelis are a spontaneous people who don’t need expensive entertainment. They can have a wonderful time singing around a campfire, having a backyard barbecue or dancing in the streets.
Thinking it over, you realize that the assets column far outweighs the liabilities column. And then you ponder the fact that, even if the opposite were true, Israel, with and without the blemishes, is yours.
Happy New Year to us all.
Dvora Waysman is the author of four books, one of which, The Pomegranate Pendant, has been made into the movie The Golden Pomegranate. Her latest novel is Searching for Sarah. Australian-born, she has lived in Jerusalem for 47 years.