The anthology Miracle Nation: Seventy Stories About the Spirit of Israel; A Tribute to Rebirth in the Land of Our Ancestors by Israela Meyerstein (Mazo Publishers, 2018) highlights the amazing achievements of Israel in the 70 years since its rebirth in 1948. It contains the stories of ordinary people leading lives of courage, altruism and inspiration; stories that embody tikkun olam, repairing the world, which is at the heart of Judaism.
Meyerstein, a family therapist for more than 40 years, dedicated the book to Israel’s 70th birthday and in memory of relatives who perished at Treblinka. Each of the stories, many of which are contributed by writers other than the author, reminds us of how much there is to be proud of, as well as offering hope and optimism for the work still to be done.
Shlomo Alima, in “Destination: Return to Zion,” tells of his Iraqi ancestors, who were from the oldest Jewish Diaspora community in the world. His family left everything behind in 1925 to pursue their destiny in Israel. Their long, dangerous journey was made on donkeys, camels, bicycles and taxis – a two-month trek through Syria and Lebanon. They settled in Bet Yisrael, near Mea Shearim, and, in a two-room house, his grandparents raised 12 children. (Sadly, at only 30 years old, his father was murdered.)
Rabbi Micha Odenheimer contributed “Tevel b’Tzedek: Creating a Just, Compassionate and Beautiful World,” about a caste called the Mahji, who lived on the hills nearby rivers cascading from the majestic snow-covered Himalayas. They lived by fishing, both for feeding themselves and for trading with their neighbours, who grew rice, corn and wheat. Eventually, however, new roads brought people from other castes, who used explosives to kill the fish and bring them to the surface, and the Mahji ended up working in a brick factory, in order to survive. In addition, logging depleted the forests such that, during the monsoon season, the torrential rain couldn’t be absorbed into the earth quickly enough to recharge the springs that were needed in the dry season. Their life became unbearable.
But, a few years ago, something changed. An Israeli organization called Tevel b’Tzedek came to the area and joined up with a Nepali group, helping them grow enough crops for their own needs as well as for sale. Tevel b’Tzedek is Hebrew for “earth in justice.” Founded by Rabbi Micha Odenheimer in 2007 with 15 volunteers, there are now 800 volunteers, working with others to help some 40,000 Nepalese living in slums and villages.
Tevel b’Tzedek is just one of the many such Israeli organizations featured in this book. Another is Eco Peace Middle East, an environmental project that brings together young people from both sides of the Jordan River and the Dead Sea to try and prevent the waters from drying up, and to conserve water.
Pikuach nefesh (saving a life) is illustrated by stories of amazing acts by the Israel Defence Forces and of field hospitals for wounded Syrian civilians. Israeli hospitals offer medical care to Jews, Christians, Muslims, Druze – all nationalities and ethnicities without bias. There are wonderful organizations like Magen David Adom, Natal, Zaka and others that are always ready to save lives.
Another notable institution is Leket Israel, started by Joseph Gitler, a lawyer from New York. He found a way to garner good, surplus food – thrown out by supermarkets, caterers at event halls and farmers who grew too much – and collect it for those who need it. Leket is now an enormous food rescue network, which annually has 50,000 volunteers and feeds hundreds of thousands of Israelis every week.
Another miracle in Miracle Nation is described in “Oasis of Peace: Can a Song Heal?” by master musician Yuval Ron. Neve Shalom (Oasis of Peace) is a village where Jewish, Christian and Muslim families remain faithful to their own religious traditions, while dedicating their lives to advancing peace. It began as a dream of Father Bruno Hussar, who was born in Egypt and brought up in France. Only in adulthood did he discover that his family was Jewish. He started Neve Shalom on a monastery hillside, living alone until five families joined him. Today, the community is thriving – visitors from all over the world, including those who work for nongovernmental organizations and the United Nations, come to study in Neve Shalom. Friends of Oasis of Peace now exists in 11 countries.
On every page of this inspiring book, you will find a reason to be proud of this “miracle nation” – Israel – and its contribution to making the world a better place.
Dvora Waysman is a Jerusalem-based author. She has written 14 books, including The Pomegranate Pendant, which was made into a movie, and her latest novella, Searching for Sarah. She can be contacted at [email protected] or through her blog dvorawaysman.com.