October 11, 2012

Zman Simchateinu

On Tuesday, I took apart my sukkah. I pulled down my decorations, rolled up the bamboo roof, slid the white cotton fabric off the poles, then washed and neatly folded them.  I swept up the area where our sukkah stood, gathering pieces of tinsel into a neat pile. 

After a week full of singing, dining, and gathering with friends, our stone courtyard looked empty, hollow, quiet. A cool wind rustled fallen leaves, marking the end of a season. It was time to return to a routine; back to school, back to work, back to all those things we put off until “after the chagim.”

Many people in Israel took time off for the chagim. They had quality family time, fun outings, toured the country and simply
enjoyed life. It is no surprise that Sukkot is
also called zman simchateinu, a time of
rejoicing; and it is no surprise that Israel is a happy country.

In fact, this hot, dusty, tiny country that is surrounded by enemies ranks #12 on the
World Map of Happiness. And in the newest OECD (the Organisation for Economic 
Co-operation and Development) Better Life Index Report, Israel ranks #6. This is higher than
Finland, Australia, Canada and Sweden and the wealthy US, which ranked #11.

Here is what the study found:

6. Israel
> Life satisfaction score: 7.4
> Employment rate: 60% (11th lowest)
> Self-reported good health: 81% (7th highest)
> Employees working long hours: 18.92% (3rd highest)
> Disposable income: n/a
> Educational attainment: 82% (tied-12th highest)
> Life expectancy: 81.7 years (6th highest)

Israelis have a life expectancy of 81.7 years — sixth highest among OECD nations. The country also has a low obesity rate of 13.8%, while 81% of those surveyed report their health to be “good” or “very good.” By comparison, Americans’ life expectancy is 78.7 years, and they also have a higher obesity rate of 33.8% among adults. Despite the constant security concerns in the country, the homicide rate in Israel is in line with the OECD’s average of 2.1 murders per 100,000 people. In addition, 70% of Israelis surveyed feel safe walking home at night. Although Israelis work long hours, with 18.92% working at least 50 hours a week, life satisfaction remains high.
How do we understand this? Israelis work longer hours, make less money, have a high unemployment rate and are generally stressed out. They serve three years in the army and are under constant threat from enemy attacks. Israelis are often over-caffeinated, overtired, and overjoyed.
Yet Israelis have time for their families and love the simple things in life, things that do not cost a lot. They love to gather for a barbeque on the beach, take a hike on a mountain trail, chat in an outdoor cafe and bite into a falafel--as long as it is smeared with techina.
Lining up to give tzedakah Erev Yom Kippur.
They also like to give and to reach out a helping hand. The morning before Yom Kippur, a group of Israelis were seen lining up to give charity. Where else in the world does this happen? Perhaps this proves that a good life is not about getting and having; rather it is about giving and caring. And in this area, Israel scores first place. Maybe this is the secret ingredient to joy.
My sukkah is stored away for the year. It is officially after the chagim. I must get back to my routine, but I do this with a heart filled with joy.

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