May 12, 2016

You're invited...

Yesterday we mourned, united. Today we celebrate our independence, united.  We made the switch from Memorial Day to Independence Day last night as the shofar blasted in synagogue and people burst into dance and song:
"Ani ma'amin b'emunah shleimah beviat haMashiach, v'af al pi sheyitmameiha, im kol zeh achakeh lo b'chol yom sheyavo."

"I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah, and though he may tarry, nevertheless I await his coming every day."

People wished each other 'chag sameach,' happy holiday, and then took to the festivities across the country. There were concerts, fireworks, BBQs and dancing in all towns across the country. It was a night dedicated to family fun with small children out late, dancing on their parents' shoulders.  

This love and unity, fun and freedom brought to mind the recently released InterNations Family Life Index, a survey listing the best places for families to live in the world. Of the 41 countries listed, Israel came in fourth.

Yes, teeny, war-torn, demonized Israel with its huge security budget and enemies on all sides was voted as the fourth best country to have a family. The wealthy, well-established, socialized countries of Austria, Finland, Sweden took the first three places.

This survey is made for people looking to relocate countries by analysing four categories:

Availability of childcare and education
Cost of childcare and education
Quality of education
Family well-being

But what about wealthy, educated, civilized US and Britain? Well, the US came in 25th place, while the UK scored 22nd place due to its poor availability of childcare and expensive education.

Israel’s education is not expensive and it may not be the best (the army seems to be the true educator in Israel), but as for lifestyle and family wellbeing, there really is no other place to be. Australia and Austria were the only countries to outrank Israel in the category of family wellbeing. 

And what about the US and the UK in the area of family wellbeing? They did not fare so well; the UK ranked 21 out of 41 while the US ranked 16 (Keep in mins that Saudi Arabia came in last, ranking 41).

Shofar and flag.
We cry and we laugh. We mourn and then we get up and dance. Life here in Israel is fuller than in any other place I've been. If people cannot feel this, then let the results of this study speak out. But then why are the aliyah numbers from Britain and North America not higher?

We encourage all to come home and live in this miraculous country; a place where kids can dig their toes in warm sand by a sparkling sea and dance atop your shoulders waving flags, Jewish and free.

You're all invited to join the party. Happy 68th Birthday Israel. 

May 11, 2016

No better place to be

Remembrance Day for the Fallen Soldiers is one of the hardest days here in Israel. Every town and city, moshav and kibbutz has a gathering the evening before. 

When the siren wails across the country at 8pm sharp, every adult and child stands still and quiet. I am always saddened to see that even very young Israeli children know how to stand so still, arms at their sides, heads bowed, unflinching. 

Then the names are read; these are the names of soldiers from the town, those who have fallen in the line of duty since Israel’s founding in 1948. And then the names of the victims of terror are read out.

In our small sleepy town of Ra’anana, a place that, some 60 years ago, was once swampy, mosquito-infested citrus farms, the number of fallen is 258. During the first week of the Yom Kippur war, 30 Ra’anana boys were killed, half of them losing their lives in the first two days of this war. I cannot imagine the cries, the many funerals, the grief and the tears that soaked the ground during those days. And the pain never leaves.

Last night, at the ceremony at Yad Lebanim in Ra’anana, the widow of a fallen soldier spoke on stage. Her husband, a new immigrant from Columbia, was proud to be serving in the IDF. He was killed at the age of 25, leaving behind a young wife and one-year-old son.

This tragedy happened 40 years ago and his widow was still so heart broken, she had to stop speaking to control her sobs. The loss of so many young sons and husbands over the few years of Israel’s existence is massive.

At the same ceremony, we saw a film about a Ra’anana boy who was killed in the first Lebanon war during a patrol. Guy was 21 years old and a week away from being released from the army. The film showed photos of a gorgeous blue-eyed boy with long, dark curls and, at his side in almost every childhood shot, stood his blue-eyed, blond brother.

Guy’s mother spoke of her intense grief over the death of her son, then said she felt guilty about being so absorbed in her loss, she had not paid attention to her other son who was also grieving. Beside her stood the blond-haired brother. He is now grey, around 50 years old and choked with tears.  The pain never leaves. And this pain accumulates as Israeli lives continue to be broken almost daily.

Yet we stand here and we grieve for each other and then we sing Ha Tikvah, the hopeful national anthem, understanding that we have longed for a homeland for over 2,000 years.

The siren wailed again at 11 am today. This time I stood in Ra’anana’s military cemetery. The ceremony ended with a gun salute. The bullets pierced the air and our hearts, echoing across that innocent blue sky, leaving us with the silence and the memories. 

Again, the ceremony ended with HaTikvah. We are here today and, thanks to all of these soldiers, we sing together about remaining strong and free.

The irony of all this pain is that Israel is one of the best places to live in the world. The InterNations Family Index just published their results and the numbers are there for us to see. As we stand in silence and tremble, we know there is no better place to be.