Have you ever googled “most hated country in the world”? As you can imagine, Israel ranks as one of the highest, right next to North Korea and Iran. Let’s face it, in some circles our Jewish country is just not that popular. Yet, if you research the happiest country in the world, Israel tops the list.
An article published by The Asia Times reads, “Envy surrounds no country on Earth like the state of Israel, and with good reason: by objective measures, Israel is the happiest nation on Earth.... It is one of the wealthiest, freest and best-educated; and it enjoys a higher life expectancy than Germany or the Netherlands. But most remarkable is that Israelis appear to love life and hate death more than any other nation.”
Take a minute and think about that. Picture that from above. Israel is geographically engulfed by countries that are hell-bent on destroying her, constantly radiating negativity or actively attempting to kill her civilians. With all that hostility aimed at the Jewish state, Israelis are walking the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem the happiest people in the world. It’s absolutely remarkable.
The challenges that face Israel sometimes seem insurmountable. The countries bordering Israel are going up in flames. Egypt is in total chaos, Syria is a bloodbath and Lebanon is not much better. As is their way, Israel’s enemies are blaming Israel for the unrest of the local dictatorships.
Over the years Israel has been challenged from within as well. Housing prices are out of control and with the general cost of living being sky-high, many Israelis find it hard to stay out of debt. Israeli society is experiencing today animosity between the haredi community and secular Israel unparalleled since the days of Shinui, the political party headed by Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid’s father, Tommy.
With all the tensions, the chaos and uncertainty Israelis still live happier lives than the majority of the world.
But why? How? What’s their secret? With thousands of books, seminars and therapists focused on helping people live more positive and happy lives, the Israelis have bested them all.
Some say it’s the chutzpah in Israeli culture that keeps us hopping. When I was traveling last month from Tel Aviv to Chicago the man next to me told a story about an El Al flight. It was December 25 and the plane landed at Ben-Gurion Airport. The flight attendant made the final announcement, “Welcome to Tel Aviv, Israel. Please do not get up to retrieve your carry- on baggage and please keep your seat belt fastened until the plane comes to a complete stop and the pilot turns off the fasten-seat-belt sign.”
Then, after a moment, the flight attendant added, “And for those of you still sitting in your seats: Merry Christmas.”
It’s more than just chutzpah, though. It’s even more than happiness. Israelis have an incredible resilience and an undying spirit unparalleled around the world.
I’ve met thousands of people who have made their lives in Israel. Men and women who have chosen to take the path less traveled, who have stood up to the world and their neighbors and demanded something bigger and better for them and their families.
Over the years I’ve asked them what it is about Israel that inspired them to make the bold choices they made. They almost all offer the same answer, even if in different words.
They feel as though they are living their dream lives; a life larger than their own, a life their parents only dreamed about. Life is not perfect, but these Israelis, with a vision of what their best life would look like, strive to live that reality every day.
How many people are living their dreams? How many people are even entertaining the idea of living their dreams lives? That is what this time of year is about. Once every 12 months, we pause to reflect on the year gone by and the year to come. It’s a time everyone should envision what his or her best life would look like. Where is the ideal place to live, who are the best people to associate with, what do I want to do with my free time and what do I want my relationships to look like? It takes courage, resilience and chutzpah to really make a change in our lives. There is a passage in the book of Jeremiah (11:16) comparing the Jewish people to an olive tree: “God called your name a green olive tree, fair [zayit ra’anan] with goodly fruit.” The sages of Israel delve into the meaning of this verse and reveal one of the essential powers of the Jewish people.
The olive oil, the fruit’s greatest potential, is revealed only under tremendous pressure, strain and tension.
So too the Jewish people’s greatest potential is exposed when we overcome our greatest challenges.
That is the power of Israel. In face of adversity and against the odds, there’s a place where we can fulfill our potential as a nation and live our dreams as individuals.
Israel is our reminder that we can all live our dream lives.
May you have a beautiful, good and sweet year.
The writer is a filmmaker, journalist and educator, as well as the deputy director of the World Mizrachi Movement.