English-speaking immigrants to Israel enjoy telling one another about things they notice that are different from the way things were in the Old Country – “Only in Israel” moments, abbreviated by social media users as OII.
We’re talking about things like hot water urns that have signs about how to use the appliance properly on Shabbat, Hebrew-to-English translations that are unintentionally funny and warm-hearted stories of people who surprise you with their kindness.
OII moments are grist for the mill for David Samson.
In 1996, he and his wife made aliya to Efrat in search of a soft landing for themselves and their three daughters, aged seven and under. Some 17 years later, Samson started an ambitious Facebook project called “1,000 Cool Things About Living in Israel.”
“I started this page in March of 2013 with one goal: so that my children and others like them would continue to appreciate the uniquely Jewish aspects of life in Israel and never take them for granted. It’s possible that a kid could grow up here and think that it’s normal for a bus’s illuminated destination sign to say ‘Chag Sameach’ or for a banknote to have a picture of the Rambam. I want them to always remember that it’s because we are lucky enough to live in Israel at this time that these things are considered normal.”
Today, five years into the project, Samson, who generally posts two or three times a week, is within 100 posts of meeting his original goal.
“I talk about it a lot, but I’ve never paid to advertise or promote the page,” he said. Once he hits the 1,000th post, he plans to keep it online “to inspire future olim.”
FINISHING THE project will be its own reward, but Samson also judges his success by where the ideas come from.
“One of my most satisfying successes is when my kids, or their friends, or friends of friends, send me ideas. That means that I have successfully raised the awareness that I’m looking to cultivate,” he said.
Samson credits his son Natan, who was born after the family made aliya, for playing a big role with the project.
“He sends me many ideas and is one of my sounding boards for stories. Many other people send in ideas, which I reference in the posts.”
Particularly inspired by “the Jewishness of the army,” one of Samson’s favorite posts was a video of an Israeli Navy crew celebrating Shabbat.
“A few years ago the Navy intercepted an Iranian weapons ship. A video surfaced of the Israeli crew singing Shabbat zmirot [special hymns for Shabbat] Friday night as they were on their way to their mission. The confidence of the sailors, in foreign waters, on the way to an uncertain mission and their desire to have as normal a Shabbat as possible under those conditions was inspiring.
Another potent image he featured on the page was of Israeli soldiers sitting on the floor during Tisha Be’av, reciting the sad Hebrew poems known as kinnot, the theme of which is mourning the destruction of both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem and other tragedies in Jewish history. Jewish law prohibits wearing leather shoes on Tisha Be’av as a sign of mourning.
Accordingly, the soldiers pictured are not wearing their boots. About this image Samson commented, “It seems to me that an army that is aware of its past and what it’s fighting for, has its head on straight.”
Another favorite theme is “All of the little Jewish things in everyday life here – like the Shabbat candle lighting times in every newspaper, the elevators with a small sticker that says ‘Approved for Shabbat Use’, the early traffic jams on Hanukka as people go home earlier to light, the IKEA kitchen display that features two sinks [for meat and dairy]. I find all of them inspiring,” he explained.
“I’m also partial to the stories in which the Jewish people fulfill our role as a ‘light unto the nations.’ For example, [during] the rescue mission after the Mexican earthquake, the army spokeswoman was a Spanish-speaking young olah in the Home Front Command.”
SOMETIMES THE image itself is the most potent part of a post. But just as often, it’s the story behind it. In post No. 896 from January 18 of this year, Samson posted a picture of an El Al plane. The story that went along with the image was truly an OII (and probably only on El Al) tale.
“A friend was on an El Al flight that landed in Tel Aviv exactly one hour before Shabbat. Before landing, the staff moved the Shomer Shabbat people as close as possible to the door. Upon landing, the pilot asked everyone to let the religious people exit first, and there was a religious Jew standing at the door telling people,‘Just go home quickly and leave your bags; we’ll get them to you.’”
Samson’s commentary is often very helpful for his readers to fully understand what they’re looking at. In post No. 870 from November 2017, the image is of a billboard on a very tall building.
In the text, Samson explained, “It’s cool how our Jewish religious roots seep out into general society. Here are ads for improving care for the elderly, directly quoting the [High Holy Day prayers].”
Another heartwarming post is No. 855, dated October 1, 2017, which features a photo of “The Israeli tennis star Dudi Sela
[who] walked off the tennis court during the Shenzhen Open when his match was about to extend into Yom Kippur. The forfeit potentially cost him $34,000. Sela, who is not overtly religious, took the action because he knows he represents his ‘flag and country.’”
Post No. 801 from April 4, 2017, is a jar of haroset intended for the Passover Seder. In the post, Samson elaborates. “On the back of a jar of haroset, is a short dvar Torah explaining that the Jewish people are compared, in Shir Hashirim [Song of Songs], to the fruits in the haroset.”
“That’s fine from my perspective, since I’m trying to cultivate this appreciation among people who live in Israel. I always work on a ‘glass is half full’ assumption. Some stories can be spun negatively or positively. I consistently highlight the positive and overlook the negative.”
The cover photo Samson uses on his Facebook page is “a round peg in a round hole. Abroad, being a religious Jew is possible, but it’s not natural; it’s a round peg in a square hole. Here, it just fits.
“I’ve come to realize that the vast majority of Israelis, while not necessarily religious, have a deep connection to Judaism and to God. That’s why I find the sale of hallot in Tel Aviv so inspiring,” he explained.
“The most rewarding feedback is when I see one of my kids’ friends and they say, ‘Oh, I have a post for you.’ That means I’ve successfully encouraged them to see the positive, and the importance, of these small Jewish aspects of life here. The Mishna in Pirkei Avot [Ethics of the Fathers] talks about [the importance of having] an ayin tova, a positive eye. I like to encourage positivity,” Samson concluded.