This is Israel.
It started off as a joke between me and my husband’s first cousin, Jami (who is also a close friend of mine). Jami and I were lovingly making fun of my mother-in-law (also Jami’s aunt) whom, since retiring to Israel two years ago, would often say the phrase during a Skype session with one of us.
For instance, my mother-in-law would reach over to her kitchen counter, grab a grapefruit, and say, “See this grapefruit? It’s from my tree. Just outside in the yard. I picked it myself.” Sometimes she would peel a piece, too, just for effect and say, “This is Israel!”
Or, she’d recall the details of a community event in the small moshav community near Tiberias where she lives: How the children were up until all hours of the night playing soccer in the streets while the adults sat in patio chairs drinking wine and snacking on dates. Or, how they and my husband’s cousins would get together for a wonderfully raucous Shabbat dinner, filled with sing-a-longs, tales from the old days, and of course, fruit picked fresh from the trees outside.
“This is Israel,” my mother-in-law would declare.
And just like that an inside joke was formed. One that has gotten a lot of mileage since we made Aliyah two months ago.
It started on the plane ride over here – the one in which my four-year-old son vomited continuously for 12 hours following severe turbulence. After asking the flight attendant for a towel and trash bags to clean up the mess, she asked us to wait just a minute and then proceeded to serve “Coffee, please. Tea, please.” Twenty minutes later we got our towel. “This is Israel,” my husband and I said to each other.
Just as we did on the day our shipment from the States arrived in the Port of Haifa. Unfortunately, that very same day, the port workers declared a strike – for a week. “This is Israel,” we said, our weak laughter our only consolation.
Our movers finally arrived with our shipment two weeks later at 9 o’clock at night, but instead of moving all our belongings in through the front door, they decided to move the boxes and furniture in through a bedroom window to avoid a flight of stairs. “This is Israel,” we sighed.
“This is Israel” is an attitude. It’s a mind-set. But it’s also a way of life.
The day our kids started Gan on the kibbutz, we met up with friends in the afternoon. No sooner had we arrived on the grassy area to pull out snacks and settle in for a play date than our friend’s son pulled down his pants and peed on a tree. “Kol HaKavod,” his mother said, pleased at his potty training progress. “This is Israel,” said we.
As we settle into our life here and I spend less time in government offices and more time at home on the computer writing, I’m finding there are less openings for me to use our favorite phrase. But when the opportunity arises, it’s more often from a place of endearment or admiration now that I say it, rather than frustration. (Save for when I am lamenting the ongoing maddening traffic situation in and out of Tzomet HaMovil, near where I live).
A good example presented itself yesterday when I accompanied my eight-year-old son and his kitah bet class on a tiyul to Beit Keshet Forest, a nature reserve, through which 40 seven-and-eight year old children hiked for four hours. The hike was not too challenging, but it was not an easy stroll either. We hiked up and down muddy hills, some steep, and not one of those children whined that they were too tired or asked, “Are we there yet?”
“Is this Israel?” I wondered.
Midway through the hike, the children decided to play an impromptu game of tag and the grownups sat beneath a tree where one of the chaperones pulled out a travel coffee pot and another a bag of fresh-picked clementinas to share with the rest of us. The dad to my left plucked dandelions from the grass to snack on, and the mom behind me cuddled with the baby she had schlepped in a Baby Bjorn until that point.
This is Israel, I thought to myself and smiled.
Spontaneity. Appreciation of nature. Enjoying the present moment.
This is Israel.