69-plus one new reasons I love Israel

#32: The new museum of natural history in Tel Aviv University is shaped like Noah’s Ark.

Arab women wearing burkinis at a beach in Tel Aviv (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Arab women wearing burkinis at a beach in Tel Aviv
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Thirteen years ago, when I started writing “Reasons I love Israel,” it would have been hard to predict some of these newest reasons or to know there would always be so many new reasons from which to choose.
As always, I welcome readers’ suggestions and thank those who have written to me.
Here are this year’s 69, plus one for next year, in no particular order.
1. Bikinis used to be banned in Italy. Burkinis were banned in France. In the freedom of Israel, bikini- and burkini-wearers sunbathe side by side on trendy Herzliya beaches.
2. The morning news announcer includes the Hebrew date and the day – lest a listener forget – for counting the Omer (the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot).
3. Religious or not, everyone knows that Shavuot is coming, even if it’s about cheesecake. We also know about Lag Ba’omer, Tisha Be’av and Tu Be’av.
4. Hundreds of Israelis attended the funeral of a lone Holocaust survivor, 90, from the Canary Islands, whose last wish was to be buried in Israel.
5. When the Shekel organization asked for a Seder host for an emotionally disabled woman, it was flooded with offers.
6. Coffee at McDonald’s in Cinema City is certified kosher for Passover.
7. A waitress serving Passover coffee at McDonald’s is wearing a hijab.
8. Swedish IKEA showcases a Seder night table in dining room furniture in Israeli branches. Tupperware’s Israel catalogue has matza on the cover. On Passover, hospitals provide shelves to check your hametz at the door.
9. Some public buses are marked “kosher for Passover – please don’t get on with bread products.” A Muslim driver in Jerusalem went further, covering his interior with aluminum foil and setting a Seder table as a gesture to his Jewish passengers.
10. Kosher safari? Right in Ramat Gan, where monkeys and lions eat matza.
11. Despite predictions that we would resist recycling, we turn over almost 80% of our bottles. Overnight, we adjusted to rules to limiting plastic bags at supermarkets and began carrying tote bags.
12. Abracadabra. Israelis have solved our water shortage with conservation and recycling.
13. Abracadabra. Technology is created to pull water out of the air by WaterGen in Herzliya, the city named for the visionary of the state.
14. Kosher Sorcerer’s Club in Tel Aviv features abracadabra magic.
15. “Abracadabra” – “I will create as I speak” or “it came to pass as it was spoken” – is a Jewish expression from Aramaic, a language commonly read in prayers and the Talmud, and even spoken in modern Israel.
16. From the country that invented the mobile phone for people who talk with their hands, at last a solution to driving-challenged Israelis: Mobileye technology for avoiding possible collisions and now driverless cars.
17. Israeli snacks come in shakshuka and shwarma flavors, not only pizza, ketchup and falafel. Now hummus-flavored Tic Tacs.
18. When an Israeli family’s jeep tumbled into an abyss in (Eurasian) Georgia, the prime minister opened Ben-Gurion Airport on Yom Kippur for the first time in seven years to bring them home for medical care.
19. An Israeli doctor left the Kol Nidre prayer service to bring the injured family safely home from Georgia.
20. Hospital staff walked 10 kilometers to the distant Hadassah campus on Yom Kippur to save the patients who were brought home.
21. The Purim weather and news were reported on national TV by anchors wearing costumes.
22. Portable mattresses go on sale before Succot so people can sleep in the succa.
23. “After the holidays” means after Simhat Torah.
24. An IDF soldier wounded in Gaza singing a duet about dads with popular singer Shlomi Shabat brought a packed concert hall audience to its feet in sophisticated Tel Aviv.
25. The UN (!) recognized the IDF Medical Corps as a leader in field medicine and disaster relief.
26. Army marching on its stomach? Media announced that the IDF would consume 61 tons of matza and 115,000 schnitzels during Passover week.
27. New national statistic: the average Israeli’s meat consumption goes up 25% in the month that includes Passover and Independence Day barbecues.
28. Israel has the world’s highest percentage of vegans, about twice that of the US.
29. Organic hydroponic veggies grow on top of Israel’s first mall on Dizengoff Street, Tel Aviv.
30. Thousands of years after the Nabataeans disappeared, who but us holds a Nabataean festival with crafts, spices and music in ancient Mamshit?
31. We have an annual Cattle Conference in Jerusalem. Go figure!
32. The new museum of natural history in Tel Aviv University is shaped like Noah’s Ark.
33. Who else but Israel holds a Gold Festival featuring music and art from the Spanish Golden Age? (In Ashdod.)
34. More gold: “Tuesdays in Suspenders.” Golden-agers go to newly released movies for NIS 10.
35. The first actress to play Wonder Woman in a live-action film is Gal Gadot, a former IDF soldier from our first town, Rishon Lezion.
36. Israeli audiences wait to cheer the Israeli movie star when the credits roll, even if he’s playing Jesus (Aviv Alush in The Shack).
37. Israeli company AlefBet is planning a dairy in South Sudan.
38. The South Sudan dairy includes a chilling system to keep the cows cool.
39. An Israeli 3-D printing system helped complete the surgery when conjoined twins were separated in New York.
40. Activists worked nine years to successfully save Palmahim Beach from developers.
41. Who else but us could have both the Women of the Wall and the Original Women of the Wall?
42. Jerusalem Monopoly: Lose a turn because a zebra escapes from the Biblical Zoo. Lose a turn because there’s an archaeology dig in your way.
43. Jerusalem Monopoly: “Boardwalk” is the City of David.
44. You don’t have to be Moroccan. More popular than ever: eating mufleta pancakes at the Mimouna celebration after Passover. Even the American ambassador (Dan Shapiro) attends.
45. Israel is the most important hot spot along the migration route of birds from Europe and Central Asia to Africa. Half a billion birds pass over twice a year.
46. Passing-over birds include 80% of the world’s populations of white and black storks.
47. No wonder Israeli women give birth to an average of three children, far more than women in other developed countries.
48. Israel opened the world’s first blood bank for birds (not only storks).
49. Israel’s eVigilo alert system saved Chileans from a 7.7 Richter scale earthquake.
50. Thousands of sick and wounded Syrians have been treated in Israeli hospitals, even though we’re officially enemies.
51. Team Israel baseball team consists mostly of Jewish players from the Diaspora.
52. The whole country cheered the surprise Team Israel victories over South Korea, Taiwan, the Netherlands and Cuba in the World Baseball Classic, even though most Israelis don’t understand the rules. Did you say “pop fly”?
53. On Good Deeds Day more than 1.3 million always-rushing Israelis took time to take part in volunteer projects.
54. Pot from Zion? Octogenarian Israeli Prof. Raphael Mechoulam has been touting the benefits of cannabis for 50 years and is contacted daily by researchers and journalists.
55. Israel’s Teva Pharmaceuticals, the world’s biggest maker of generic drugs, recently signed a deal with Tel Aviv-based start-up Syqe Medical for an inhaler that dispenses marijuana in precise doses. On Syqe’s website: “We’re looking for great people to join our team.”
56. In Petah Tikva, a terrorist was overcome by a civilian wielding a sewing machine.
57. Famed trauma surgeon Avi Rivkind spoke at the 2017 ceremony in Warsaw to honor the Righteous Gentile who saved his mother. He quoted his great-great-grandfather Rebbe Menahem Mendel of Kotzk (1787-1859): “Where is God to be found? In the place where He is given entry.”
58. The London-based authoritative Economist: “Israeli Arabs develop a taste for matza.”
59. New York-based Bloomberg News: “Israeli economy ranked 3rd-most stable in the world for 2016, after Hong Kong and South Korea.”
60. American business magazine Forbes: “Why Israel might just have the world’s best restaurant scene.”
61. Fortune.com: “Why Israel dominates cybersecurity” (because of vigilance to ensure our own survival).
62. Gett (formerly GetTaxi), the ride-hailing app invented in Israel, is now used in 50 countries, but only here do you get the original Israeli cabbie. GetTaxi Israeli founder Shahar Waiser came up with the idea while impatiently waiting half an hour for a taxi in Silicon Valley.
63. Pray on the run? A special synagogue in Jerusalem for marathon runners, also Chabad House of Route 6 for commuters.
64. All aboard from Beersheba: IDF soldiers in the South gather for morning prayers on first train out.
65. A Jerusalem soccer star borrowed a kippa from a fan to say a blessing after a goal.
66. Israeli-Arab transplant surgeon Ahmed Eid, who saves victims of terrorism, will light an Independence Day torch.
67. Israel’s SpaceIL, a nonprofit organization, is one of five finalists in the Lunar XPRIZE, a $20 million Google-backed competition to land and operate a robotic spacecraft on the surface of the moon. All potential prize money will go to advance science and technology education.
68. Teens, too. Israeli high school students are the only youth team to have their nanosatellite launched by NASA. Whizzes from development towns of Ofakim and Yeroham, from Herzliya, from the so-called settlement of Ofra and the Beduin town of Hura collaborated in a project that speaks of our bright future.
69. From the wizards at the Volcani Center: New Israeli fruits include “plumegranates,” pomegranates in plum color; “lamoon” plums, which are yellow and shaped like a lemon; and Medjool date bonbons. No kidding.
70. No wonder, a new hit single (by Hanan Ben-Ari) says that despite our challenges, “our lives are [sweet as] strawberries!”
Hag Atzma’ut same’ah!