Independence Day: 72+1 new reasons I love Israel

This year we’re facing the coronavirus. Here are 72+1 new reasons I love Israel, in no particular order.

A man waves flags of Israel as Israeli Air Force planes fly in formation over the Mediterranean Sea during an aerial show as part of the celebrations for Israel's Independence Day marking the 70th anniversary of the creation of the state, in Tel Aviv, Israel April 19, 2018. (photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
A man waves flags of Israel as Israeli Air Force planes fly in formation over the Mediterranean Sea during an aerial show as part of the celebrations for Israel's Independence Day marking the 70th anniversary of the creation of the state, in Tel Aviv, Israel April 19, 2018.
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
The same question every year: Can you really find 73 new reasons (one for each year of independence) you love Israel? I looked back at the kick-off column of 2004, and saw that Reason 7 of 56 was, “Twenty-five percent of Israelis were close enough to hear a terrorist bombing, yet 2 million of us were out vacationing on Passover.” We were in the Second Intifada.
This year we’re facing the coronavirus. Here are 72+1 new reasons I love Israel, in no particular order.
1. Demonstrating the value of harmonizing, social-musical initiative Koolulam brings together hundreds of Holocaust survivors and their offspring; Jews and Arabs; Israelis and Diaspora Jews through mass sing-alongs. Because of coronavirus, Koolulam is gathering thousands of clips of people from around the world singing a song called “Fix You.”
2. In what other country could a song about the high priest in the ancient Temple (Ishay Ribo, “Seder Ha’Avodah”) make the hit parade?
3. More than 1,000 people attended a Jewish soul music concert at Yad Vashem in memory of Klezmer musicians murdered in the Shoah.
4. Not that you need it, but Jerusalem’s Lightricks Ltd. has a photo-editing app that touches up selfies. The start-up is valued at a billion dollars.
5. In Jerusalem, steakhouse proprietors go on vacation during the nine days of Av when meat is eschewed – and festival food trucks (auto-ochel) in the Valley of Gehenna offer dairy fare.
6. Front-page news photo: Auschwitz survivor Shoshanna Ovitz celebrates her 104th birthday at the Kotel with many of her approximately 400 descendants.
7. Ramadan Kareem: In the Jewish State, nearly everyone knows when Muslim holidays are taking place.
8. In this baby-crazy country, an Israeli supermodel expecting Baby 3 makes the evening news.
9. In this baby-crazy country, in-vitro fertilization is covered by health insurance. Egg donation is given to women aged 18 to 54.
10. When the Israeli team played Kenya in the 2019 Women’s Lacrosse World Championships in Canada, they noticed their opponents were wearing regular sneakers with cleats and bought the Kenyans professional shoes.
11. Katcha, the Israel Tax Authority’s sniffer female dog, was crowned world’s best dog sniffer of drugs and explosives at the international competition in Russia.
12. SmellTracker, an online platform that enables self-monitoring of smell in order to detect early signs of COVID-19, was developed by Weizmann Institute scientists, in collaboration with Wolfson Medical Center. Weizmann scent Prof. Noam Sobel also proved that some women can smell things even without having olfactory glands. Who knew?
13. The Israel National Baseball Team is one of the six teams that will compete in the Olympics, whenever they’re held.
14. The Burial Society, Hevra Kadisha, has a navigation app to help your find your loved one’s grave: “You have reached your destination/grave.” To help pay for the upkeep of the app, private companies can advertise tombstones, cleaning, plants.
15. The real WAZE has a Hebrew reminder when you turn it on during coronavirus: restrictions that you should only drive if necessary.
16. The US Embassy in Jerusalem now gets the second-highest number of requests for American passports, after only London.
17. V’hadarta pnei zaken – take care of seniors: Before Rosh Hashanah, there were offers for senior citizens on the radio for places to eat on the High Holidays.
18 Coronavirus time: A volunteer from Jerusalem city hall calls us seniors to ask if we need anything. Israeli children and grandchildren make huge efforts not to infect their grandparents.
19. Former Prisoner of Zion Natan Sharansky shares tips for living in isolation. He was in Soviet prison for nine years.
20. Israeli security guards routinely check bags as well as body temperature in coronavirus times.
21. Electric hot water bar ads boast having a Shabbat setting. Some also make seltzer, a beloved ethnic favorite.
22. SodaStream’s plant near the Negev Bedouin township of Rahat is slated to add another 1,000 jobs to the current 1,500.
23. Despite predictions that hardly anyone would show up for repeat elections, even more Israelis turned out in the third election in one year than in the previous two.
24. Taking to heart Israel’s triple elections, ice cream parlors acted on “third time’s a charm/ice cream” to offer free cones on election day.
25. During times of calm and crisis, we don’t have to worry about losing our health insurance in Israel.
26. Yes, Yes, Yes – Two Yes Israeli drama series were picked up by Europe and Australia: Your Honor, about a judge dealing with his son’s killing of a mob member, and Asylum City, about human traffickers. “On the Spectrum,” a Yes award-winning show about autism, won top prizes at the Monte Carlo Television Festival in Monaco and the SeriesMania competition in France. Netflix will make its own version.
27. The New York Times named Israeli TV series Prisoners of War (Hatufim), which inspired the American Homeland, the top foreign TV series of the decade, beating The Crown. Fauda is a respectable #8.
28. Eurovision fans voted “Dare to Dream,” at the 64th Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv, as the best Eurovision production of the decade. More bragging rights: As of 2019, Israel has the record in the “most wins without ever coming in last” list.
29. A year and a half after winning the Eurovision song contest, Netta Barzilai’s “Toy” is still #2 in popularity on the Eurovision website, only behind the 2019 winner, who was crowned in Israel.
30. Netta performed her hit “Nana Banana” before scores of viewers on Chinese TV. She also hurried to perform in Beersheba after rockets hit the city.
31. The postal service of Chad, a Muslim-majority country, issued stamps that pay tribute to Eurovision featuring two images of Netta.
32. Intel recently bought Israeli artificial intelligence firm Haban Labs for $2 billion. The headquarters will remain on Habarzel (Iron) Street in Tel Aviv, once the location of Israel’s tinsmiths.
33. Israeli company 2BFresh’s microgreens are served in Buckingham Palace. The parent company, TAP, was started by a rose farmer, Victor Teshuva, who immigrated to Israel from Libya 60 years ago.
34. TAP ready-made hydroponic kits are being used in fields in Vietnam and on rooftops and senior citizen homes in the US.
35. Forbes names Tel Aviv the second-best city in the world to visit (right behind Los Angeles).
36. Despite airline shutdowns, Chinese business giant Alibaba invested in Israeli travel tech company Hotelmize.
37. Tel Aviv-based Verbit’s super-fast software to transcribe audio into text will be used at Harvard and Stanford.
38. Israel’s Facebook marketplace sometimes offers camels for sale.
39. Giant advertising boards across a Jerusalem bridge show political candidates, new cars and contemporary sukkah designs, with scenes of the Hebron Machpela Cave and the Western Wall.
40. Watch out the week before the festival of Sukkot. At my Jerusalem supermarket, many shoppers are carrying schach, giant thatched roofs for sukkot in their shopping carts. Even a woman in a hijab.
41. An Israeli politician announced on the radio that in the spirit of Yom Kippur, she forgave an antagonist for calling her a beast.
42. Radio announcers of all religious persuasions wish “Gmar Hatima Tova” to listeners after Rosh Hashanah.
43. Israeli Gal Gadot is named by Hollywood Reporter as one of five breakout stars of the decade.
44. Finders aren’t keepers. Ubiquitous signs on billboards act as “Lost and Found” with the words in bold Hashavat Aveida, the Torah term for the mitzva of returning a lost item.
45. A trove of 1,200-year-old gold coins was uncovered in Yavne, some from the court of Caliph Harun al-Rashid, the setting of the One Thousand and One Arabian Nights.
46. A lost locket from 1948 with the name Eliaz was found in renovations of a Jerusalem apartment and returned to the family 72 years later. Eliaz is the name of Holocaust survivor Joseph Zeltzer’s son, killed in the War of Independence, and the original name of the Binyamina winery the family founded.
47. MasterChef winner Avi Levy practiced cooking while behind bars due to drug-related crimes. Now he’s opened several successful Jerusalem restaurants, one called Hamotzi, like the blessing on bread, and literally “taking out.” And it’s kosher.
48. Cultural fusion: On Tu Bishvat, at Hadassah University Medical Center, staff got dates in the shape of sushi.
49. Israeli mega-singing star Nasreen Qadri was born in Haifa, is a Muslim convert to Judaism and mostly sings in Hebrew but also has Arabic interpretations, especially of Egyptian legend Umm Kulthum’s songs.
50. Sanaa Mahameed from Umm el-Fahm is the first Muslim woman volunteer EMT in the United Hatzalah of Israel first-responder network, and the first religious Muslim woman to drive an ambucycle.
51. Beatie Deutsch is a Jerusalem-based haredi mother of five who wins marathons while running in a long-sleeved top, below-the-knee skirt and head scarf.
52. In Japan, Israeli comic artist Guy Lenman and author Nimrod Frydman won the International Manga Award for their work Piece of Mind, about an apathetic Israeli named Itzik who dies and goes into limbo where souls fight bureaucracy to transfer to heaven.
53. In Turkey, Yehuda and Maya Devir won the Most Creative Content Maker Award at the Inflow Global Summit 2019 Awards in social media, by using cartoons on Instagram to report the ups and downs of married life and parenthood.
54. Shiri Kenigsberg Levi’s video rant about staying home with four kids during the coronavirus lockdown was translated into more than 20 languages and has been seen millions of times. Levi is a special-ed teacher in Ashkelon, and has in the past won the Teacher of the Year award. While she was at home complaining about the coronavirus crisis, her sister Hadar Kenisgsberg Elbaum was reporting on it at Hadassah, where she’s the medical center spokeswoman.
55. “Hatikva” sounding! Israeli judoka Sagi Muki won gold at the Judo World Championships in Tokyo and Alon Leviev, 17, took the gold final of the juniors in Abu Dhabi. Both are Sabras!
56. In Switzerland, 17-year-old skier Noa Szollos won Israel’s first-ever medals – silver and bronze – in the Winter Youth Olympic Games.
57. When wedding halls were closed in the South because of rockets from Gaza, a bride and groom in our country’s Center invited couples whose weddings were canceled to join them near Netanya for a multiple wedding.
58. New concept: Balcony minyanim of 10, so that socially distanced men and women can take part in safe communal services.
59. New concept: Zoom bar mitzva. Our grandson Naveh read the Torah on Zoom on a Thursday, and I surprised all the participants with simultaneous Pizza Hut deliveries at their doors all over Israel.
60. Pizza Hut is kosher-for-Passover, featuring “gluten-free” pizza.
61. Despite the difficulties, most Israelis gave up the family Passover Seder and did it alone because we are responsible citizens and want to be safe. The Four Questions could be heard on balconies around the country. A celebrity starring on a national TV Seder said he was doing it for his grandmother and all the grandparents stuck at home alone.
62. IDF to the rescue: Soldiers brought food to the elderly and to barricaded Bnei Brak. The Jerusalem Municipality calls to ask how we’re doing.
63. During coronavirus, times are posted for shiva calls via Zoom.
64. When infected parents couldn’t attend their newborn’s brit mila, the two Hadassah midwives who delivered him went instead.
65. Big news: The Kinneret is nearly full!
66. Headlines: Ancient Judean ritual baths fill with water in this rainy year.
67. After the winter rains, lines of visitors show up at Ya’ar Harakafot, the inspiring cyclamen forest near Yokneam.
68. Golani infantry soldiers, several using crutches, go ahead with their swearing-in ceremony at Kotel on the day they were rammed by a terrorist.
69. In December, the first mass Daf Yomi completion ceremony for women who have finished the 7½-year Talmud-study cycle took place in Jerusalem.
70. In December a Hanukkah menorah, Christmas tree and crescent are lit-up together in Haifa.
71. In January, 49 delegations and world leaders journeyed to Jerusalem to the World Forum, marking 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz.
72. No matter how hard it was, Israel sent planes to bring backpacking Israelis home from their far-afield trips. The El Al pilot led the youngsters in singing Rabbi Nachman of Breslov’s “Life is a Narrow Bridge.”
73. No matter where I’m returning from by plane, the sight of the Israeli coastline from thrills me.
Hag Azmaut Sameach!
The writer is the Israel director of public relations at Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. Her latest book is A Daughter of Many Mothers.