Israel's history of resilience to adversity explored in new book

What is behind the resilience Israelis have in the face of adversity?

Authors Michael Dickson and Dr. Naomi L. Baum with copies of their new book. (photo credit: ISRAELNEWSTAND)
Authors Michael Dickson and Dr. Naomi L. Baum with copies of their new book.
(photo credit: ISRAELNEWSTAND)
Israelis are known for their resilience in the face of adversity, but what is it that makes them so?
A newly released book titled Isresilience; What Israelis Can Teach The World aims to give readers an inside look at the resilience of Israel’s diverse population.
The authors, Michael Dickson and Dr Naomi L. Baum, said they included 15 people in the book, although “we actually interviewed more than 15 people.”
“What we tried to do is get a broad spectrum of Israeli society, so we have men and we have women and we have secular and we have religious [people] and we tried to get from various areas,” explained Baum, a renowned psychologist who has a special focus on resilience.
“We have sport and we have technology and we have religion and government,” she said. “And just some really good personal stories, so we really tried to map that out and then find the leading people, or the most interesting people who could tell us that story.”
She added that they “wrote up their stories pretty much as they told them to us, and then did an analysis of what were the keys to their resilience.”
The premise of the book, the duo said, is that there are a lot of factors that go into being resilient.
“Some of them we control and some of them we don’t, so we focused on the ones that one would have more control over because the idea was that we wanted people to learn about resilience, and things that they can take into their own lives really,” Dickson and Baum explained.
Dickson, who is the executive director of StandWithUs, said that in the 15 years he has lived in Israel, he has always been inspired by Israelis ability to bounce back from adversity and that was the inspiration behind the book.
“I became convinced that Israelis have a special ‘something’ that propels them forward even in times of trauma,” he said. “I began exploring the idea several years ago and visited a Resilience center in Jerusalem where I met Dr. Naomi Baum and asked her to join me in meeting Israelis who we felt embodied the keys to resilience that we had outlined.”
“It has been a fascinating and uplifting journey,” Dickson added.
Asked about the inspiration about the book, Baum said that the process of inspiration for the book was Dickson “and I happily came along, because it’s really in synchrony with things that I believe that it was an opportunity to meet really interesting people that I would never have access to – the big guys, the famous guys and then the ‘little guys’ – the little guys who are not little at all – but are the people who are less well known.”
From victims of terror to Ethiopians who journeyed to Israel against all odds, to figures like Natan Sharansky and Tal Brody, these are the stories of resilience that inspired the authors.  
“They’re all very interesting stories and they are stories that need to be told, and it was great sitting with them for hours and listening,” Baum said, adding that “it was an amazing experience.”
For Dickson, the idea for the book began six years ago.
“I was amazed by how Israelis persistently propel themselves forward despite the daily stress of not knowing what will happen in a dangerous region and facing very real threats from war, trauma and terror,” he said. “I was fascinated by exploring what makes Israelis so resilient. One of the surprises and highlights was how willing all these amazing personalities were to be a part of this project.”
Baum said the duo worked really hard to have one voice or narrative in the book, “and I think I think we were successful.”
Baum pointed out that the keys to resilience they talked about aren’t exclusive to the specific person they were interviewing or the only types of resilience.
“These aren’t the only ones but these we figured we would choose three major ones and focus on them, it could, it would get very confusing if we had 10 keys to resilience,” she continued. “The three that we’ve focused on were flexibility, emotions and meaning. I’ve always believed that flexibility is the key to resilience so [if] one avenue of coping is not working, we’ve got a shift. And I think what’s so hard for example during COVID-19 – you have a situation where your old coping mechanisms are probably not working, or have shifted, or they’re blocked.”
For example, Baum said that “if I can’t go to a concert during COVID-19 then what else can I do? There are other things that I can do and that’s that flexibility.”
Emotions, Baum explained, is being able to express your emotions, “your whole range of emotions, not just the positive one. Sometimes people think oh I don’t want to feel sad I don’t want to feel lonely I don’t want to feel bored I’m thinking of the COVID emotions right now. I don’t want to feel grief. So I’m going to block those off that’s not good. I’m just going to focus on being happy and what we know is that we have to in order to feel happy in order to feel joy in order to feel excited. We have to allow ourselves the full range of emotions.
“Emotions are not bad,” Baum stressed. “Some of them are difficult, but we have to allow ourselves to feel them and have a place to express them and to express them might be with somebody else with a loved one with a friend or might be some, some fighting, or arts or music there are lots of different ways that one could express emotion, so that would be the second major key.”
The third major key Dickson and Baum looked at was meaning – making meaning out of our lives and experiences. Paraphrasing Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist Victor Frankl, she pointed out that “if a man has what to live for he can go through almost anything.”
Discussing the title of the book, Dickson said they chose “Isresilience” because “we were trying to give a name to the tenet – that aspect of ‘Israeliness’ that helps them withstand tragedy and rebuild following it. So Isresilience was it!”
Asked what makes Israelis so resilient, Baum told IsraelNewsStand that she and Dickson looked at this whole notion of national resilience in our chapter about Miri Eisen because “we felt that she embodied this as a spokeswoman for the Israel Defense Force, and she had a fairly prominent national presence.”
“One of the things we talked about is our ability to innovate,” Baum said. “I think people have talked a lot about it. With being the Start Up Nation, for example, our ability to make do with much less for many many years.”
Speaking about what they learned during the whole process, Dickson said that they discovered “different skills and modes of thinking from each of the people we interviewed for the book. Each of them had been through very personal challenges and faced adversity in different ways.
“In the end we selected the three keys to Isresilience that we felt best represented all of their combined approaches to overcoming difficulty,” he said.
Dickson said that they noticed there was one characteristic that all the interviewees had in common – a sense of humor, “despite having faced very real suffering, good humor in addition to the keys to resilience that we lay out in the book was one of the things that kept them going.”
“I feel blessed that they entrusted us to tell their story,” Dickson said.
In a message to readers or future readers, Dickson emphasized that resilience is a much-sought after trait especially in these times.
“Isresilience is a timely look at people who have faced down terrible situations and risen up following them,” he said. “People are born with different ‘levels’ of resilience but resilience is also something you can build and grow. We all need it and I am sure that readers will find much to take from the real-life stories we tell and the conclusions that we draw.”
Adding to this, Baum said that all of us have a lot to learn from this book.
“We can learn from anybody and we can learn from everybody,” she said. “Everybody has the keys to the resilience inside of themselves. By reading the book I think it highlights and kind of points you in the direction of thinking about…your strengths, what are your keys to resilience, and what maybe you want to capitalize on and make bigger and more present in your life.” ■
This review was first published on
Isresilience; What Israelis Can Teach The World
Michael Dickson and Naomi L. Baum
Gefen Publishing House, 2020
172 pages; Hardcover $18
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