The Human Spirit: Reasons I love Israel, 2012

We can laugh at ourselves. The prime minister enjoyed the “Bibi-bomb” photos.

Netanyahu and Bulgarian president 521 (photo credit: REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov)
Netanyahu and Bulgarian president 521
(photo credit: REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov)
Since 2004, I’ve given some 475 different reasons I love Israel. In honor of Independence Day and Israel’s 64th Anniversary, here are 64 more.
1. Because of their experience, Hebrew University veterinary neurologists were summoned to heal a paralyzed lion in Brazil, a country with an area of 8.5 million square kilometers and a population of 192 million. The lion’s name was Ariel, a synonym for Jerusalem.
2. We can laugh at ourselves. The prime minister enjoyed the “Bibi-bomb” photos which placed him at famous celebrations or monumental historic events, and even created his own.
3. The government sent a sarcastic letter to Flytilla activists, thanking them for choosing to protest in democratic Israel rather than in Syria, where daily savagery pervades.
4. An Israeli cartoonist won the Golden Keg 2012 international contest in Presov, Slovakia, for cartoons about beer.
5. British beer-writer of the year lauded the “incredible breadth” of Israeli beer styles. Winner of the competition he judged was the underdog Jerusalem Shapiro Brewery.
6. Sabra Israeli mathematician Elon Lindenstrauss won the prestigious Fields Medal, sometimes called the Nobel Prize of mathematics. Today he’s a professor at the Hebrew University, but in the IDF he served in intelligence.
7. A conference was held in Jerusalem to announce that the ancient balsam plant grown 1,500 years ago near the Dead Sea is growing again at Kibbutz Ein Gedi.
8. As the sun begins setting on the winding road up to Jerusalem, cars stop by the side of the road so that people can recite the afternoon prayer. Sometimes enough people stop for there to be a minyan (a quorum of 10).
9. So many parents were supervising kids on a hot summer day in Jerusalem’s Sacher Park that someone organized a minyan for the afternoon prayer.
10. My grandkids can’t understand how we didn’t have their favorite olive pizza in America when we were growing up.
11. Israeli school backpacks may be heavy, but they come with removable wheels.
12. The winner of the A Star is Born singing contest comes from a town under fire, Sderot, and from a family that crossed Sudan on foot.
13. So did the family of Eli Mantson, a seventh-grade school dropout who sold lentils in an open-air market.
Today he's a lawyer, one of several law graduates from Ethiopia.
14. Prof. Dan Engelhard, head of pediatrics at Hadassah Ein Kerem, has now adopted five orphanages in Ethiopia to treat HIV/AIDS kids there. He does this as a volunteer.
15. On the morning before Yom Kippur, the lifeguard at Ashdod beach wishes everyone “Tzom Kal,” an easy fast.
16. On the day after Passover, flag sellers are on street junctions hawking blue-and-white flags for your car, one for NIS 5, three for NIS 10.
17. In the Land of Milk and Honey, the high price of cottage cheese led to a national consumers’ revolt.
18. The Cottage Cheese Protest took off after Shavuot, when we eat cheesecake and quiches. Buying so many milk products, we realized that the price had skyrocketed.
19. Ubiquitous frozen yogurt stands offer toppings of Pesek Zman (Time-Out) candy bars, dates and pomegranates.
20. Kabbala tourism is burgeoning. The mystical experience is often referred to as entering the “garden of pomegranates.”
21. A new kitchen tool won first prize in the Innovation Awards: it gets the seeds out of a pomegranate.
22. The opening item on the radio’s medical program mentions that it’s the anniversary of the death of Rachel, the biblical Matriarch, and that some of the regular listeners are on the way to Mother Rachel’s grave in Bethlehem.
23. An Israeli producer-director won the Golden Emmy for a documentary called Google Baby, about surrogate pregnancies. She was pregnant when she picked up her award.
24. Once there was an Iron Curtain. Now National Geographic readers in Mother Russia have listed Israel as a top tourist attraction.
25. The two most visited sites are the Western Wall and the grave of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. The most popular tourist attraction is Masada.
26. Who said it? “We are free thinkers; this is the Israeli spirit.” Dan Schechtman, a Technion professor who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. He showed that atoms in quasicrystals were packed together in well-defined patterns, but that they were unique and non-repeating.
27. Nobel Prize Winner Schechtman was born in Tel Aviv in pre-state Israel. He was inspired by a book he read as a boy, Jules Verne’s Mysterious Island, in which an engineer changes uninhabited territory into a lush garden.
28. According to the Technion, Schechtman was the “most unpopular scientist in crystals.” He teaches young scientists that it’s not enough to know your field, “you also need faith.”
29. Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum and educational activist, recently uploaded thousand of stories of rescues by righteous gentiles to show that “even in times of war and tyranny, women and men retain the innate right and ability to act upon moral precepts.”
30. Elbit subsidiary company Brightway Vision is adapting military night-vision technology to the battle against road accidents by producing a system to improve drivers’ night vision.
31. Memorial Day for the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin is commemorated by soldiers singing Israeli songs.
32. Two long-time Talmud study partners didn’t realize they went to the same hairdresser until they met there one day. While one woman waited for the other to have her hair cut, the hairdresser reviewed the Torah study class he’d just come from.
33.We’re an argumentative people. Brothers Omer and Sela Nevo from Tel Aviv University won the World Universities Debating Championships in the English as Second Language category in Manila, Philippines. More than 3,000 teams from around the world participated in the competition. (Wonder if their parents ever told them to stop arguing?) 34. During the eight-day festival, Egged buses display Happy Hanukka signs.
35. On Hanukka, Aroma gives out gold-wrapped Hanukka gelt with cappuccino.
36. On Independence Day, Aroma gives out candies in blue-and-white wrappers.
37. In New York and Los Angeles, those Israelis yearning for a taste of home can get it at an Aroma café.
38. Advertisements for exercise programs promise to counter the damage of eating sufganiot, Hanukka donuts.
39. Cultural fusion. On December 25, three Muslim stone craftsmen from Bethlehem were working on the elevator portals of new Sarah Wetsman Davidson Tower of Hadassah University Medical Center, Ein Kerem.
When they met the Jewish tourists from Puerto Rico they wished them a Merry Christmas.
40. While swimming in the Jerusalem Pool, my friend relayed the Torah thought she’d heard earlier that day from her Pilates teacher. There’s always a d’var Torah to begin the class, she says.
41. At Jerusalem shopping malls, hundreds stop for the nightly Hanukka candle lighting. Many shops have candles burning inside, too.
42. Four teenaged boys in jeans and T-shirts sit on a bench on Jerusalem’s Emek Refaim Street singing Passover favorite “Who Knows One”? 43. Babies born during Hanukka are often called Yair, Meir, Yaira, Oriya – names which contain the Hebrew word for light.
44. At my supermarket, Torah commentaries were on special sale along with large packages of snack food.
45. At the same supermarket, there’s a daily call announcing the afternoon prayers.
46. Two sets of puppets for sale in religious neighborhood of Jerusalem: one in Hassidic garb, one in Lithuanian religious garb.
47. Friday morning shopping in a Jerusalem toy store.
I push the button on the blonde, blue-eyed doll with braids and she sings “Hayom Yom Shishi” (Today is Friday, tomorrow Shabbat).
48. The Israeli team won the 2012 Bread Baking Cup in Rimini, Italy, leaving behind French and German bakers.
49. Champion bakers won in two categories: Innovation with a Health Focus and Baked Dessert. They made green spinach pita, filled with pistachio-coated cheese balls, with yogurt on top.
50. The Hebrew University posted its high-brow Einstein archive. Who would care? More than 20 million people worldwide visited the site in the first weeks! 51. Chocolate spread on matza is an Israeli taste treat.
This year, an advertising war took place between two kinds of chocolate spread, kosher for Passover.
52. Too much chocolate spread. My tube of Colgate toothpaste has “Happy and Kosher Pessah” right on the package.
53. An Israeli women’s basketball team won the women’s Eurocup final in France after defeating the French team. The winner was Elitzur Ramle, from a town often suffering from a negative public image.
54. A low-budget team from the beleaguered northern town of Kiryat Shmona clinched a soccer league cup double from the hands of the big city teams.
55. The beautiful Jerusalem Light Rail is up and running.
56. Rain or shine, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat was up and running in the city’s popular new marathon; 12,000 runners joined him this year.
57. One Jerusalem runner was Richard Bernstein, a blind man from Michigan. He was guided through the streets by Maj. Shaked, an Israeli fighter pilot. Said Bernstein: This marathon has a profoundly beautiful and wonderful meaning.
58. You can enjoy the country’s best jazz and eat a kosher dinner, too, at Zappa Jerusalem.
59. You can enjoy a kosher burger and beer and watch the Superbowl at Mike’s Place in Jerusalem.
60. Even the dogs in the IDF get kosher-for-Passover dog food.
61. A new Israeli GPS system called Waze is sweeping the world. It’s a community-driven application and learns from users’ driving times to provide routing and real-time traffic updates. Waze can even help you beat the national traffic jam at Golani Junction during Passover.
62. What’s the national mood despite the nuclear threat? Three million Israelis were out traveling in Israel on Passover (many through the Golani Junction).
63. The country held its breath as Gilad Schalit emerged to freedom. Was there a dry eye? 64. Gilad Schalit celebrated Passover, the holiday of freedom, at home with his family.
Happy 64th to Israel! May the future bring many more reasons to rejoice.