70 plus one: Reasons I love Israel

I’ve been writing these columns in honor of Independence Day for nearly a decade and a half, but I never run out of new reasons for loving the country.

PEOPLE WATCH the Israel Air Force Aerobatic team fly over the Mediterranean Sea during Independence Day celebrations in Tel Aviv, 2017 (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)
PEOPLE WATCH the Israel Air Force Aerobatic team fly over the Mediterranean Sea during Independence Day celebrations in Tel Aviv, 2017
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)
I’ve been writing these columns in honor of Independence Day for nearly a decade and a half, but I never run out of new reasons for loving the country. Here they are in no particular order:
1. An Israeli tabletop robot named Elli Q keeps isolated seniors company and reminds them about taking pills and exercise.
2. This Israeli robot was the object of a humorous Late Show Stephen Colbert skit because it sounds a tad opinionated and bossy.
3. Israel helped 30 countries foil terrorist attacks in 2017.
4. Israeli technology helped identify the terrorists on the overwhelming output of the surveillance cameras at the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013.
5. A 19-year-old designer from seaside Beit Yannai had a show for silk sheath dresses and fur-trimmed robes in Milan that was featured in The New York Times.
6. An Israeli invention called Bio-Catch knows exactly how you swipe your smartphone so no one can swipe your data away from you.
7. The average organic component of holy ground in Israel is only 1.5% – half the European. Still, Israel produces $3 billion worth of agricultural products, 20% exported, much to Europe.
8. Milky way. Could the kibbutz founders have guessed that an Israeli pocket spectrometer would reveal what each milk cow was choosing from the trough? Israeli company Consumer Physics has joined forces with American giant Cargill Animal Nutrition and Chinese giant Changhong to maximize dairy production.
9. How green is thy valley? Drones with calibrated sensors give farmers precision feedback on telltale plant color.
10. An agriculture company celebrated its 20th anniversary by serving a 450- kilo tomato salad with 132 varieties of tomatoes.
11. Wholesale or retail? Israelis are the world’s second-biggest eBay shoppers.
12. Ninety percent of our wastewater is recycled. Spain is No. 2 with 20%.
13. Israel is 0.1% of the world population, but we get 20% of the investment in cyber tech.
14. Hadassah medical clown David Barashi has taught Abdallah Abushaban from Gaza how to take patients’ pain away with a smile. Clown Barashi teaches medical clowning in India, Thailand, Nepal, Haiti and Ethiopia.
15. Rawabi, the first planned Palestinian city in the West Bank, calls itself “the Palestinian Modi’in.”
16. Rawabi techies coordinate their new computer businesses with peers in Herzliya.
17. An army marches. The IDF, one of the world’s best-trained armies, for Passover puts out music clips with elite soldiers eating matza.
18. Passover holiday kids’ movie? Try Paddington 2, with the bear eating matza in the poster.
19. The Prisons Service has a matza- making day for guards. The prisoners hold a Seder celebrating the holiday of freedom.
20. On Passover, guards at hospitals check for hidden weapons and also leavened bread.
21. Swimming competitions are interspersed with Passover quiz for kids at hotel swimming pools: Which item on the Seder plate represents the ancient sacrifice? 22. Mixed crowd: The Jerusalem Mall draws hundreds of Muslim shoppers who enjoy the festive atmosphere and sales before Passover.
23. Jewish and Muslim teens want to fast with their friends for Yom Kippur and Ramadan, so an Orthodox Israeli endocrinologist came up with a medical protocol adopted in the Arab world.
24. Call to prayer: Loudspeakers in the mall, zoo and supermarkets announce prayer times. We plan our grocery shopping so my husband can say evening prayers near the onions.
25. Return: The Tribe of Manasseh was among the 10 dispersed by the Assyrian Empire 2,700 years ago. Hundreds of Bnei Menashe are coming home. Ethiopian Jews may come from the lost Tribe of Dan. Welcome all! 26. A 400,000-year-old school was found by archeologists near Tel Aviv.
Learning about tools, the technology of the day.
27. Gymnasts dressed as superheroes climb ropes to make dramatic entries with candy bags to kids in Israeli hospitals.
28. Hamentashen dog treats are for sale at pet stores for Purim.
29. Whether you are landing or taking off at Ben-Gurion Airport, hanukkiot are ready for lighting.
30. A popular program on national radio devoted a discussion to songs composed and orchestrated in the Vilna Ghetto. Forty thousand Israeli teens visit the death camps in Poland every year.
31. An Israeli medical team of 12 flies to Ethiopia, a country of a hundred million, and saves the lives of children by straightening their deformed backs.
32. Before treating the first patient, the medical team puts a mezuza on the operating room doorpost.
33. The same nurse who was in charge of the operating room tents in Israel’s 2010 mission to Haiti is in charge of the operating room in Ethiopia.
34. 10,000 men and women from 95 countries show up for the OurCrowd investment summit because so many countries are looking toward Israeli innovation.
35. All 10,000 participants at the summit ate a hot lunch simultaneously.
World record? 36. Israelis (including every subgroup) have more children than any other Western democracy. That’s a great indicator of economic growth.
37. Of Israeli moms with four or more children, 62.5% work full-time. Actually, double time.
38. Bilbi and Zohar’s Jerusalem-born baby made international news. They are golden lion tamarins, one of the rarest species in the world, in the Tisch Biblical Zoo.
39. Gal’s bump. Israeli Wonder Woman Gal Gadot was pregnant while portraying the Amazon warrior princess in the action film.
40. Wonder Woman is the highest-grossing superhero origin film of all time, even though it was boycotted in Lebanon, which Vanity Fair predicted would be “a bump in her road.”
41. Gal Gadot, a combat instructor in the IDF, makes no secret about praying for Israeli soldiers when she lights Shabbat candles with her daughter Alma.
42. Seventy-five percent of Jewish Israeli households light Shabbat candles. Every hotel in the country gets them ready for guests. Memorial candles, too.
43. Children of Russian immigrants are much more likely than their parents to believe in God (70% vs 55%). Children of FSU immigrants are twice as likely as their parents to keep kosher.
44. Filmmaker Lior Geller shot a 20-minute crime drama called Roads in 2007. It holds the Guinness World Record title the most awards won by a short student film. The plot? An Arab boy in Lod dreams of escaping the violent drug scene with the help of a traumatized Israeli ex-soldier.
45. Forget hummus. Israelis set Guinness World Records in donating hair for those with cancer and building a 500,000-piece Lego tower in memory In Haifa, 1,500 Jewish, Muslim and Christian schoolchildren broke the record for the largest-ever magic lesson.
In Hebrew.
46. Designer Nitzan Kish uses 3D tech to create clothing and jewelry for self-defense. Her collection, Me, Myself & I, features garments that turn into spikes and look like modern body armor.
47. We love stories. Virtual reality start-up StoryBot won first prize at Global EdTech Startup Awards, chosen from more than 650 start-ups in 70 countries.
48. Two Israeli start-ups, one from Caesarea and one from Nazareth, working to combat heart failure, were finalists at the Cardiovascular Research Foundation’s Shark Tank Innovation competition in Denver.
49. Israeli brain monitor start-up wins Henry Ford Health System AI Challenge. Herzliya-based Montfort Brain Monitor company has an app that uses smartphone sensors to record and analyze data of patients suffering from neurological disorders.
(Yes, Henry Ford!) 50. Israeli-based Save a Child’s Heart has received the 2018 United Nations Population Award. (Yes, the UN.) 51. Cleanup Nation. In Los Angeles, Israeli cleantech start-up MercuRemoval won first place in the 2017 Global Ideas competition, to scrub away spilled mercury.
52. The Broadway musical The Band’s Visit, based on the 2007 film about an Egyptian police band that mistakenly ends up in a small Israeli town, is a contender for best musical.
53. Silicon Wadi, says Forbes. According to Startup Genome, Tel Aviv has the No. 2 start-up ecosystem in the world. It has more start-ups per capita than anywhere else, and it has 61 companies on the NASDAQ. That’s more than Europe, Japan, Korea and China combined! Israel has the highest percentage of start-ups in the world and is second only to the US in absolute terms. Forbes says Silicon Wadi is poised to leap over Silicon Valley.
54. An Israeli neurology team that includes former IDF computer whizzes has come up for a noninvasive test to predict the onset of dementia.
55. Israelis serve pomegranate seeds on Rosh Hashana because they are said to have 613 seeds like the mitzvot in the Torah.
56. A new Israeli pill made of pomegranates may delay dementia.
57. An Israeli skin cream made of pomegranates may delay wrinkles.
58. A prizewinning low-tech Israeli invention made of rubber helps take the seeds out of pomegranates.
59. Tamar, which means date, is the most popular girl’s name in Israel.
Tamar is also the name of the natural gas field in the Mediterranean Sea west of Haifa.
60. We are short on water, so we invented drip irrigation. Considering our driving habits, is it any wonder we’re leading in driverless cars? Thank you, Mobileye! 61. Tikun olam. The most popular Israeli song ever is “Ani Ve’ata” by the late Arik Einstein. It’s refrain: “I and you will change the world.”
62. The hit song of 2017 “Tudo Bom” is Portuguese for “everything is good. ”The song’s performing artists Static (Liraz Russo) & Ben-El (Ben-El Tavori) have signed a $5 million, seven-album, 10-year recording contract with Capitol Records. Tudo bom!
63. Tudo Bom. Israelis are the 11th-happiest country in the world, behind Norway and Finland, but happier than Costa Rica, the UK and the US. Would you guess this from the news?
64. Ninety-three percent of Israeli homes use solar energy for water heating, the highest percentage in the world.
65. Israel has the largest percentage of vegans per capita in the world – an estimated 5% of the population (about 400,000). Who knew? 66. The Tel Aviv Municipality says the coastal city is the “friendliest city in the world for dogs, with one dog for every 17 residents, making it the city with the highest number of dogs per capita in the world.” Israel also has the most lawyers per capita of any country in the world.
67. Not so religiously coercive. Radical self-expression festivals galore with names like Doof, Midburn, Zobra, InDNegev, Neverland and Unity Rising. Sometimes these include Kabbalat Shabbat.
68. Tal Flicker, an Israeli judoka, won a gold medal at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam judo tournament. When the organizers refused to play “Hatikva,” he sang it himself.
Deaf Israeli combatant Sara Kovaliov, 16, competing in the under- 48-kg. category, in the Youth Ju-Jitsu World Championship, also in Abu Dhabi, won a silver medal. The local head of the security services that accompanied the Israeli delegation took her aside and gave her a fancy watch from one of the local sheikhs who was so impressed by her.
69. Over 500 million birds migrate through the skies of Israel twice a year, but a researcher, using radar, a motorized glider, drones and a network of birdwatchers, planned alternate air routes, reducing collisions by 76%.
70. Birthright-Israel, also called Taglit, has had 600,000 participants bonding with Israel on free visits. That’s the number of Jews in Israel at statehood and the number of fighting- aged men who left Egypt in the Exodus.
71. Sign at Ben-Gurion Airport: “If I forget thee, Jerusalem....”
Happy 70th to the Israel I love and will never forget!
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.