73+1 reasons why I love Israel - Opinion

Yes, there are imitations, but here is the original Jerusalem Post 17th straight year of new “Reasons I love Israel,” even though 2020 was a year of challenges.

PLAYING MATKOT on Acre beach, which is equipped with a path for disabled swimmers (#42) (photo credit: DAVID COHEN/FLASH 90)
PLAYING MATKOT on Acre beach, which is equipped with a path for disabled swimmers (#42)
(photo credit: DAVID COHEN/FLASH 90)
 Yes, there are imitations, but here is the original Jerusalem Post 17th straight year of new “Reasons I love Israel,” even though 2020 was a year of challenges.
In no particular order:
1. Rappelling, spelunking and droning: Archaeologists rappelled into Dead Sea caves and recently found 2,000-year-old biblical texts of Prophets Zecharia and Nahum. Fighters in the Bar-Kochba revolt against the Romans likely treasured their parchments and hid them for safekeeping. The Israeli archaeologists also used cave-scouting drones in their search.
2. According to tradition, the sandals the Israelites wore on the Exodus never wore out in their decades in the wilderness. Ancient sandals were also found in the caves.
3. A-tisket a-tasket, the world’s oldest basket, maybe 10,000 years old, was found by the cliff-rappelling archaeologists, too.
4. Speaking of baskets, in Israel’s medical basket, every year the expert committee spends many days deciding on new medications and treatments covered by health insurance, even though fewer than 8% of Israelis have chronic diseases.
5. Employed or unemployed, we all have national health care, and it’s among the world’s best.
6. In national news: Basketball star Amar’e Stoudemire converted to Judaism.
7. Newly Jewish Stoudemire, who calls himself “the first kosher winemaker of color,” launched Stoudemire Cellars, wine produced by Tulip Winery in the Tikva Village for disabled adults.
8. Said David Ben-Gurion in 1955: “Israel’s capacity for science and research will be tested in the Negev... and this effort will determine the fate of the State of Israel and the standing of our people in the history of mankind.” But could he have predicted that 15 different desert wineries have formed the Negev Wines Club, an initiative promoted by the Merage Foundation (not imagining this).
9. The tallest solar power tower in the world is on Kibbutz Ashalim in the Negev.
10. NASA is set to send a prototype of an Israeli-developed miniaturized solar-power generator to the International Space Station.
11. V’hadarta pnei zaken (Lev. 19:32): Israel’s coronavirus policy made keeping older Israelis safe a priority – and it worked.
12. We earned the title Vaccination Nation by the fastest rollout of vaccine jabs. To encourage vaccination, Tel Aviv and a pub offered shots on the house to those taking the jab. In nearby Bnei Brak, cholent was offered to encourage vaccination.
13. Obsessive Israelis. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said our prime minister called him 30 times, even at 3 a.m., so he decided Israel “would take the vaccines seriously.”
14. Two cents plain: Hadassah Hospital doc in the COVID-19 department collaborated with SodaStream to adapt seltzer technology for an inexpensive ventilator.
15. Democracy thrives: Socially distanced polling places for those with COVID-19 or in isolation, even in the outbreak wards.
16. Fly and vote: The first-ever polling stations available at Ben-Gurion Airport. Need a ride? Free public transportation on Election Day.
17. New sales pitches: “Low price guaranteed only until the end of lockdown.” Election sales pitch: “Select items reduced to NIS 61” (the number needed for a coalition win).
18. National news: Rabbi David Stav decided that after shopping-depriving lockdowns, buying new clothes and other items is allowed between Passover and Shavuot, when we count the Omer. (Try explaining that one to a non-Israeli.)
19. Counterintuitive but true. Despite what you’ve heard, a study by the Health Ministry showed that Israelis were sympathetic to the socioeconomic challenges faced by haredim during the coronavirus.
20. In a pickle. Jake Herriot came to Israel in 2016 from the US after surviving a near fatal car crash and fell in love with Israel. He needed a job and opened a shop for pickles in Jaffa. Among his specialties: shwarma-flavored pickles.
21. More Dead Sea treasures: The year’s first fresh garlic hails from Kibbutz Kalya, at the Dead Sea. It’s so potent you can even make the stems into pesto!
22. Preparation for exploring the planet Mars is taking place in the Mitzpe Ramon crater, where the terrain is reputedly similar.
23. Israel is the best country for women entrepreneurs, according to a ranking by the 2020 Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs.
24. The world’s most beautiful woman is Israeli. No, not Gal. Israeli model Yael Shelbia, 19, has been awarded the top spot on TC Candler’s list of the most beautiful women in the world for 2020.
25. Speaking of Gal Gadot, CNN reported internationally that the Israeli Wonder Woman, recently cast as Cleopatra in a new movie, is pregnant with her third child.
26. And not just our Gal. Despite lockdowns in small apartments with kids, fertility in Israel stands at 3.1 children per woman – the highest rate in the OECD, and almost one full child above the next highest fertility countries, Mexico and Turkey. According to the Taub Center’s research, the rise in Israel’s fertility over the last two decades has been largely driven by the secular and traditional Jewish populations.
27. Champions. Three Israelis won gold and silver medals in the European Championships for windsurfing in Portugal, while two Israelis won gold and silver medals in the European Judo Championship in Prague. Tae kwon do warrior Avishag Samberg, 19, won a gold medal in the European Clubs Championship in Croatia.
28. Artistic gymnast Linoy Ashram, 21, won a gold medal in the all-around competition at the European Championships in Kiev and took two gold medals in the Rhythmic Gymnastics World Cup in Sofia, Bulgaria. She was born in Rishon Lezion, daughter of Greek and Yemenite Jews, and one of her numbers is to “Hava Nagila.” But it’s “Hatikvah” she gets to hear after she comes in first.
29. Israel Aerospace Industries unveiled an aerial surveillance system called WASP in the same week that the Torah portion talks about God sending in wasps.
30. To develop their new Carmel armored fighting vehicle, IAI engineers recruited teenage gamers, who convinced the planners that the weapons platform could be operated by the dual thumbsticks and buttons of a video game handset.
31. When Hadassah Prof. Dana Wolf received a midnight phone call asking her to take over early coronavirus testing after the central Israeli lab was closed down, she didn’t sleep all night. Come morning, scientists from the Hebrew University knocked on her door and volunteered to help with the lab work. Together, they pioneered a quick system for processing the coronavirus tests.
32. Baby Bamba, the mascot of Israel’s favorite peanut snack, got a sister mascot on International Women’s Day.
33. Baby Bamba has 20 million views on YouTube.
34. Israeli chips, too: Half of the world’s supercomputers use Mellanox chips, based in Yokne’am.
35. Lemons to lemonade. The Tel Aviv-based insurance technology company Lemonade went public with a valuation of $1.6 billion.
36. What do Wix, Fiverr, JFrog, Playtika, OwnBackup and CyberArk have in common? They’re all Israeli unicorns, start-ups worth $1b. or more. Israel has more unicorns per capita than any country in the world.
37. The Israeli transportation app Moovit has 720 million users in 100 countries. In a year when no one was moving, it was acquired by Intel for $900 million.
38. (From reader Efram Riback:) Hold that garbage! With three minutes left to complete morning prayers in the coronavirus-time street minyan prayer gatherings, the garbage truck driver halted until the last amen.
39. Triple Purim: When Shushan Purim, celebrated in cities like Jerusalem that were walled in the time of the biblical Joshua (3,400 years ago), fell this year on Shabbat, we celebrated the happiest holiday for three days.
40. Public service announcement from the Health Ministry: Purim masks cannot be used instead of corona masks!
41. The siege ramp from the Crusader era still protects Ashkelon from sandstorms.
42. Acre beach has a path for disabled swimmers.
43. A new neighborhood in Haifa is dedicated to Israeli singers. Streets named for competitors (the late) Ofra Haza and Yardena Arazi cross each other. Arazi says she doesn’t mind.
44. Israeli TV series On the Spectrum, about three roommates with autism, won the awards for best show, best actor and best actress in the comedy category at the Monte-Carlo Television Festival in Monaco.
45. Researchers in a joint team from Ben-Gurion University, Harvard and MIT have discovered apparent links between autism and abnormal levels of fats in the blood.
46. Wedding bells. The groom’s dad was hospitalized with COVID-19. So a wedding canopy was built on a porch at Hadassah Hospital so that the father could look on from his hospital bed from above.
47. Wedding bells. Despite the coronavirus, 250 Bnei Menashe, thought to be descendants of the 10 lost tribes, arrived in Israel from northeastern India in December. Five married couples chose to reaffirm their marriage vows under Israeli canopies.
48. Wedding bells. When a wedding party in Umm el-Fahm was canceled because of the pandemic, the bride and groom gave away 450 bags of food to the needy.
49. Wedding bells. Because of the restrictions on guests at a wedding, an Israeli couple decided to walk down the aisle in a supermarket, where there would be no limit on the number of attendees. Plenty of rice to throw.
50. Wedding bells. Announced in The New York Times: Methuselah, a male palm tree grown from a 2,000-year-old date pit found on Masada, is wedded to Hannah, a female tree grown from a seed that came from an ancient burial cave near Jericho. Their offspring: a revived species of Judean dates praised both in the Bible and the Koran. Initiator of the project, Hadassah gastroenterologist Sarah Sallon, quotes ancient sources that claim dates are good for digestion, memory and also aphrodisiacs. (How do you know a plant’s gender? Genetic testing, of course.)
51. The ancient dates were nurtured by Elaine Solowey, an American-born founder of Kibbutz Ketura who became a world expert in arid agriculture. The average rainfall in the kibbutz is around 30 mm., about one inch, of rain a year. That’s arid!
52. A French natural cosmetics manufacturer and pharmaceutical manufacturer has bought Kibbutz Ketura’s Algatech, a top cultivator of microalgae.
53. Something else to worry about. Sign on a Jerusalem bridge: “Shmita [sabbatical year, when planting is suspended] is coming! Prepare your garden now!”
54. The Abraham Accords yielded not only strategic and economic ties, but the first Israeli kosher restaurant in the Gulf. The owners of Mul Hayam (Seaside) are wedding photographers in Israel.
55. My first phone call with someone from the United Arab Emirates was with the businessman importing Israeli Sonovia masks sewn in a Druse village. Within minutes we were soon figuring out whom we knew in common. Thrilling new “Middle Eastern geography.”
56. Israel and the UAE are playing rugby together. Rugby?
57. Fauda was rated the most-watched series in the UAE. Who knew?
58. I couldn’t find the kosher for Passover stamp on a jar of horseradish, so the boss called for the expert. His name is Ahmed.
59. Tamar Elram, director of Hadassah-University Medical Center, on Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus, said she dealt with the pressures of running the hospital in 2020 and bringing up five children by writing a book of poetry.
60. In honor of International Watermelon Day, the Agriculture Ministry offered tips on how to pick out the best coveted summer food.
61. Malali watermelon is known for its large crunchy seeds, which make a popular snack in Israel, and while 97% of the fruit is discarded in the field, a new study shows that the discarded produce could be used to produce renewable energy, according to a student in a University of Haifa lab.
62. Start-Up Nation: The Israeli inventions that made it into Time magazine’s 2020 list include an automated beehive, an AR-headset that uses X-ray vision technology, a fit-and-fold car booster seat, a custom-made guide to cancer trials, an electric urban vehicle and a “sugar-like product.”
63. MyEye 2.0, a vision technology device developed by Israeli company OrCam, can be discreetly clipped to eyeglasses to read out texts from books, labels and restaurant menus and even scan bar codes.
64. International seminars are being taught on how to cultivate Israeli chutzpah as the secret ingredient in our hi-tech success.
65. Tiny Israeli satellites can orbit the earth on just 1 gram of fuel a day. The chief engineer says he’s excited to blast off the Jewish state’s tech from Kazakhstan, where Stalin banished his father and grandparents.
66. Elbit Systems uses advanced digital technology in its “Rhino mobile headquarters” to link field units with commanders.
67. Ramat Gan Safari leads Europe in the number of rhinos born.
68. In honor of Jerusalem Day, marking the reunification of the city, a newborn lion at the Tisch Family Biblical Zoo in Jerusalem was named Lion, the symbol of the city. This was announced by Jerusalem’s mayor, whose name is Moshe Lion.
69. Photo goes viral: Jewish and Muslim Magen David Adom ambulance workers praying near their rescue vehicle. At Hadassah Hospital, the outbreak staff – Jews and Arabs – became expert on helping COVID-19 patients put on tefillin.
70. On Holocaust Remembrance Day, the star of the Israeli thriller series Tehran, Niv Sultan, read a passage from A Daughter of Many Mothers, the Holocaust memoir I wrote with Jerusalem survivor and great-grandmother of 35 Rena Quint.
71. At a historic Binyamina synagogue, names read aloud for the memorial prayer at Yizkor begin with Herzl, Ben-Gurion and other national leaders, then local leaders, and IDF soldiers.
72. Pilot Harold “Smoky” Simon, who served in the War of Independence, recently returned to the cockpit of an Israel Air Force plane and took a flight in a Tiger Moth to celebrate his 100th birthday. Simon’s sons Saul and Dan, also ex-IAF pilots, flew in vintage planes beside him.
73. IDF pilots performed acrobatics over hospitals throughout Israel on Independence Day in solidarity and appreciation for the healthcare teams on the front lines.
74. In a year that needed healing, former IDF commander Yair Levi’s soulful version of “El na refa na la,” Moses’s prayer for his ill sister, Miriam, was sung in Hebrew and tens of other languages around the world. May it be a year of healing!
Happy Independence Day!
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.