Independence Day: 75+1 new reasons I love Israel - opinion

Even after all my years living here, when I write my address on luggage tags, I still pinch myself that my address is Jerusalem, Israel.

 MANY A stork has taken to Israel’s friendly skies. (Illustrative) (photo credit: Christof Stache/AFP via Getty Images)
MANY A stork has taken to Israel’s friendly skies. (Illustrative)
(photo credit: Christof Stache/AFP via Getty Images)

Back for the 19th year in a row are new reasons why I love Israel. Even after all my years living here, when I write my address on luggage tags, I still pinch myself that my address is Jerusalem, Israel.

76 reasons to love Israel

1. Cholent on Thursday night has become a national craze.

2. When angry protesters arrived in Bnei Brak, the residents serenaded them with “Shalom Aleichem” and served them cholent.

3. Overheard at the tumultuous judicial demonstrations: A protester on one side of the debate says to a friend on the opposite side: “If you’re leaving now, could I please borrow your Israeli flag?”

4. Judo superpower. Judoka Raz Hershko, 24, took Israel’s second gold medal at the international judo championships in Tel Aviv, beating her opponent in the 78 km. category. Her victory came a day after Olympian judoka Sagi Muki won Israel’s first gold medal in the Grand Slam.

Israel's Sagi Muki poses with his gold medal on the podium at the World Judo Championships, 2019. (credit: REUTERS/KIM KYUNG-HOON)Israel's Sagi Muki poses with his gold medal on the podium at the World Judo Championships, 2019. (credit: REUTERS/KIM KYUNG-HOON)

5. Swimmers Shelly Bobritsky and Ariel Nassee are the first Israeli competitors to earn gold medals at the Artistic Swimming World Cup in Canada. Their coach, Svetlana Blecher, now from Moshav Shadmot, was the Russian champion in 1982-83. She came to Israel in 1989 with the Russian circus’s first visit to the Dolphinarium. When the gates of the Soviet Union opened, she and five other members of the 70-strong Russian team made aliyah.

6. Travel safely! A sign on the highway near Latrun: “Beit Knesset Tefillat Haderech”(the Traveler’s Prayer Synagogue).

7. Prayer for rain. Israel Railways once passed out socks to soggy passengers on a particularly rainy day.

8. In Ra’anana, the municipality gives out plants to passersby on Tu Bishvat.

9. The minute he heard on his car radio about the earthquake in Turkey, a Hadassah-University Medical Center pediatrician pulled over to phone his army unit to volunteer because he knew that so many other good-hearted Israelis would volunteer, too.

10. The Israeli medical staff of the IDF hospital in Turkey carried up the equipment on their backs to the fifth floor of the hospital because they wanted to be close to the operating room.

11. The Israeli team slept in tents in Turkey and woke up covered with frost. They stayed anyway. 

12. The Israeli doctors and nurses lovingly show photos of the Turkish children whom they saved.

13. My neighborhood corner store has three stands of fruit and vegetables, each with its specific kashrut certification to suit everyone’s take on the shmita (sabbatical year).

14. The Bioplasmar company on Moshav Aderet has developed a method for producing biodegradable planting pots and planting trays using compost instead of plastic, so the plants and pots can be planted directly into the ground with no plastic waste.

15. The Ramat Gan company Sonovia is showing Italian jeans fashion makers how to reduce blue-dye pollution, 150 years after jeans with rivets were invented by two Jewish immigrants in the US (one by the name of Levi Strauss).

16. Besides China and the US, Israel is the only country that can use previously expensive CAR-T cell therapy to treat multiple myeloma (bone marrow cancer). Prof. Polina Stepensky of Hadassah-University Medical Center has developed a lower-cost Israeli version. She is also training medical personnel from her former home country of Ukraine, to show meaningful solidarity with their struggle.

17. The Jerusalem-based company BrainsWay has developed a helmet that sends magnetic pulses to the brain, easing the symptoms of patients suffering from depression and anxiety. Eighty-two percent of patients who received 30 or more 20-minute treatments experienced improvements in their symptoms.

18. Israel moved up to #4 in the ranking of the happiest countries in the world (behind Finland, Denmark and Iceland).

 Israeli-American Council Celebrate Israel Festival, Los Angeles (credit: Wikimedia Commons) Israeli-American Council Celebrate Israel Festival, Los Angeles (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

19. More people today speak Hebrew than Finnish, Danish and Icelandic… and Norwegian, too.

20. Not only happy. For the past 10 years, Israel has been designated as the country that is most considerate of others in need of help.

21. According to the fourth annual edition of the Digital Quality of Life Index, Israel beat out 116 countries to take the top slot. Entrants are ranked on five “fundamental well-being pillars”: e-government, e-infrastructure, e-security, Internet quality, and Internet affordability.

22. Hanukkah gelt. Fifteen silver coins, the latest dated 170 BCE, were found in a box in the Judean desert, hidden by Maccabean rebels.

23. GIST, Italy’s top tourism press agency, named Caesarea its ACTA Archaeological and Cultural Award winner.

24. Researchers believe that the agricultural plots found in Caesarea are the first to develop sand farming in human history. Today, Israel is a global leader in hydroponic, vertical and robotic farming.

25. The Caesarea-based Intel Habana Labs develop deep learning processors that allow machines to “learn” from large amounts of data. Caesarea-based InfiniDome develops anti-jamming technologies, to defend tactical UAVs, plus manned and unmanned ground vehicles.

26. Israel continues to top the birthrate of all OECD countries. According to recent research by Dr. Geva Shenkman of Reichman University, this desire for more children includes Israelis of all orientations, including LGBTQ+ people.

27. Israel has the lowest per-woman rate of cesarean sections.

28. The Israeli surrogacy TV drama series A Body That Works, about a couple that wants to have a baby, makes it to the International Premiere at Series Mania.

29. Thousands of storks were recently seen hovering over Israeli skies, say our birdwatchers.

Flock of storks  (credit: JONATHAN MERAV SPNI)Flock of storks (credit: JONATHAN MERAV SPNI)

30. Israel recently hosted one of the most important birding competitions in the world. More than 150 birders from Kazakhstan, Bulgaria, England, Germany, Colombia and the US joined Israelis to see who could identify more species of birds in an area of southern Israel.

31. Jews were falsely accused of causing the bubonic plague, but today Israeli scientists have developed the first mRNA vaccine for bacteria. It works on mice carrying the plague pathogen that killed millions in the Middle Ages.

32. Time Magazine named Biking in Jerusalem as one of 50 great travel ideas for its 2023 list of the World’s Greatest Places.

33. Tel Aviv start-up Wiz, a security platform to identify and remove risks to the cloud, is the world’s largest cyber decacorn ($10 billion).

34. Tel Aviv, along with giant London, is the city that hosts the largest number of unicorn (billion-dollar) start-ups. The White City has produced the fifth-largest number of unicorns in the world.

35. Jewish scholars have identified the unicorn as the one-horned tachash, which appeared suddenly and disappeared soon thereafter when the Tabernacle was being built in the desert. (See Jerusalem Talmud, Shabbat 2:3; Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 28a.)

36. Israel’s song entry in the 2023 Eurovision Song Contest is called “Unicorn.”

37. Researchers from Tel Aviv University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem found the earliest evidence for the domestication of a fruit tree, proving the olive was planted intentionally about 7,000 years ago.

38. Israeli olives are irrigated with salty and purified wastewater, which is environmentally beneficial, does not diminish the fruit’s quality, and allows farmers to use fewer fertilizers. Israel produces only virgin olive oil.

39. In a country where it’s hard to keep a secret, our top hi-tech export is cybersecurity.

40. Just another school outing: Students of Kinneret College found a Roman coin in the Golan Heights. Then, at another site, they discovered a basalt lion relief from an ancient synagogue, which depicted a lioness feeding her cubs.

41. Israeli archaeologists dug up the tusk of a prehistoric elephant near Gedera. It’s a remnant of a behemoth once hunted by pre-human people around half a million years ago.

42. Israel is ranked among the top 10 healthiest countries in the world by the Bloomberg Global Health Index ranking for 2023.

43. Israelis are the fourth-largest protein consumers, coming in behind Iceland, Lithuania and Hong Kong. Israel ranked second after the US in alternative protein investments last year.

44. The first lab-grown meat produced in space was achieved by Rehovot’s Aleph Farms on the International Space Station.

45. Saveur Magazine crowned Tel Aviv the World’s Best Culinary City.

A vegan friendly sticker in seen on the door of a Domino's Pizza restaurant in Tel Aviv (credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS)A vegan friendly sticker in seen on the door of a Domino's Pizza restaurant in Tel Aviv (credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS)

46. Tel Aviv is the so-called Vegan Capital of the World.

47. Of the best steakhouses in Israel, rated by Israel’s popular Ynet website, the vast majority are in Tel Aviv.

48. Make lemonade: Guinness World Records has for 20 years recognized farmer Aharon Shemoel for growing the world’s heaviest lemon on his farm in Kfar Zeitim. It weighed 5.265 kg. The fruit’s circumference was 74 cm., and it was 35 cm. high.

49. Strawberry, too. The Israeli champion strawberry weighed in at 289 grams.

50. Israeli singer/songwriter Hanan Ben Ari became famous for his song “Our Life Is Strawberries.”

51. Modi’in’s BlueGreen Water Technologies estimates that it has removed 3.3 million tons of carbon from the atmosphere.

52. In Shoham, near Modi’in, hikers on the Israel Trail stop at a 1,800-year-old rest stop when they need a break. The ancient rest stop has a mosaic depicting anemones (kalaniot), which still grow wild on the hillside.

53. Kalaniot,” originally sung by Shoshana Damari, is an Israeli song that became popular in the days leading up to Israeli statehood and is still a classic. The song, alluding to the soldiers’ red berets, was used as a code during the British Mandate to alert fighters of the Stern Group and the Irgun to the presence of British soldiers.

54. It first played in Tel Aviv in 1965, but Fiddler on the Roof in Hebrew is still filling theaters in Israel, where everyone understands the references, appreciates the nuances, and laughs at the jokes. The late Israeli star Chaim Topol beat out Frank Sinatra, Danny Kaye and Richard Burton for the movie role. But first, he played the character of Salach Shabati in the 1964 film of the same name. Now his family says he also worked for the Mossad!

55. Folks over 80, plus pregnant women, go to the head of the line at banks, supermarkets, post offices and airline check-in.

56. Seniors over 75 can ride the buses and trains for free.

57. Babies that are fed Bamba, Israel’s most popular snack, have a far lower chance of growing into peanut-allergic kids and adults.

58. The Israeli TV series Fauda is the No. 1 Netflix program in Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates. It ranks second in Qatar and is among the top 10 most-viewed Netflix shows in Turkey, Morocco and Jordan. The word fauda means “chaos.”

59. International Israeli model and actress Yael Shelbia was named the most beautiful woman in the world by TC Candler and the Independent Critics List of the 100 Most Beautiful Faces of the Year. She got her start playing Ruth Hirsch in the Israel TV show Palmach. Her stage name, Shelbia, is her Djerba-Jewish grandmother’s. Djerba is an island off Tunisia; according to various legends, its synagogue dates back to the destruction of the First or Second Temple and has a Temple door from Jerusalem, taken by the high priest in his escape.

ISRAELI MODEL Yael Shelbia. (credit: TWITTER)ISRAELI MODEL Yael Shelbia. (credit: TWITTER)

60. You can buy smart doors in Israel that speak Hebrew.

61. Israeli researchers at the Hadassah-University Medical Center have created human male and female cells with the same genetic code, from the same person. This unique model could lead to new discoveries of sex differences and gender medicine.

62. Gone plum crazy. We’ve gotten used to purple carrots, cauliflower and sweet potatoes in the market, but a farm in northern Israel is developing pomegranate, watermelon and lemon plums.

63. The new variety, 605271 of the Gedera-Syngenta Seeds company, has been selected as the fairest tomato in the land. Who knew? The same Gedera-based company has developed the Lansor tomato, which is resistant to the virus that was devastating tomato yields in Israel and many other countries.

64. Also in Gedera: Tevel Aerobatics Technologies has developed a flying autonomous robot that picks fruit.

65. In the center of the capital of Jerusalem, 65 gazelles run free in Gazelle Valley, the largest urban nature site in Israel. The space was preserved for the gazelles thanks to the efforts of activists.

66. The Tisch Family Zoological Gardens in Jerusalem is still called the Biblical Zoo. There’s a zoo teen youth movement called Tnu’at Noah. In the summer, you can book overnight camp-outs at the zoo.

67. What other country would celebrate Independence Day with a Bible contest that draws contestants from all over Israel and around the world? The prime minister, the president, and the mayor of Jerusalem not only attend but also ask questions. The names of last year’s tied winners were Hillel (like the great rabbi) and Dvir (the innermost part of the Holy of Holies).

68. Israelis eat 19.6 kg. of beef per year and 64 kg. of poultry – a lot, but not all on Independence Day, with its nationwide barbecues.

69. Ancient leftovers: According to Guinness World Records, the oldest recorded leftovers are the 200,000-year-old, marrow-rich deer bones discovered in the Qesem Cave near Tel Aviv. The bones were stored for future use and possibly date back as far as 420,000 years ago.

70. A usually sensationalist local Hebrew paper published a Passover supplement with a detailed guide on how to clean and kosher the home for Passover.

71. At the Jerusalem YMCA, two women, while swimming, exchanged summaries of the pre-Passover Shabbat Hagadol lectures they heard in their synagogues.

72. In memory of brothers Yaakov Yisrael and Asher Menachem Paley, who were killed in a ramming terror attack, their mother spoke to over 1,000 women in a Jerusalem auditorium, with 80,000 others following on streaming. More than 100 women opened their homes to religious/non-religious dialogue under the aegis of Ayelet Hashachar, an organization that unites women of all backgrounds.

73. Israel’s luxury fashion brand Eli Bitton has expanded its business from Haifa to India’s West Delhi. Israel is also helping India find ways to cope with an emerging water crisis, with an Israeli water attaché posted there.

74. Worldview: A new observatory in the Negev will house the most powerful survey telescopes, said to be three times more powerful than any other existing telescope.

75. Aiming for 120: With an already high lifespan (average 82.49 years), Israelis have signed an agreement for collaboration on the study of longevity with the World Community of Longevity, based in Sardinia, which has the highest percentage of men aged 100 and over.

76. Always named among the top Israel songs are Arik Einstein’s “Ani V’ata” (“I and You Will Change the World”) and David Broza’s “Yihye Tov” (“It Will Be Good”), both written in 1978.

Together we’ll change the world for the better. And yes, it will be good.

Happy 75th! 

The writer is Israel director of public relations at Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. Her latest book is A Daughter of Many Mothers.