Some Things I Love About Living in Israel

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5. The Zionist layer plus the Jewish layer. Zionism is an ideology going back to the mid- to late 19th century; Judaism is a religion and culture going back over three thousand years. Zionism is now old enough that it constitutes a tradition, a heritage, within the state of Israel. For instance, the first kibbutz—Deganya, on the shore of Lake Kinneret—recently celebrated its 100th birthday (Israel, as mentioned, is celebrating its 63d). Driving and hiking in the upper Galilee, mostly still pristine countryside, one sees small settlements nestled beside green hills and gets a sense of time travel, of gazing back into the early days of Zionism.

Israel is also, of course, very rich in ancient Jewish sites, like the deservedly famous Western Wall and Masada. The Zionist and the Jewish layers are distinct, yet flow together; the former would not exist without the latter. That is, the ideological Zionists came here because the Jewish “layer” was already here. The modern Israeli is fed by both the Zionist and Jewish streams, both separately and in their convergence. It’s a strong brew.

6. The spring holidays. As alluded to, there are holiday experiences here all year round, but there is a particularly potent succession of holidays in spring, both ancient Jewish ones and modern Israeli ones. The former: Passover, Shavuot (the Feast of Weeks), and the more minor Lag B’Omer; the latter: Holocaust Day, Remembrance Day (for fallen soldiers), and Independence Day (along with Jerusalem Day celebrated mainly in that city).

What is notable is that these holidays are taken seriously and related to authentically. Holocaust Day and Remembrance Day touch an abyss of mourning; Passover, Shavuot, and Independence Day are tremendously joyous. Especially in the spring Israel is an ideological community in the best sense; people do not live only as atomized selves but as part of larger memories and purposes. It’s perhaps what I was most seeking in coming to the old-new land; it’s very much to be found.

7. Jerusalem is here. I used to live in it, don’t anymore, but whenever I think of its name (Jerusalem, Yerushalayim), there’s a heart-fluttering sensation. It becomes the center of one’s dreams and sentiments. Perhaps it can be that, too, outside of Israel, but it’s different when one has known its stones and cypresses for years. To me, it exudes holiness with the same undeniable, indeed sensuous immediacy that its stones exude soft light.

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  • Harry O.

    David –

    Israel is my home too, since I moved here from the States something over decade ago. To add some of my own thoughts to your list:

    1. I echo your comments on the pleasure of learning Hebrew.

    2. Although I work just as hard and am as busy and time-pressed as I was in the States, somehow every day feels a little bit like I'm on vacation – every day is fresh, new. As if I can still appreciate the quality of difference between the great place I was – by virtue of circumstance – and where I am – by virtue of choice.

    3. As you mentioned, there is a greater feeling of social unity here, perhaps due to the country's small size.

    4. Many will disagree, but it seems to me that – whether by accident or design – Israel is moving forward, traveling in a positive direction, despite the inevitable errors in policy and practice that can occur from time to time. The USA may also be making forward progress, but it's harder to tell – again, maybe because it's so vast.

    5. I find parliamentary democracy to be more interesting and more representative than the American two-party system.

    6. The weather is very predictable and the winters are mild.

    7. Fruits and vegetables seem fresher and tastier, probably because the journey from farmer to market is so short.

    8. Neckties are always optional.

    • stern

      You're both making me very envious.

  • ziontruth

    Sorry about the nitpicking, but here's a point that always gets my goat:

    "Zionism is an ideology going back to the mid- to late 19th century"

    This is false, the fruit of the revisionist Marxist historiography we've all been brought upon for so long. It ranks together with the view that nationalism as a whole is a product of the French Revolution.

    Nationalism goes back to Antiquity, and Jewish nationalism a.k.a. Zionism is just as ancient, and an inseparable part of Judaism to boot. The Bible, in addition to being theocentric, is ethnocentric as well–history is recorded in the Bible through the lens of how God relates to the nations.

    The Paleozionism of the Torah went into dormancy after the Bar Kochba revolt (132-5 CE). Seeds of its renewal started in the 17th century, especially after the slaughter of Jews at the hands of the Cossacks, which prompted many rabbis to conclude that the Jews' oath not to try to establish sovereignty in the Land of Israel had become void (seeing as the non-Jews had not kept to their oath of being moderate in their oppression of the Jews). In the 19th century, Mesozionism came into full being, on inspiration from the renewal of general nationalism at the time. That is the grain of truth upon which the anti-Zionists base their lie of assuming Zionism as a whole to be a 19th-century European nationalism.

    Mesozionism, largely secular and increasingly beholden to modern political precepts, held out until the 1980s or so. After that, it branched into mutually exclusive paths: Post-Zionism, which holds modern values to be supreme, and therefore has relinquished the ancient Jewish dream for capitulationism and multiculturalism ("Israel as the state of all its citizens"), and Neozionism, which is based on the recognition that such modern values are suicidal, and embraces saner values (foremost that of Israel as exclusive nation-state of the Jews), discarding the rigged system altogether. Neozionism is also marked by a dominance of the Religious Zionist camp, although secular Neozionists are not absent (e.g. Ben-Dror Yemini).

    Zionism is an inseparable part of Judaism; and as such, both ancient and modern, therefore really timeless. The lies of the Marxists must not be allowed to stand.

  • ziontruth

    I definitely agree on the togetherness of Israeli Jewish experience. I'll add it's not just a formal togetherness but a casual one: I know of nowhere else you can open a discussion on politics with a total stranger while riding the bus.

    It's true for every nation that all the nationals are in the same boat, but when you're on an aircraft carrier like the U.S.A. it's hard to feel it. Israel's so small (despite demands for territorial concessions that make it sound like Israel is the size of half a continent…) that everybody knows each other, and there's no one in Israel that doesn't have some family relation lost to one of Israel's existential wars.

    As the column writer says, this experience is so pervasive that the only Israeli Jews outside it are those who have actively exiled themselves out of it.

  • StephenD

    Great post and even better comments! I am neither Jewish or Israeli yet I can vicariously experience this sacred communion through your words…and I am jealous! I wish I could relate to it, though please don't misunderstand, I love my country…I just don't have that umbilical cord thing going.

  • tanstaafl

    I hope that in my remaining years I will have a chance to visit Israel.

  • Mike from Brooklyn

    I hate to ask a "downer" question, but someone has to, right? So here goes. David mentions "the extreme left is mainly outside of the 'we' and inimical to it." I always wonder how big this extreme left is, and what their motives are. In America we have J street who seem more and more to be working to makeIsrael indefensible. I remember 5 yrs. ago an Israeli kid about 18, (seemed like a nice kid) who refused to go into the army because of Israel's presense or alleged tactics, I forget which, in the West Bank. And I know that B'Tselem in Israel are horrid, though I confess I haven't read the Commentary article yet. So how big is this?

    • ziontruth

      "I always wonder how big this extreme left is,…"

      The conventional wisdom in Israel is that they're 1% of the population and 99% of the media. Though, the percentage of the media is dropping as more and more of the land-faithful Israeli Jewish Right have come to realize the importance of that battleground. Israeli TV now features reporters with yarmulkes or head-coverings (the latter for married religious women), something unseen just ten years ago.

      "…and what their motives are."

      What are the motives of hard-Leftists elsewhere in the world? It's a global thing; ours are no different from yours. The only difference may be they're in an environment far most hostile to their ideas than they could ever find in the U.S.A., not to mention Europe. That's why Ilan Pappe left the country for Britain–even his fellow academics couldn't stomach him any longer.

  • Mike from Brooklyn

    Sorry for coming back, but I had one more thing to say, and maybe David has some suggestions. Why not send some Jewish soldiers, guys/gals to Reform Shuls in America. Specifically NYC where there are some very dumb smart Jews. (I can say this without feeling bigoted, because I am Jewish). You want the name of one shul to start, why not the ________________ Temple in Park Slope. I know the Rabbi a bit. About a year and a half ago they had Khalidi of Columbia speak there, I kid you not. If you could get this done, I'd work from here. Let me know, and I'll help 100% And don't worry, I can be nice. Contact me here, and I'll give you my E mail if you want.

  • Martin Slavin

    A great piece. Israel to me was a gradual experience. It did not hit me how special the place is until the second day I was there. We were in a Synagogue near the German Colony for Erev Shabbat services and we then stood and faced Jerusalem as part of the service. It hit me right then and there that we were north not east. We were facing the location of the actual Western Wall. I was 53 at the time and I was praying in the ancient capital of my people. It was extremely moving.

    Another thing is that until you have been in Israel, you have no idea how small the country is. The drive from the airport to Jerusalem was 30 minutes, and that was one of the widest points in the country.

  • LindaRivera

    I have never been to Israel. Someone I know visited and wept because the Israeli police would not let them go on the Temple Mount! Jews and others are arrested by Israeli police if they are even SUSPECTED of praying to Almighty G-D – Creator of the Universe, on the Temple Mount. G-D is not honored on the Temple Mount! Islam and Islam's god is honored!

    Mosques on the Temple Mount call for Jihad against Jews. On many occasions, Arab Muslims have transformed the most sacred place on earth into a place of violence – throwing rocks at Jews and other non-Muslims, from the Temple Mount. Arab Muslims have vandalized and massively destroyed precious and unique Temple remains and built mosques. Israeli leaders ALLOWED them to do it!

    The tourist also cried in Hebron at seeing PLO flags waving. Hebron is second only after Jerusalem, in holiness.

    Excessively loud Muslim loudspeakers in Israel, call people to Muslim prayer, waking exhausted people up in the early hours. There are 56 Muslim countries; only one Jewish nation. It would be wonderful if Israel's leaders would understand that tourists go to Israel, longing to experience a Jewish nation. If they wanted to experience Islam, they have 56 nations to go to!

  • Rochelle Owens


  • ThePittsburghSteeler

    Yes, yes; I quite agree with your observations about Hebrew, and the land of Israel.
    Hebrew letters are animated; it seems at times that they're almost alive. The land of
    Israel is hauntingly beautiful; particularly the Northern Negev desert, and the town of
    Beersheba. But you forgot one thing–you don't need a car in Israel; the public transportation system is great.

  • Eli J

    What I really like about living is that every one great each other with a hearty shabbat shalom on Fridays and chag sameach before the chagim among many other things.