Barbara Sofer

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66 plus 1 - reasons I love Israel


May 1, 2014

This is the 10th anniversary of this annual column of reasons why I love Israel, according to the years of Israel’s anniversary. Some say imitation is the best form of flattery, and I’ve inspired others to celebrate Independence Day in this way. Brainstorming on Israel’s uniqueness seems a good way to celebrate the miracle of being able to live in Israel. How our forefathers and foremothers dreamt of our return to Zion! Thank you to readers for joining in and sending me your suggestions. Here are 66 + 1 new reasons, in no particular order.

 Happy Independence Day!

 1. The prime minister and the mayor of Jerusalem met to walk together to synagogue on Yom Kippur.

 2. Purim costumes advertisement: ”Special on King David, The Kohen High Priest” and “Zombie.”

3. Jerusalem’s new Cinema City includes Moses with the Ten Commandments amid the star-studded statues.

 4. Jerusalem’s Cinema City restaurants filled up one evening with those breaking the Fast of Queen Esther.

 5. The McDonald’s kosher-for-Passover hamburger on matza was served by a Muslim waitress wearing head covering.

 6. Zion Gate, Ammunition Hill, Sultan’s Pool are landmarks on the route of the Jerusalem Marathon.

 7. Tourists are puzzled by seeing a bride walking down the street. They don’t know that adults wear Purim costumes, too.

 8. From the country of the kibbutz and moshav, Waze is a billion-dollar GPS built on community participation.

 9. Israeli backpackers leave notebooks with travel tips behind in Hebrew.

 Off-the-beaten-path touring is built on community participation.

 10. Instead of marking a loan condition “in case of death,” the bank titled the section “May you have a long life (arichut yamim).

 11. Sabra humous is conquering the world taste. I found it in rural Tennessee.

 12. El Al let us carry the box of handmade matza on the plane, even though we’d exceeded our carry-on limit.

 13. The valedictorian of the Technion’s med school was an Arab-Israeli woman. So was this season’s winner of MasterChef, whose day job is as a microbiologist. Haven’t they heard of apartheid week on American campuses?

14. There’s kosher-for-Passover Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. Just no soaked matza cookies and cream.

 15. The prime minister, the president and the IDF chief of staff agree to sing their favorite Zionist songs on Independence Day at the President’s Residence on national TV and radio, no matter how well or badly they carry a tune.

 16. The defense minister sings, too. Last year, he chose “Hora He’ahzut” as a teaching moment for the invited soldiers about villages first settled by soldiers.

 17. Israeli pianist Boris Giltburg, 29, won the prestigious Queen Elisabeth competition in Brussels. As one of the perks, he was scheduled to play in Russia, where he was born but which his family left in 1990. His mother and grandmother are pianists. They reportedly wanted him to do something else because there were enough pianists in the family.

 18. While performing in Korea, Giltburg figured out how to read the Korean website, so his Israeli Facebook friends could hear him playing live.

 19. We have a national cholent (Shabbat cooked stew) competition. You can get tips from the current champion, a hassidic grandmother, on a Jerusalem tour and on the cooking channel.

 20. Seltzer, long a favored Jewish beverage, became a symbol of patriotism as boycotters tried to burst the bubble of SodaStream.

 21. We pray thrice daily “to return sight to the blind.” Now Bar-Ilan University scientists have developed a technology that may enable people who are blind from birth to see with the help of a bionic contact lens. At the Hebrew University, a new app called EyeMusic enables the blind to “hear” images.

 22. When nurse Reuven Gelfond, on the IDF rescue mission in the Philippines, didn’t have the right scalpel for eye surgery, he made one himself so the medical team could return sight to the blind.

 23. Israel sent 148 specialists to the Philippines to provide medical aid, as well search-and-rescue services, after the devastating typhoon.

 24. No one was surprised that we would send a team to help.

 25. The first baby born in the medical tent in the Philippines was named Israel. This is becoming a rescue mission tradition.

 26. We’re still sentimental.

 Israeli media carried the Nefesh b’Nefesh story of the wedding of a young couple in New Jersey making aliya the day after the wedding.

 27. 1,700 young Jewish adults partied in Brazil last Hanukka to the music of Thiago Abravanel.

 What inspired them? They’d all been to Israel on the Birthright program.

 28. Israel’s Groupon Internet bargain offers featured the Four Species for Succot.

 29. A routine school project: interview a Holocaust survivor in your family.

 30. Israeli newspapers unabashedly focus on Israelis and Jews worldwide when the Nobel Prizes are announced. (And there are always winners!)

 31. We have chutzpah, but we’re respectful.

 Some 800,000 Israelis turned up for the funeral of a revered rabbi.

 32. Some 35 million people use PhotoMania, a photo-effect system on Facebook invented by three young Israelis.

 33. Israeli engineering company ElbitSystems Ltd., in partnership with the US firm Rockwell Collins Inc., won a new contract to supply “smart helmets” for Lockheed Martin’s next generation F-35 fighter jet. It projects real-time images onto its visor from infrared cameras around the fuselage.

 34. Wired magazine called Tel Aviv one of the “Hottest Start-up Capitals.

 The Globe and Mail said it was the most creative city in the world.

 But most recently, the Matador Network named Tel Aviv its No. 1 beach party venue. No wonder Tel Aviv is also called “The city that doesn’t sleep.”


35. Buses not only wish us a Happy Purim, Happy Passover and Happy Hanukka, but there’s even a sign on some public buses reminding us which day of the post-Passover counting of the Omer it is.

 36. There’s a cloakroom to leave your hametz at the entrance to an Israeli hospital during Passover.

 37. Supermarket and mall sound systems play Passover songs while we’re shopping.

 38. You can hear kids practicing the Four Questions in the sandbox in the park.

 39. Weight Watchers devotes several sessions to the caloric perils of Passover eating.

 40. Media mavens love interviewing the American ambassador in Hebrew.

 The Fourth of July picnic on the embassy estate is kosher.

 41. New bars open by blessing the mezuza on their doors.

 42. Malls have Hanukka candles burning at the entrance and in every store and restaurant.

 43. Overheard matter-of-fact comment about five-bedroom apartments: “That’s perfect for families with 10 kids.”

44. Energy-producing solar fields are proliferating in the water-challenged Arava and Negev. Robots clean the dust off the solar panels at Ketura Sun. How cool is that?

45. You can buy candy with “Mazal tov” written in Hebrew to throw in synagogues.

 46. When a Romanian student activist in the Jewish community there was electrocuted, the option of sending him to Israel “where we have experience in burns” came up immediately.

 47. The Hadassah Medical Center plane that went to pick up the patient was staffed by olim from South Africa and Ukraine. A group of Israeli students who heard about his arrival made him a surprise birthday party as part of his recovery.

 48. The medical team caring for the terror victims in the Boston Marathon thanked their Israeli counterparts for teaching them how to do it.

 49. The world’s medicinal pot pioneer is an octogenarian Israeli whose first name is Raphael – the healing angel on high.

 50. Where else would a chic wine festival feature only kosher wines?

51. New from our creators of seedless watermelons and persimmons: heart-shaped cucumbers.


 52. An Israeli mother invented a harness that enables her own and other disabled kids to walk.

 53. Amazon Fire TV, the online marketing giant’s streaming TV, features Israel’s Magisto cloud-based mobile video platform.

 54 No matter where I am in the world, Israeli marketers find me. I get quotes in shekels, the ancient coin of our people, on Internet sites.

 55. Israel IT company Matrix is opening a training center for 500 Chinese companies in China’s leading software development centers. Now the Chinese will be found everywhere, too.

 56. The young IDF soldiers standing solemnly at Yad Vashem for the memorial ceremony make me teary.

 57. That the rabbi reading psalms on Holocaust Remembrance Day at Yad Vashem is the grandson of the rabbi of Piotrkow, who went with his congregation to Treblinka, makes me teary.

 58. That an Israeli teen who visited his family’s village in Ethiopia for the first time told me how proud he felt to go to Ethiopia as an Israeli makes me teary.

 59. Gray rights. Our president turned 90, but no one thought he was too old for the job.

 60. Women’s rights. Israel is the best country in the Middle East for women’s rights and freedoms, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap survey. Israel received the Reducing the Gender Gap prize in 2013 for championing women’s rights from, yes, that’s right, the European Parliament.

 61. Talya Lavie’s feature film Zero Motivation, about Israeli women finding their way in the IDF, won Tribeca’s Best Narrative Feature, plus the new Nora Ephron prize.

 62. Women’s public prayer rights is a subject of such national concern that the prime minister had to get involved.

 63. Chief Rabbi David Lau was lighting Hanukka candles in the Mamilla Mall, but he asked one of the challenged kids playing in the Shalva band to say the blessing instead of him. And he did.

 64. Despite the tensions and political dissension, we believe in our future.

 The fertility rate in Israel is the highest in the OECD, with 2.96 children per women, compared to an OECD average of 1.74.

 65. A surprise for travelers. Candle lighting with a former chief rabbi and the head of the Air Force in the El Al lounge. Everyone ate donuts and sang songs.

 66. Sabra rock music pioneer, singer- songwriter Arik Einstein was mourned throughout the land. A tribute to Einstein was also performed in the El Al lounge before boarding time. The musicians played “Fly Away, Little Bird.” My sevenyear- old grandson learned his guitar chords to the same song in the school music class instead of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”

67. The prime minister of Israel actually told the CEO of Yahoo that she was infringing on his last name NetanYAHOO when they met at an economic conference. She’s scheduled to visit Israel this summer.




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