May 10, 2024

76 + 1 reasons I love Israel – opinion

By Barbara Sofer

This is my 20th straight year writing new reasons why I love Israel. I thought it might be difficult this year, Israel’s 76th birthday, but it wasn’t. Just the opposite. Beneficence and heroism shine through the dark clouds of these difficult times. I don’t know how any other country or any other people could cope with so many challenges.

Here are this year’s 76+ 1 reasons, not in any particular order.

  1. A 2,000-year-old Hebrew ledger found in the City of David points to widespread literacy at the time of the Second Temple. (781 million adults worldwide can’t read or write today. Nearly two-thirds are female.)
  2. Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda market just turned 100. The market centennial was called Balabasta – no, not balabusta, but Hebrew for “Come to my vegetable stalls.”
  3. Seventy-five percent of Israeli vegetables are grown on the farms bordering Gaza. Volunteers rushed to harvest vegetables. How many pickled peppers did people proudly pick?
  4. Pop-up markets in central Israel sold the fruit, vegetables, and flowers from the fields picked by the volunteers.
  5. A vigilant woman behind me in the supermarket line pointed out that the carrots in my cart came from Turkey. Of course, I put them back.
  6. Headline: Carrots from Israel are helping British consumers through the crops damaged by too much rain.
  7. On Oct. 7, civilians and reservists, police officers, and medical personnel got into their own cars and drove south at enormous personal risk to help beleaguered brethren.
  8. On Oct. 7, strangers welcomed me into their shelters as I walked to synagogue while the sirens sounded.
  9. Reservists climbing in the Himalayas and Machu Picchu, inventing technology in Silicon Valley and Seattle, and closing business deals in Melbourne and Manchester turned around to come and serve.
  10. When the other airlines stopped flying, El Al brought our soldiers home.
  11. On Oct. 7, unarmed Aner Elyakim Shapiro, 22, intercepted seven hand grenades to protect those huddled in an above-ground shelter at the Supernova festival before he was killed.
  12. Aner Shapria is also known for a rap song he wrote against hate, “Hatred of Brothers.”
  13. Among those Aner protected was musician Alon Ohel, who was taken hostage. Ohel’s family has provided yellow pianos in Hostages Square in Tel Aviv, in New York’s Washington Square, and in London, Japan, and Berlin to keep the music playing until he gets home.
  14. Also in the shelter with Aner was Hersh Goldberg Polin, whose mother, Rachel Golberg-Polin, was named among the 100 most influential persons this year by TIME magazine for representing the Israeli hostages around the world.
  15. The hostages are mentioned every hour on the hour on national radio. Yellow ribbons, yellow nail polish, and yellow flowers also remind us of the hostages. We say special prayers in our synagogues and ceremonies. Our nation’s heart is ripped apart.
  16. On Oct. 7, the Hadassah Medical Organization decided to turn an underground parking lot in the new Gandel Rehab Center on Mount Scopus into an emergency hospital. Working around the clock, it was completed in 14 days. Volunteers from Jerusalem went to Sderot under fire to help construct the hospital beds in the factory there. Upstairs at Hadassah, the Rehabilitation Center was opened six months early to treat wounded soldiers.
  17. A wounded tank brigade commander refused to be carried from the field. He wanted his soldiers to see him walking upright.
  18. On Oct. 7, the women tankists made history with their ingenious and skillful battles, saving kibbutzim near Gaza. They also saved my grandson and the other students in their pre-army yeshiva.
  19. The international debate over whether women can serve in the IDF Armored Corps has been over since Oct. 7.
  20. The head of reconstructive and aesthetic dentistry at Hadassah’s School of Dentistry headed a large team of volunteer dentists identifying bodies by their dental records. “It’s very difficult but holy work,” she said.
  21. Rose Lubin was a lone soldier from Atlanta who served in the Border Police. A thousand Israelis attended her funeral.
  22. Simon Shlomov was a lone soldier from Kazakhstan who studied at the Meir Shfeya Youth Village. A thousand Israelis attended his funeral.
  23. The woman standing near me in synagogue at a Dead Sea hotel told me her husband was saying Kaddish for a female soldier he had never met who was murdered on Oct. 7.
  24. The first soldier ever to have bullets removed from his back by Israeli robotics at Hadassah Hospital recovered in time to graduate from officers’ training.
  25. The personal trainer whose arm was blown apart at the Supernova festival had the bone replaced with a titanium bone created by an Israeli 3D printer.
  26. Israel’s freed hostages are bravely telling their stories, revealing their torture and abuse.
  27. Soldiers come straight from the battlefields to the delivery rooms and ask to shower before holding their newborns.
  28. International Fauda TV star Idan Amedi fought terrorists for 100 days and was seriously wounded. When he recovered, he had a press conference to thank all his well-wishers and the medical staff.
  29. Courageous singer Eden Alene is going ahead with her Eurovision performance, despite the antisemitic threats. She’s ranked in the top 10.
  30. Last May’s tourist attraction was a beached monk seal. This year, Iranian rocket debris the size and shape of a seal landed in the Dead Sea and in a wadi on April 14 and attracted visitors. Thanks to preparedness, technology, and divine protection, the rockets didn’t reach human targets.
  31. Headline: Israeli beach soccer team wins European championship! The winning team is Kafr Qasim’s Falfala beach soccer club.
  32. Headline: Perfect record – Israel finishes off U20 World Championship campaign in style. That’s ice hockey! The year 2023 was one of the hottest since measurements began in 1950. The champion ice hockey teams practiced in Holon, Beersheba, and Eilat because the Metulla rink is under fire.
  33. Israel came in third in the under-20-year-old men’s soccer teams at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in La Plata, Argentina, in June. They even defeated Brazil. The new soccer hero is Haifa-born Anan Khalaili.
  34. Winds in The Hague: Israeli women claimed gold and silver medals at windsurfing World Championships, hosted by The Hague.
  35. Israel presented a stirring defense against false charges in The Hague.
  36. Champion kickboxers, who knew? Obed Hrangchal, 28, a yeshiva student who made aliyah from Mizoram, India, is national champion; Deniz Serebyanikov won a gold medal at the European kickboxing Cup in Athens while dedicating her win to fallen Givati soldier Nicholas Berger and waving the Givati and Israeli flag in the ring; 12-year-old Karolina Chorny won the European Kick Light Boxing Championship, and then climbed onto the podium with an Israeli flag inscribed with Am Israel Chai.
  37. Headlines: Israeli Judoka Raz Hershko wins her first gold medal at the European championships in Zagreb, beating her French competitor in the plus 78 kilo class. Israeli athlete Inbar Lanir wins a gold medal at the Grand Slam tournament in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, against her Japanese competitor, in the -78 kg. category. Israeli jiu-jitsu fighter Yarin Shariki, who survived the Supernova massacre on Oct. 7, where he lost his friend Yochai Ben Zacharia, won a gold medal at the Grand Slam in Paris. While “Hatikva” played, he dedicated the win to Yochai.
  38. Headline: Israel’s artistic swimmers win a gold medal at the European Games held in Oswiecim, Poland, beating Germany and Turkey. Osweicim is Polish for “Auschwitz.” Their winning category was “Team Free Routine Combination.”
  39. According to Jerusalem’s Taub Research Institute, Jewish women in Israel have higher employment rates than women in any other OECD country, except for Iceland, even though Israeli women have twice as many children as the OECD average.
  40. With a saliva test, Israeli start-up Salignostics can tell women if they’re pregnant!
  41. Says the Taub Institute: In all other countries, more educated women have fewer children than less educated women. However, by age 40, Israeli women with a college degree have the same number of children as those whose highest level of education is high school. The researchers say the reason for this fertility “is a mystery.”
  42. Israelis have an invention called LittleOne.Care, a smartwatch for babies’ bellies that uses artificial intelligence and can reputedly help parents know why their baby is crying.
  43. A Hadassah midwife whose husband is fighting in Gaza says: “I predict a baby boom after the war.”
  44. A badly burned tankist: “We talk about everything and argue about religion and politics, but when we get in the tank, we’re one team.”
  45. And they’re off! Jerusalemites Benyamin, Shlomo, and Assaf – recovering wounded IDF soldiers – ran in this year’s Jerusalem marathon.
  46. Announcements in the Israeli movie theater: Don’t forget to shut off your cellphone; and if there’s a rocket alert siren, just stay in your seat. (No free popcorn.)
  47. Holocaust Remembrance Day radio interviews focus on survivors whose grandchildren were killed or kidnapped on Oct. 7 and in the Swords of Iron war.
  48. Israeli tech rocks: “Iron Sting” mortar munition used by the Maglan Commando Unit can be directed with both a laser and a GPS integrated into its structure. 
  49. The Arrow/Hetz 3 is an exoatmospheric hypersonic anti-ballistic missile, jointly funded, developed, and produced by Israel and the United States.
  50. While the Iranians attacked, we read King David’s psalms as David’s Sling joined the Iron Dome as an air defense system. Thank you, tech-sector Israelis, for all these life-saving inventions.
  51. When residents of Kibbutz Nahal Oz on the Gaza border went back to their homes after the massacre, they found NIS 50 bills with a note. Soldiers billeted there had used their wine to make Kiddush.
  52. A roadside restaurant near the Gaza Strip offered all food free for soldiers.
  53. What other country offers tourists a chance to barbecue for soldiers?
  54. The commander of the Karakal unit that saved wounded infantry soldier Amit and Amit’s rehabilitation physician at Hadassah Hospital embraced when they saw each other. It turns out they’re sisters!
  55. To honor one of his soldiers killed on Oct. 7, Amit organized an art exhibition of his comrade’s work and a music festival that drew hundreds of people.
  56. Israeli teens from Binyamina won first place at the international robotics competition in Houston, Texas.
  57. Performing in a sold-out concert in Binyamina, veteran British singer Morrisey said, “Israel is God’s country,” and “Binyamina, Binyamina, take me in your arms, bring me home.”.
  58. The commander of two British-background soldiers gave them an evening off to watch Manchester City play against Manchester United.
  59. Jerusalem Professor Haim Sompolinsky was named a 2024 recipient of the Brain Prize – the world’s most prestigious honor for neuroscience research – by the Denmark-based Lundbeck Foundation. The professor was born in Denmark. His late father, who was in the Danish resistance movement, helped evacuate Jews from Denmark.
  60. El Al airplane restrooms have ritual washing cups.
  61. After the horrors of Oct. 7, called Black Shabbat, the November Black Friday sales were renamed Blue Friday.
  62. “Why is the brisket so fat?” I ask the butcher . He answers: “This is a local brisket. The cows eat well here, not like the poor cows abroad.”
  63. No postage needed. You can send your soldier grandchild a food package or warm socks via the online site Beehive (kaveret in Hebrew).
  64. Smell the roses or the fish market. An Israeli start-up is offering scent enhancements synchronized to movie scenes.
  65. An Israeli start-up will offer green veggies in a vending machine. They’ll grow inside the machine, too.
  66. According to Trail Runner Magazine, Israeli Olympian runner Maor Tiyouri gets her pep from eating salad twice a day.
  67. Dateline – Goa, India: Israel will help set up 13 fully automated greenhouses to produce seedlings of high-quality vegetables and flowers.
  68. 120,000 Passover Haggadot were distributed to soldiers in bases, outposts, and check points. Soldiers could get gluten-free matzah and pasta in addition to the regular matzah.
  69. In Israel, a country known for oranges, BlueTree Technologies from Kiryat Shmona reduces the amount of sugar in freshly squeezed orange juice. They received more foreign investment, even though they had to be evacuated due to Hezbollah attacks.
  70. Radio advertisement for easy check-in at Ben-Gurion Airport: Make sure you’ve taken your guns out of your luggage.
  71. A MedEx event was held for the first time in Paris, aiming at accelerating the process of Jewish doctors immigrating to Israel to increase the number of doctors in the country. Bienvenue aux docteurs!
  72. The health ministers of Israel and Greece signed a healthcare cooperation agreement. More Greek yogurt for breakfast?
  73. World record: It has taken only an average of 27 minutes from the moment a soldier is wounded until he or she is in a helicopter on the way to a hospital. It has taken about 40 minutes from the moment a soldier is wounded until he or she reaches the operating room. Israel also set a world record in reducing the percentage of mortalities out of the total number of casualties. The rapid evacuation without stopping for treatment on location, senior doctors who provide initial care quickly, and the use of “full” blood doses for the first time in enemy territory have paid off.
  74. Resilience: We still answer “How are you?” with “Yehiyeh tov” (It’s going to be okay).
  75. “Together we’ll win” is written on many food packages and is even stamped on eggs.
  76. A hospital room full of Druze from the North visiting a wounded Druze soldier shout out together, “Am Yisrael chai!”
  77. Every wounded soldier has only one question: When can I rejoin my unit?