Things You Can Only Experience in Israel | 1,001 Reasons to Love Israel

1,001 Reasons to Love Israel


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Things You Can Only Experience in Israel


On the surface, our differences make for a lot of fighting. Beneath the surface there is something special. If you are a gung ho fan of the army, many Synagogues boast men who served in the IDF. The Rabbi of my shul valiantly performed his IDF service during two wars, and he outranks me.

If you see the value of serving Hashem by dedicating your life to Torah learning, there are shuls that boast the greatest scholars in the country. If you favor acts of kindness, we have Chabad centers all over the country. If outreach is important, we have Aish HaTorah’s headquarters.

If the most important mitzvah to you is the settlement and development of all the Land of Israel, we have Machon Meir and Mercaz HaRav Yeshivas. If social justice is your cause, there are shuls all throughout the coast in Tel Aviv, Netanya, Haifa that champion what can be done to better the situation of the working classes.

There is something here for everybody. You can choose one thing at one time in your life, then choose another. Our life's journey includes many paths, or one path. It’s your choice, and here you have it.

1. Most of us live by the water. Kind of ironic, isn’t it? A desert nation in the Middle East where the people are laid back because they live close to the water.

2. We don't hold things in. If someone has a problem, he makes it known immediately. If you are annoyed at something, you say so. If you are annoyed at someone, you tell him. The natural conclusion is that we must be a very contentious and angry society, right?


It may seem counter intuitive but when you let out every issue the moment you have it, the energy level for each issue is in direct proportion to its level of frustration. Most confrontations here are without any “festering” anger, whether it be with a boss, friend, spouse, parent, whatever. People seldom overreact to situations and arguments diffuse quickly.

With so much to deal with in terms of enemies, terrorism, and wars, we have enough “crap” to deal with all the time. Anything we can immediately dispose of, we do at the first opportunity. People here tend to be less stressed out than in western countries.

Do you know what they call cancer in New York? They call it the Jewish disease. It’s not an anti-sematic label. It’s just that Jews disproportionately get this disease. We are a very serious and focused people.

In some parts of the world, the culture demands we bottle it all in, forcing it to fester and grow. We either let it out by having a nervous breakdown, being a jerk to everyone out of a feeling of constant rage, or worse, it eats us up inside like a cancer, G-d forbid.

In Israel, our culture demands we air out everything. We may have to deal with bullets and rockets, but when it comes to serious stress, which kills a lot more, our society knows how to handle it. As someone who moved here for good at age 35, I have seen firsthand positive transformations in people all around me who learned to gradually let go of the western way of dealing with stress. They are a lot happier.

It’s never too late.

When you study ancient civilizations like the Babylonians, Persians, or Assyrians, you can see them live. They were all here at one point or another. When you learn about the founders of western civilization, the Greeks and the Romans, they were here. You can see the marks they made all over the country.

Alexander the Great passed through here, as did many Caesars. The Crusaders, the Byzantines, kings and princes throughout the Arab empire made their mark. The Ottoman empire, the British and the Jordanians. All of them came and went.

When you study world history you can virtualize in your mind every nation and empire because they were here. Part of their history is here. Part of our history is how we related to all of these peoples in one way or another.

It makes the past come to life.

Children playing knights at the Crusader Castle in Kochav Yarden, right next to the Sea of Galilee.

It is only beginning to take shape today and it is unbelievable. Netanya is a “secular” city of over 225,000 people. There are hundreds of streets, thousands of shops, several malls, tons of businesses, and countless traffic lights, city lights, and parked cars along those streets.

It is a modern, sophisticated city – exactly what you would expect to find in Miami, Barcelona, or Vancouver. Netanya has a local GDP of $15 billion. When Shabbat begins the city shuts down. There are no national laws requiring citizens honor the laws of Shabbat.

Government services shut down and all businesses serving food that hold a Kosher certificate are closed. But the rest of the city can remain open. But it doesn’t. On a Friday night, everything spontaneously shuts down.

A few hours prior, there were hundreds of cars racing down major roads. Now there is maybe one car driving by every 90 seconds. The city is still. The traffic lights are changing from red to green, cars line the streets, and shops are there but everything has stopped.

It’s surreal.

In Jerusalem, or in any religious town it is expected that everything shuts down. It's part of the landscape. In a major city, you anticipate that things will always be moving. It’s a fact you take for granted without even thinking about it. You only notice the difference when everything stops.

Picture celebrating the Shabbat in New York. To walk to Synagogue, you have to very carefully cross the street to avoid the hundreds of cars going back and forth. Your world may change during this island in time, but the world around you doesn’t.

In a major Israeli city, the fact that everything around you screams that things should still be rocking, yet all is silent – really registers in the heart what Shabbat is all about. It is a day where we go against the momentum of the world and stop.

It is a reminder that we are in this physical world, yet Hashem gives us all the opportunity to rise above it, even if just for a short time.

The cars, lights, sounds, and glitter of the city is a constant reminder of just how much of life there is during the week, and how drastic a change we are making. It accentuates the special day of spiritual rejuvenation G-d has blessed Israel with.

Try it.

Spend three days in Netanya. Spend all day Thursday going shopping, eating at a restaurant, and walking the streets. Take mental notes of what stores are open, how many cars pass by on major streets, and residential alleyways.

Observe how many people are walking all around you, especially in major areas like a public square or a popular local attraction. Then do the same on Friday morning. Once Shabbat begins, take a stroll after it gets dark. Observe the difference in the atmosphere of the city.

There may still be people on a corner smoking a cigarette, and there could still be cars whizzing by. But compare the overall level of activity of what you saw a handful of hours ago. The contrast is very clear.

I am talking about a secular city, not a religious neighborhood.

Shabbat is the cornerstone of Jewish life. Shabbat in a secular city is an experience only the Jewish State can give you, and it is something every Jew, every man, woman, and child on earth should experience. The fact that the modern city has never been so vast, so digital, so busy until today makes this Divine contrast greater than ever.

They remind everyone that State of Israel does everything it can to enable every Jew to perform the only mitzva you can perform with your entire body and at every moment. Flags in and around synagogues affirm that living here is a Divine service. A service so important, that the Rambam equated living in the Land of Israel with all of the 613 mitzvot.

David Ben Horin is the author of 1,001 Reasons to Love Israel. He developed What You Need to Succeed in Israel for anyone considering a future in Israel. He lives in Netanya with his wife and children.

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