Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The First 66

“The Jews who will it shall achieve their State. We shall live at last as free men on our own soil, and in our own homes peacefully die. The world will be liberated by our freedom, enriched by our wealth, magnified by our greatness. And whatever we attempt there for our own benefit will redound mightily and beneficially to the good of all mankind.”
— Theodor Herzl, father of modern Zionism, from his book Der Judenstaat, (The Jewish State), published in 1896

There is a yearly ritual in Israel to list the reasons for living here according to the number of years since Independence. Obviously, the lists tend to repeat themselves: delicious falafel, a dearth of snow, and unity among the population usually end up on everyone’s list.

I can’t go against ritual (I even baked a schlissel challah this year ), but I tried not to include falafel on my list. I also drew upon my perspective as a tax-paying homeowner in Beer Sheva, capital of the Negev to make up my 66 reasons for never once regretting the decision I made in my youth.

The first set of reasons are about Beer Sheva, the next group are about the Negev, and the last are more general in nature. Hope you enjoy my first 66 reasons for being Israeli. Feel free to add your own.

1. My adopted Hometown is one of the oldest cities in the world with almost 4000 years of history.
2. I once heard Beer Sheva Mayor Rubik Danilovich give a talk. He said that when he visited Brussels, Belgium, he was taken to see the famous Mannikin Pis statue because “thousands of tourists come yearly to see the statue”. Danilovich told how he stood there looking at this tiny statue and thought “If Brussels is making all this money on this little statue of a boy, excuse the expression, peeing, what can Beer Sheva do? WE have Avraham Avinu!"
3. I live in the same place that Abraham our Father, his son Isaac, and his grandson Jacob lived.
4. The Beer Sheva Bus Station is probably one of the only bus stations in the world to lie atop a Byzantium bus station.
5. Glass panels in the floor of the station allow travelers to glimpse into the Byzantium town beneath their feet.
6. Beer Sheva has one of the greatest collections of Ottoman era buildings and artifacts outside of Turkey.
7. Beer Sheva was the site of the last known mounted battle in combat history in the battle of Beer Sheva between Ottoman and British forces during World War I.
8. That battle was pivotal in the history of the Land, as victory paved the way to British General Edmund Allenby’s drive to Jerusalem.
9. Literally a seven-minute drive from my house is one of the most famous aircraft museums in the world: The Israel Air Force Museum.
10. The IAF Museum features planes that flew on both sides of Israel’s wars, with more than 140 aircraft displayed.
11. The biggest ‘green’ shopping mall in the Middle East is 2.5 blocks from my house.
12. A shopping center is a ‘kanyon’ (accent on the second syllable) in Hebrew from the word liknot, which means to buy. The shopping center 2.5 blocks from my house is called the Grand Kanyon. I’m sure that no pun was intended.

not quite
13. Home to close to 300 stores and restaurants, the Grand Kanyon serves all the surrounding towns and villages, both Jewish and Arab.
14. The Grand Kanyon is closed on Saturday, our Holy Shabbat.
15. ALL the restaurants in the Grand Kanyon are kosher, even the treif-looking hot dog vendors.
16. There is a wonderful gummy candy store at the Grand Kanyon. The gummy candies are not just kosher but super-duper kosher.
17. I have eaten (kosher) food whose origins are from Yemen, Morocco, Mexico, Thailand, Japan, China, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, India, and others. All in Beer Sheva. And most available in any supermarket.
18. While Tel Aviv is known for its Bauhaus architecture, Beer Sheva is known as the Capital of Brutalism Architecture. This is not nearly as bad as it sounds.
19. There are reputed to be more than 200 synagogues throughout the city, each with its own architecture, customs, and treasures brought from the diaspora, representing such diverse Jewish communities as Yemen, Cochin, Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Tripoli, Hungary, Romania, Iran, and Germany.
20. The main streets of Beer Sheva are all lined with palm trees, a fact which makes this native Canadian sigh with pleasure every morning. It never gets old.

21. While the palm trees on the main roads are not date palms, there are many date palms on other smaller roads. These trees are too tall to pick, therefore every year hundreds of kilos of dates simply fall from the trees and can be picked up, washed off, and eaten.
22. The surrounding streets where I live are lined with Jacaranda trees, which bloom for about three weeks a year with the most amazing purple flowers.

23. My old hometown is a sister city of Beer Sheva.
24. The Winnipeg Community Action Centre – Beer Sheva, Israel, only a few blocks from my house, provides supplemental educational programs and activities to disadvantaged youth.
25. Known throughout the ages as the City of our Fathers, Beer Sheva is now additionally becoming known as the cyber-security capital of the world with the opening of the new Hi-Tech Gav-Yam Industrial Park Negev.
26. A final fact about Beer Sheva that always makes me puff up my chest: The Beer Sheva Chess club is home to more chess grandmasters per capita than any other chess club in the world, and is one of the best chess clubs for children anywhere. And no, I don’t play chess.
27. The Negev Desert is at my doorstep.
28. Every spring, wild anemones spring up all along the Northern Negev; red carpets that G-d Himself has unrolled.

29. To celebrate these flowers, the Northern Negev holds a month long flower party Darom Adom, “The South In Red”.
30. The most beautiful site in Israel, the Ramon Crater, is a one hour drive from my house.
31. Beautiful ibexes wander freely both in the Ramon Crater, and on the edges of the town Mitzpe Ramon. Incredible amounts of time can be spent just watching them. 

32. One of the most fun and entertaining places in Israel – and free! – is the colored sands of the “Large Crater” in the Negev, also about an hour from my house. Not recommended to visit in the summer when temperatures can reach in the high 40s, but a very popular spot in the winter.

33. It would be remiss to write of the wonders of Southern Israel without mentioning Kassams or Grad Missiles. There is nothing wondrous or good or fun or adventurous or splendid or noble about experiencing a grad attack. It is frightening and sickening. However, grad attacks have allowed me to be a witness to G-d’s miracles, which is both wondrous and humbling. 
34. There are trees in Israel that originate from every part of the world, adapted for the Israeli climate and often made more resilient and less water reliant. Examples include eucalyptus from Australia, bougainvillea from southern Europe, pitayas from southern Asia, kiwis from New Zealand, not to mention, avocados, guavas, maples, and more and more and more. 
35. It’s against the law in Israel to cut down a tree. If the tree poses a hazard, e.g., it is growing directly under power lines or growing into water pipes, one needs special permission to cut it down. Trees are an important part of the Zionist project. Rabbi Yohanan ben-Zakai said that if a person planting a tree heard that the Messiah had arrived, he should finish planting before going to greet him.

36. Tiny Israel has a tremendous diversity of natural flora. Attempting to look up how many flowers actually grow in the Land (apparently countless…), I found instead countless sites that list, not only the flowers by Latin, English, Hebrew, Arabic, and Russian name, but by colour, flowering season, recipes, and a story to go along with them. There are always wild flowers blooming in each season and in each area of the country. 
37. Wild flowers notwithstanding, Israel is one of the world’s largest exporters of cultured flowers, with exports coming to more than $50,000,000 in 2000. Israel grows every flower imaginable so that Europe will have flowers during the winter. Going into an Israeli flower shop is both an olfactory and visionary experience.
38. Not only are the seven species mentioned in the Bible grown here (duh) and the four species needed for Succot (duh again), there are over 40 types of fruit grown in Israel – most of it exported. We are one of the world’s leading producers of citrus fruit [oranges, tangerines, clementines, lemons, grapefruit (both red and yellow), pomelos, pomelit (a hybrid of grapefruit and pomelo – developed in Israel), and of course etrogs]. We also grow: avocadoes, mangoes, pitayas, persimmons, loquats (the second largest producer in the world after Japan), bananas, apples (many varieties), pears, plums, peaches, nectarines, strawberries (not technically a fruit), and prickly pears (sabras) yadda yadda yadda.

39. Any grocery store in any town in Israel will also sell latke mix, rugelach, and canned cholent. 

40. Other Israeli staples are schnitzel (not pork!) shwarma, bourekas, and shakshouka, available anywhere, anytime.
41. The country is awash in soufganiyot (not to be confused with jam busters) at Chanuka time, hamentashen at Purim, dried fruit at Tu B’Shvat and cheeses of all kinds at Shavuot. 

42. However, awash isn't sufficient. Not only are the sweet treats abundant come holiday time, they come in dozens of various flavors.
43. Pomegranates, dates, and figs ripen, as they should, just in time for Rosh HaShana, and are available at reasonable prices everywhere.
44. Though available all year round,  ice cream is eaten by Israelis mostly in the summer while krembos are available only in the winter.
45. Thankfully, you can get krembo flavored ice-cream.
46. There is also hummus, honey, chai, almond, and lemon pie flavored ice cream.
47. One can find ice cream made from goat’s milk or sheep’s milk.
48. There is also Glida Beer Sheva. 

49. Most importantly, there is a wide range of flavors for non-dairy (parve) ice cream so that it can be eaten after a meat meal.
50. During Passover, most restaurants remain open, serving Passover rolls, bourekas, pastas, and cakes that are almost indistinguishable from the regular year-round food.
51. The buses have signs in them such as “Today is nine days of the Omer, which is one week and two days” or “Rise before an old person, and honor the presence of a sage”.
52. Our soldiers are our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters, no matter to whom they are related.
53. I don’t have any statistics to prove that our soldiers are the best-looking in the world, so I can’t put that into my list (even though they are). What I can put in is that our soldiers are the best in the world.
54. Everyone has two birthdays, one on the Gregorian calendar, and one on the Hebrew calendar. So if you aren't available to celebrate one, you always have the other.
55. If you can celebrate both, even better
56. You can also celebrate the entire time between the two birthdays!! 

57. I have friends who live in Israel, but were born in: North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and Africa.
58. Friends are everywhere, even in the most unexpected places. When my daughter was late for work one morning, the bus driver, the cleaner, and the kiosk guy all asked if she was ok. 
59. My friends are all heroes.
60. The Academy of the Hebrew Language is responsible for creating Hebrew words for modern concepts such as the internet (mirshetet מרשתת) or an alternator (micholel zerem chiloofi מְחוֹלֵל זֶרֶם חִלּוּפִי).  Ancient Hebrew is constantly expanding and adapting to the new world.
61. While a there is a great deal of slang in Modern Hebrew, rude words are mostly in Arabic, Russian, or English.
62. While my kids don’t always know how to say words like avatar in Hebrew (yatzgan יצגן), they do gleefully correct my Hebrew. 
63. They also intentionally cause me to say certain words in Hebrew so that they can laugh at my accent.
64. My grandson, who is a second generation Sabra (third on his mother’s side) will not need to correct his parents' Hebrew nor will he be able to laugh at their accent.
65. My children will never have to be immigrants again.
66. Fireworks on Yom HaAztmaut.

Wishing all of Am Yisrael a very Happy Independence Day!!

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