A few months ago, Israel was named the 9th Happiest Country in the World in a publication called “World’s Happiness Report,” a highly touted publication of the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network.
Happy Israelis? Almost as chipper as the Finns and Norwegians? Better life-satisfaction than New Zealanders?
Like the joke of a waiter approaching a table of Jewish women and asking, “Is anything all right?,” complaining is a national pastime. Everything from politics, weather, religion (or lack of), economy, tourists/no tourists, recalcitrant youth and the ever-present standby called “Who Hates Us Today?” is parsed.
My husband and I have been recipients of cutting-edge healthcare that, anywhere else, would have sent us to the poorhouse. In addition to new hips and knees, regular scans and other treatments, Israelis are the first in the world to be inoculated against myriad diseases.
Jews, Arabs and other residents have choices among world-class medical institutions. How much does our health care cost? Mostly free and, if one chooses to pay privately, it’s heavily subsidized by one of the respective four or five national health services. Children up to the age of 18 are eligible for free routine dental care, low cost orthodontics and inexpensive higher education. Why? Because children in Israel are precious and represent the future. For Jews to have a future, we must celebrate children.
Abundant sunshine is predictable in our corner of the world. Even our daily prayers contain an eternal weather report, pretty much guaranteeing adequate rainfall from the end of Sukkot until the beginning of Passover. Israel’s weather allows months of al fresco dining, beach parties and balmy days for camping and hiking.
Locally grown produce spills over the bins in open air stalls and even the most slothful Israeli ingests more fiber than his Western counterpart. Modest tables groan under the weight of fresh falafel, humus, chopped salads sprinkled with mints and other herbs, thick yogurts and sweating goat cheeses. Just another repast in laid-back, sun-drenched Israel.
How expensive is it to live here? Hoo-boy. Even Tevye the Milkman said to God, “I realize it is no shame to be poor, but it’s no great honor either.”
Still, struggling financially is part of the rhythm here and everyone manages. Obscenely expensive cities are only short drives from developing and affordable periphery towns that pepper the landscape. As a nation that continues to absorb huge numbers of immigrants each year, affordable communities develop constantly according to shared values, ethnicity, adherence to one or another manner of religious observance. No one starves in Israel and you don’t have to take my word for it. We look out for one another, volunteer, donate and obsess over the success of our neighbors in ways that reflect both Torah values and kibbutz mentality. That pioneering spirit of early Zionism is still strong.
There are no parades on Memorial Day. As victims of unprovoked wars and unrelenting terrorism, we don’t need pomp. Cemetery paths fill with mommies and daddies who festoon marble gravestones of their children who died so that Jews never again march into ovens at the behest of those who loathe us.
As the sun sets on another agonizing Yom HaZikaron, the night sky erupts with fireworks and peals of revelry in gratitude to the aforementioned heroes who died, ensuring continued existence of the only Jewish nation on earth. We dress in blue and white and stream flags from our balconies and car antennas. We are united, celebrating a “miracle in the desert” called Israel.
Even though we have few natural resources, this tiny country has emerged as a world leader in the fields of medicine, veganism, finance, LGBTQ concerns, academia, technology, literature and more. Not too shabby for a country that is only 73 years old and the size of New Jersey.
Happy birthday, Israel. And watch out, Scandinavia. We’re catching up.
New York native Andrea Simantov has lived in Jerusalem since 1995. She writes for several publications, appears regularly on Israel National Radio and owns an image consulting firm for women.