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What Israel gets right (Happy Birthday!)

04/26/2020 05:55:02 PM


Twenty years ago, when I was a rabbinical student living in Jerusalem, I came down with a terrible case of strep throat.  I had had strep throat a few times before, and I recognized the symptoms, but this felt far worse than I remembered. Maybe it felt so bad because I was so far away from home.  Or maybe it felt so bad because the strain of bacteria in Israel was different than what my body had ever encountered before.  Whatever the reason, I felt terrible. 

There is a story in the Torah about Miriam, the sister of Moses, who is struck with a skin affection that required her to quarantine herself outside the camp.  The story ends by saying that the people of Israel waited for Miriam to heal before they moved on.   Ancient Israel took care of its sick.  

That’s what the modern state of Israel does too. When I got sick in Israel, I was able to see a doctor and get treated right away.  No one asked me if I was a citizen. No one asked me for my insurance card.   

That is one of the things I admire about the Jewish state.  There is no profit in health care.  It is provided because it is for the public good.  As we well know, when a disease affects one of us, it can affect all of us. I read that in this coronavirus outbreak, Israeli medical professionals helped to train Palestinian medical professionals.  We could learn from that example. 

This week we celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel Independence Day. I have been thinking about the year I lived in Israel and the qualities of Israelis that I admire. Certainly the approach to health care is a big one.  But there are others as well.

I also admire the Israeli ability to improvise.  One of my teachers in Israel told me that during the War of Independence, Israel’s army ran low on ammunition, so pilots dropped soda bottles from small planes, making small explosions that sounded like little bombs.  I haven’t been able to verify this as historical fact, but knowing Israeli ingenuity, it sounds like something that could be true!  

Life was difficult, especially in Israel’s early years.  People didn’t always have what they needed. They had to improvise.  Today, in the U.S., we are learning to do more of that too.   For the first time in my life I’m seeing shortages of things I always took for granted before. We have had to improvise.  One example: with most people staying home and wanting to bake, there is a yeast shortage.  But that shouldn’t stop us.  I read an article that explained how to cultivate and grow your own yeast.  During these times we should celebrate our ability to be creative and to improvise. 

Finally, I admire the ability of Israelis to endure and live normally, even in difficult circumstances.  I remember my first days in Israel.  The new students and I toured our campus in Jerusalem.  One of the stops on the tour was the bomb shelter.  The shelter was presented as a matter of fact, just a part of life.  The message?  Be prepared, but don’t be fearful.  That seems to be the right balance to cultivate a resilient spirit.

I know that the Jewish state is not perfect.  It does not always live up to its highest ideals.  But neither does the United States.  Nations are created by humans, who are by their nature, imperfect.  

Yet we can hold these two things in our hearts at the same time:  Our Jewish state is not perfect, and there is a lot to celebrate in it.   We can learn from the Israeli qualities of improvisation and resilience. And we can be inspired by Israel’s commitment to a health care system that is designed to take care of all who need help.

So happy birthday, Israel!  May you go from strength to strength. 


Mon, August 8 2022 11 Av 5782