The state of Israel is a sacred place for followers of the Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Baha’i faiths. It is also a troubled place, frequently engaged in war with its Palestinian neighbors.
But there is more to Israel than its complicated history and ancient religions.
A staunch supporter of human rights, Israel is considered the gay capital of the Middle East. Israel is the largest wholesale diamond center in the world. The cell phone was developed in Israel, as was voice mail technology and the first anti-virus software for computers.
*Israel has the highest number of college degrees in the world.
*Israel has the world’s highest percentage of physicians, engineers, and workers employed in technological professions.
*More books are translated from other languages and published in Israel than in any other nation.
Searching for an Israeli Voice
When searching for a voice from Israel, I had hoped to reach someone who had lived there from infancy to adulthood. Someone who could give me a deep understanding of growing up Israeli. I reached out to an elderly woman who initially seemed to want to share her story. To date, I have not heard back from her and so I moved on. Should I hear back from her, I plan to post her answers, as well.
My new contact in Israel is Diana, who came to me through a dear friend, Tom. Diana, a gifted writer, has dual American/Israeli citizenship. She has lived in Israel for twenty years with her Israeli husband and children.
My Conversation With Diana
Please look out your window and tell me what you see.
I bet you’ll like what I see out my window. An olive tree. When we moved to this property in our small beach village in northern Israel, someone told us that the olive tree was dead. We asked a gardener to cut it down and he left a stump. Out of this stump grew beautiful trunks that now rise gracefully out of the earth. Each year, we harvest olives. I heard it’s lucky to hug an olive tree and every now and then I pass this olive tree and give it a hug. Here’s another amazing fact: the highway department swerved a main road around an ancient olive tree that’s supposed to be at least two-thousand years old. It turns out it takes a lot to make an olive tree die.
Describe your favorite season in Israel.
My favorite season is spring – right now – when the orange trees are blossoming and there’s an incredible fragrance laced in the air. If I could invent something, it would be a smellagram that would enable me to send aromas to people.
If I came to your home for dinner, what would you serve me?
Ever since Abraham sat at his tent and welcomed people, hospitality is stressed in Israel along with other countries in the Middle East. So if you came to our house, you’d have a feast of hummus, tehina, tomato salads with garlic, smoky eggplant, tabouleh), beet salads, fresh pita bread, and—and—and—I better stop now because I don’t want you to get too hungry for it.
What have been the biggest changes you have experienced in Israel?
Twenty years ago, the main road was a quiet, two-lane road with horses grazing on the sides. Now there’s traffic and a mall and fast food – which means kids are getting chubby.
What myth or stereotype about your country/culture would you like to set straight?
Where we live in Israel has an incredible assortment of people: Christians, Muslims, Druze, Jews, and Bahá’i. Despite what you read about in the media, it’s a wonderfully peaceful place. And Israelis want to live in peace with our neighbors. As a mother of Israeli soldiers, married to a former Israeli soldier, I can tell you that absolutely nobody wants to send their children into war.
What is the most remarkable or unusual thing about where you live?
Well, you used the word remarkable which is in the title of my novel, A Remarkable Kindness. And what’s remarkable for me is being part of our village’s burial circle. There is no funeral parlor; so according to Jewish tradition, men take care of deceased men and women take care of deceased women for burial. Since it’s a small village of less than 1,000 people, we know the deceased. The ancient ritual is incredibly moving. My novel, in fact, is the intertwined stories of four American women who are members of a burial circle. This ancient ritual teaches them what it means to truly be alive.
What brings you joy?
Jumping into the Mediterranean Sea year-round, running in the sunflower fields with my husband, Jonny, bicycling with him on a route that takes us through banana groves and past pomegranate trees—they look like Christmas tree baubles. I get joy being with my four kids, two step-kids and one unofficially adopted daughter from Ethiopia. Smelling the rain on the eucalyptus trees, watching the sun set into the sea, and really being in the moment when I say, “Wow, I’m alive, this is life, let me breathe it in.”
What are your greatest fears?
I try not to dwell on fear. But right now, Muslim extremists. They threaten world order, behead people, throw homosexuals off rooftops, enslave women, kidnap girls –yes, that is my biggest fear. But I remind myself that an acronym for FEAR is Forgetting Everything’s All Right. When I find myself wandering into fears about the future, I bring myself back to the moment.
What gives you hope?
My greatest hope is this: I can knock on the door of any house in the Arab village across the road and they’d welcome me. I believe that love is stronger than hate and that hate stems from fear. I hope that our common bond as people will inspire us to work for peace.
What do you think of the United States?
I was born in New York City. I love the United States. I love American optimism, faith, hopefulness, openness, and sincerity.
What does your country do well?
Israel is known as the start-up nation. We’re a country of improvisers, idealists, dreamers, realists, pragmatists, magicians who took a desert and turned it green. The country is bursting with high-tech companies, skyscrapers, avocado groves that are irrigated with treated sewage water, national health care, and where a hospital flies in children from around the world for free heart operations (http://www.saveachildsheart.
What do you wish your country did better?
I wish Israel could convince people of our right as a Jewish people to be here, of our historic connection to this land, and how it would be far better for all of us to live peacefully and create, invent, dream, research, work rather than destroy. But sadly, Muslim extremists are bent on warring with everyone who doesn’t agree with them. Still, I cling to hope. The Vietnam War eventually ended, as did the wars in Serbia and Bosnia. I have faith that peace will happen here, too.
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