Living in Israel is about many things but my favorite is the fact that you are surrounded by Judaism, everywhere you go. The cabs all have “Tefillat Ha’Derech” signs and most cab drivers – regardless how they look – will tell you a wonderful D’var Torah about the Parsha of the week. Every store has a Mezuza – even the ones without a Kashrut certificate, everybody says “Shabbat Shalom” on Shabbat – even the ones at a soccer game and at least once each month Israelis are attending either a Brit Milah, kosher wedding or paying a shiva call.
In Israel, Judaism – or Yiddishkeit as I prefer to call it – is all around you. Don’t get me wrong. I am well aware of my Jewish brothers and sisters who would prefer that this not be the case but like it or not, that is simply the way it is. Remember the commercial for Trix cereal where the slogan was: “Silly Rabbit, Trix are for kids”?? Well, here in Israel, the expression is: “Silly Rabbit, Israel is for Jews”!!
A good friend of mine told me that recently he spent Shabbat in his father’s hospital room in Shaarei Tzedek. The person next to his dad was listening to the radio when the top of the hour arrived for the news. The anchorman began his report by saying; “It is now 10:00 AM. Here is the news from Jerusalem. Shabbat Shalom.” That started me thinking. Imagine a totally secular fellow from Ramat Aviv who plans on spending Shabbat wearing his new Speedo with his girlfriend on the beach in Herziliya (I will leave out what she will – or will not – be wearing). The last thing this guy wants is anything religious. He packs the car, picks up the girl and starts driving. A few minutes into the journey the news comes on his radio and the first thing he hears is: “Shabbat Shalom…”
As the title of this article says: “You can run, but you can’t hide”. This poor guy who just wants some fun-in-the-sun is out of luck because Shabbat is coming with him. Allow me to shock you with some additional information. On Friday the beaches in Israel are packed. Most offices are closed on Friday so this has become almost like a “Sunday” to us and people use every second of that precious day. The problem is that the lifeguards go home at 5:00 PM and swimming is forbidden after that time. Why do they leave so early on Friday when the sun is still shining? Well, next time you are by the beach in Israel, hang around until 5:00 and listen to what the lifeguard announces: “Everyone out of the water. Swimming is now forbidden. All lifeguards are leaving. Shabbat shalom.” Within minutes the beach clears out, people head for their cars and drive home. Trust me that I know what I am talking about. I live in Herziliya Pituach near the beach and see this with my own eyes each week. The parking lot empties and the streets are clear of traffic for the next 5 hours as people head home for Shabbat… even our buddy in his new Speedo. It is simply incredible.
So what does this all mean? Is Israel a Torah state? No, far from it. Will every Israeli become a “ba’al Teshuva” in the next 10 years? Hopefully, but not likely. Allow me to explain what being in a Jewish country really means.
Simply put it means you know who you are. You are a Jew. You may have tattoos, eat cheeseburgers or drive on Shabbat but deep down, you know you are a Jew… and you are proud of it, whether you are willing to admit it or not. Israel has the lowest intermarriage rate in the Jewish universe and 95% of Israeli couples get married according to the Orthodox Jewish tradition. Close to 98% of Jewish male babies have a proper Brit Milah and over 70% of Israeli women light Shabbat candles on Friday night. Nobody drives on Yom Kippur and close to 80% fast the full 25 hours. Yes, statistics show that even our Speedo-wearing friend will more than likely fast on Yom Kippur and will certainly wish everyone a “Shana Tova” and not mean January 1st. He will also have no idea what happened on December 25th nor what the term “Trick-or-Treat” means, but he will eat Matza on Pesach and cheese cake on Shavuot!
I have always felt that the source of Israel’s pride in her Yiddishkeit stems from the fact that most of its citizens fulfill the most amazing Mitzvah of all; The one called “Mesirut Nefesh” (self-sacrifice) where one serves in the IDF and is willing to die for his/her people. I remember listening to a Rabbi in NY complain about how irreligious Israelis are. He had just returned home from visiting his son in the Mirrer Yeshiva and was reporting on his trip to the community. He bemoaned the fact that the Israeli youth don’t “look Jewish” and how they have tattoos and body piercing far in excess of the non-Jewish youth in America. After dovinning was over I went to this Rabbi and told him that he shouldn’t speak Lashon Hara about these Israeli youth. I told him that while their appearance pains me as well, should a war break out, his son will bolt out of the Mirrer Yeshiva and head straight to Mommy in NY while this tattoo kid will take an M16 and fight Hashem’s battle. That tattoo kid – who later grows up to be the Speedo guy – is willing to die “Al Kiddush Hashem” (even if he can’t explain what that means!) in order to save Jewish lives and the honor of Hashem. “That is the greatest Mitzvah of all”, I said to the Rabbi, “so be careful what you say.”
It is in that merit that our Father and King has granted success to the Jewish side of Israel. Yes, we have a long way to go and I am one of those working on it 24/7, but the air you breath in Israel is one of Jewish tradition. I am sure that you can find many examples of the contrary but I choose to focus on the positive. We have a base on which to build. The people are willing to be “moser nefesh” and are proud of who they are.
Let’s build from there.