This month, we celebrate the twenty-third anniversary of our aliyah. I’ve written many articles on these pages depicting life here because I want you to truly understand what a terrific place Israel is to live in. As I reflect about how lucky I am to live here with my family, so many thoughts come to mind. I love that the country is in sync with the Jewish calendar. On Erev Shabbos and Erev Yom Tov, the destination signs on buses display the words “Shabbat Shalom” and “Chag Sameach.” During the time of the Siyum HaShas, some buses even displayed the words “Talmud Bavli.” Candle-lighting time of Shabbos is announced on the radio every Friday. At the end of the summer, the bill from the electric company reads, “Shanah Tovah.” For better and for worse, the whole country enters holiday mode during the weeks leading up to Rosh HaShanah, and many projects are put on hold until “Acharei Hachagim,” after the holiday season. Seasonal displays in supermarkets and stores heavily reflect the Jewish calendar. Whether it’s Sukkah decorations in the month of Tishrei, Chanukah menorahs, oil, and candles in Kislev, a cornucopia of fruit in Shvat, shaloch manos paraphernalia in Adar, household cleaning products in Nisan, or barbecue supplies in Iyar, one is greeted with a prominent display of all that one needs for the upcoming chag upon stepping foot into the supermarket. A shopping list is unnecessary.
The holy places in Israel are extremely accessible. One can daven at the Kotel at any time of day or night on any day of the year. Being at the Kotel on particular occasions makes one feel especially connected to Am Yisrael. It is very moving to listen to the slow kumzitz-style singing at the end of Tishah B’Av, when so many come to mourn together at the place where the Beis HaMikdash once stood. We all join collectively in yearning for the Geulah, the redemption. When the fast ends, some break their fast on the food they brought from home, while others are treated to water, coffee, rugelach, and juice dispensed by the Rubin family, whom every year sets up their truck at the Kotel plaza at the end of the day. This “free drink gemach” dispenses food and drinks at large public gatherings such as funerals, yahrzeits at kivrei tzaddikim (Shmuel HaNavi, Rachel Imeinu), and at Meron on Lag BaOmer. On the average, the Rubin family - whose mission is to make sure their fellow Jews don’t go thirsty - distributes approximately 1,000,000 cups per year. I haven’t seen this elsewhere and honestly, I find it quite incredible.
Friday night at the Kotel is another uplifting experience. I don’t know where else in the world you can have hundreds (really a few thousand) of people of all walks of life bring in the Shabbos together with song and dance. It’s mesmerizing!
With our aliyah anniversary on my mind, I surveyed some family and friends about what they love about living here in Israel. These are some of the responses I received:
There is constant building and expansion going on.
The land is ours.
Living here gives us pride and connects us to our nation.
We have an extra measure of Divine Providence here.
The receipts one receives at the pharmacy read “Refuah Shelaima.”
Israel cares so much about its citizens that it sent rescue flights all over the world to bring people home when corona hit.
I can call anyone on the street “Achi,” “my brother.”
I can educate my children without draining my bank account.
It is the land of our ancestors. It is so special to live where our Avos and Imahos dwelled. We even are able to daven at their graves.
This land holds the most meaningful history of our nation. Every place we step has historical meaning.
There is a special holiness here. The land is filled with communities of Torah and chesed, one after the other.
The streets are so peaceful on Shabbos, allowing us to feel the kedushah of the day.
We have the opportunity to express gratitude to our soldiers who defend us when we bump into them wherever we go.
It’s a privilege to live in Hashem’s gift to us. We are at home with our brethren here. We can talk about Hashem with anyone, whether they appear religious or not.
One of the more recent advantages to living in Israel is that we can enter Israel without jumping through the hoops that non-Israelis now face due to corona. We do not need to provide the marriage certificate of our tenth cousin four times removed to get in. We do not need special permission to come home.
Another wonderful thing about living here is the opportunity we have to fulfill the mitzvot hatluyot ba’aretz, the mitzvot that one can only fulfill here in Israel. For example, next year the mitzvah of Shmitah will be observed, during which the land is to lie fallow. This will greatly affect the industry of agriculture and will have a huge impact on what goes on in our expansive fields, local stores, and even in our very own kitchens. Shmitah is a mitzvah ha’tluya ba’aretz, since it can only be fulfilled in Israel.
And now there is a new mitzvah ha’tluya ba’aretz. When the announcement came out that Ben & Jerry’s was no longer going to sell their ice cream over the green line, my heart sank. Ben & Jerry’s chocolate ice cream is my favorite food. It’s chocolate and ice cream at the same time. What can be better than that, I ask? Chocolate is best in pure form and does not need to be enhanced by chocolate chips, nuts, pieces of brownie, or fudge. I eat it almost daily and I savor every bite. I wondered how would I manage to participate in a well-deserved boycott of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream? I sighed when I realized that, despite the fact that my home ice cream supply had reached dangerously low levels, I would have no choice but to refrain from patronizing their business. But as the dust is beginning to settle, it has become clear that while residents of the United States should no longer buy Ben & Jerry’s products, here every spoonful of ice cream that we eat is the fulfillment of a mitzvah. We should go out of our way to support the Israeli licensee who makes Ben & Jerry’s here, and has stood by us in the face of great pressure to do otherwise. It is a mitzvah that should only be performed here in Israel. The Israeli company will lose their right to manufacture and distribute Ben & Jerry’s in Israel beginning in 2023 due to their admirable refusal to go along with Ben & Jerry’s boycott of Judea and Samaria. At that point, I will need a different solution. When you consider the miracle of our return to Israel and what has transpired throughout our history, I don’t think I need to worry. With the extra measure of Divine Providence that we have here, I know Hashem will ensure that we have lots of delicious ice cream to eat - especially chocolate!
Suzie (nee Schapiro) Steinberg grew up in Kew Gardens Hills. She works as a social worker and lives with her husband and children in Ramat Beit Shemesh.