By Rolene Marks
A recent New York Times op-ed concludes that Israelis are “miserable”, “divided” and other negative adjectives. Quite the contrary, we are happy, because we know what that costs!
The New York Times is veribbled (Yiddish for angry) with Israel. Somewhere along the line, a decision has been taken to criticise and deride the Jewish state at every given opportunity. Now, there is nothing wrong with criticism when it is legitimate; but the NYT takes this to an obsessive level.
Several weeks ago, New York Times journalist, Patrick Kingsley wrote an article about his trip to Israel. Far from musings about religious sites or vibrant night life, Kingsley’s article “Whose Promised Land?” came to the conclusions that we Israelis are miserable. Sad. Verkrimpt. (uptight) I believe he also used the word “divided” and described our cities and towns as “garish”.
It was apparent that Kingsley was very selective about who he published in his article, preferring instead to push a decidedly negative narrative. Israelis responded on social media platform, Twitter, by sharing pictures of themselves and their families enjoying life in Israel with the hashtag, #sadsadIsrael. Kingsley got schooled in Israeli chutzpah, pride – and perhaps the people and sites he neglected to include in his article!
Taking aim at Israeli towns and cities, Kingsley called them “garish”. While Israel may lack stately architecture by American or European standards, our desert paradise boasts cities like Jerusalem that date back to King David and whose beauty is in its history and ancient stones or modern day Tel Aviv with its distinct Bauhaus buildings which are World Heritage Sites. The simple, unpretentious beauty of Israel is part of its charm.
Israel may have many problems, just like any other country, but Israelis are happy. The Annual Happiness Index consistently ranks Israel within the top 15 countries with the happiest populations.
Perhaps this happiness stems from the ability of Israelis to enjoy robust debate – and arguments. Opinions are welcome here and the trend of “cancel culture” so prevalent around the world is virtually non-existent here. We all have strong political opinions – and are not afraid to voice them!
It reminds me of the joke. For lack of exact memory, I will paraphrase – The President of the USA is speaking to the Prime Minister of Israel and discussing their respective countrymen and the Israeli PM says, “you may be the President of 100 million Americans but I am the Prime Minister of 6 million prime ministers!”
It may be decade’s old but still rings true today. Everyone is an expert on anything and perfectly content to share our unsolicited advice.
Israelis will engage in fiery arguments, complete with passionate gesticulation; and even if we vehemently disagree, we will still find time to sit down for hummus and a beer together. Life is too precious and sacred to carry a grudge over a differing opinion.
We have an ability to laugh and poke fun at ourselves that is refreshing. What Kingsley sees as divisive, we see as passionate expression.
A few days later, another article taking aim at the centrality of Zionism to Jewish worship was published. The modern day Zionist movement may be political in nature but the references to Zion are ancient and imbued in our religious text. The article crowed that the next generation Jewish clergy were looking at ways to NOT include references to Zion in their services. It is almost as if the NY Times is not content with just insulting the modern state of Israel, they are steadily eroding our ancient ties to the land.
As I write this, happily ensconced in my home in Modiin, a city central to the story of Chanukah which we are currently observing, I am reminded of the brave Maccabees who fought yet another people, hell bent on the destruction of the Jews. Chanukah is a very Zionist holiday! Kingsley would probably find Modiin, with its Jerusalem stone buildings and careful planning, “garish” and unexciting, but to its residents, the city serves as a daily reminder that we walk in the footsteps of our ancient Jewish heroes who are central to a holiday that celebrates light and joy.
There are many reasons why Israelis are happy – great weather, robust and vibrant democracy and respect for personal freedoms are just some.
As a country that has endured war, terror and continued calls for our destruction, we understand only too well, the importance of happiness and the value of life. We are too familiar with sorrow. Our happiness has been forged through enduring sorrow and pain and far too many of us have lost people we know and love to the ravages of war and terror.
Israelis live life in defiant happiness. This might grate on the nerves of the New York Times and their correspondents who are looking for any excuse to deride Israel. Perhaps if Kingsley dropped the agenda and engaged Israelis, he would have written a different article – one that celebrated diversity, differences, ancient ties to sacred land and yes, simple and uncomplicated cities, each with its own personality.
Israel is not perfect – no country is – but to blatantly disregard the character traits and ties that make this tiny state so special, well, that is just sad.
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