(March 20, 2020 / JNS) I moved to Israel in 2004, and since then, there have been events and moments that have reaffirmed the reasons why I did.
One of those moments is right now.
Yes, now, during these challenging and confusing and unsettling days that the world is being held captive by the coronavirus.
Like so many others around the world, we in Israel are confined to our homes, but the few moments a day that I do manage to get out into the world remind me of why I love Israel so much.
It’s the calm I see on people’s faces as I push my shopping cart through the supermarket. It’s their ability to still smile and even laugh with one another as they stand in line waiting for their turn to pay for the items they want to bring back to their families in quarantine. And it’s their ability to still believe that y’hiyeh b’seder … “It’ll be OK.”
And I wonder why is it that Israelis are not entering into hysteria the way people in other countries are, even though their day-to-day lives have been deeply and unexpectedly altered in very much the same exact way? Why are we not stripping the shelves bare of toilet paper and pasta and cold medicines, leaving nothing to find for the people that come after us?
And then it hit me.
I realize that the people I pass on the street, on the road and in the stores have seen hard times before. While recognizing and honoring the unique aspects of this time we’re now in, this is not the first time the people of Israel have been forced to struggle. They’ve done so many times before. They’ve been called upon to interrupt their self- and family-centered lives time and time again for the sake of the nation.
Whether it be in times of war, or during a wave of terror attacks or yet another barrage of missiles from an enemy just over the border, Israelis have faced adversity so many times that it’s part of their persona and their personality to be able to shift and switch in a heartbeat in order to prepare and make it through the next wave of disruption and uncertainty. Without a doubt, it’s part of the collective Jewish DNA as well to know when to go into survival mode and simultaneously trust that “this too shall pass.”
Simply put, Israel is a nation filled with people who know how to deal. And living among Israelis for the past 16 years has been not only a blessing, but also one of my greatest life teachers. And that rings true now more than ever.
There is no hysteria here. There is no panic—not that I have seen. What’s there is a commitment to doing our best to preventing the worst and a trust that giving up some of our own personal comforts is the right thing to do for the benefit of the masses.
For decades now, Israel has been exporting advanced technologies and innovations that have saved lives and changed the world for the better.
In fact, even now scientists, researchers, entrepreneurs, the military, those in the high-tech industry and others in this Startup Nation are at it, working on a vaccine, on better medical and protective equipment, on improving hospitals and saving lives.
Maybe what Israel can also share with the world is the ability to cope with crisis. To stay sane and, yes, even happy when the world looks like it’s shattering to pieces all around us.
I write these words as Israel prepares for its first Shabbat since mandatory quarantine began. Throughout our long history, Shabbat has offered us an oasis in time and solace from a world that can, at times, be cruel and unrelenting. But it also reminds us to not overlook the goodness that is still present in the world and to be aware of the blessings that can be found even within the hardest of times, knowing, that eventually, everything really will be b’seder. It really will be OK.
Possibly even more so than it was before.
Akiva Gersh, originally from New York, made aliyah to Israel in 2004. Since 2007, he taught Jewish history and Modern Israel at the Alexander Muss High School in Israel. He is also a contributing blogger at “The Times of Israel.”
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