Kids say the darndest and sweetest things about Israel

By BARBARA SOFER
Photo by: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90

As the longtime annual chronicler of “Things I Love About Israel” each Independence Day, I was intrigued to receive a folder of white-lined paper from Rivka Gross, an English teacher in the Branco Weiss High School in Beit Shemesh.

My column “73+1” was the basis of a class discussion – and I hope – a few new learned vocabulary words, in line with Gross’s practice of using contemporary material in her classroom.

Along with a letter of appreciation, these 10th graders, mostly sweet 16, were challenged by their teacher to write their own reasons, which would certainly differ from those of someone several generations older than them. They started writing their thoughts on the blackboard (maybe the white board), and more and more ideas came forward, says Gross.

The large high school, where Aliza Bloch served as principal before her election as Beit Shemesh’s first woman mayor, is a mixture of girls and boys, teens from veteran Israeli and immigrant families. Not a so-called “religious school.”

So here are the reasons that Israel is lovable from a teen’s point of view, lightly edited and some combined. Like my own list, there’s no particular order. I saved them for Rosh Hashanah because they’re such an optimistic view of the coming year.

 51. We have a great educational  system. Pictured: Arriving on the  first day of school, Sept. 1.   (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)

1. In Israel, we have beautiful forests and amazing views from the mountains. When you go on a field rip, you will enjoy the view. (This in a corona-dominated year when most trips were canceled.)

2. There are a variety of holidays in Israel, some biblical and others rabbinic, but there are also days that are set aside to honor the memory of a tragic event or a person.

3. Our national food, falafel, is delicious . It’s made from chickpeas, which also makes humus, another winner.

4. Shwarma, the best meat meal, is available everywhere.

5. Kanafeh, the yummy Arabic dessert, has been adopted by all.

6. We have fabulous big, clean beaches, and many are free.

7. The city of Ashdod has beautiful modern architecture and a stunning seaside.

8. No other country has a city like Jerusalem, so old, precious to so many religions.

9. Mahaneh Yehuda, the colorful Jerusalem fruit and vegetable market, turns into a fun party place after sundown.

10. Going to Tel Aviv’s Shuk Hacarmel for clothing is also great.

11. The Kotel is a place to pray and feel spiritual. It’s also our holiest place on earth.

12. Those of us who keep the Sabbath live together with those who don’t even believe in God.

13. Eilat is so much fun despite the heat.

14. It can be hot in Eilat and at the same time snow is falling on the Hermon Mountains. All in our amazing country!

15. The Dead Sea is the lowest point on Earth, but still beautiful.

16. The Kinneret is both a place to swim and the source of our drinking water.

17. We’re the Vaccination Nation, and by showing that the vaccination works we also help the world.

18. We care about each other. Our grandmothers and grandfathers got the vaccination first.

19. The IDF isn’t one of the biggest armies in the world, but it’s one of the strongest.

20. We all have to serve our country, and that’s the right thing to do.

21. We’re famous for our hi-tech.

22. Israeli Mobileye helps us drive and saves lives.

23. Our history is 5,000 years old. We have a lot to cover in history class!

24. Hollywood stars Natalie Portman and Gal Gadot are ours.

25. Our best singer is named Omer Adam.

26. WAZE gets you everywhere and also alerts you when the police are ahead.

27. The light rail comes on time and it’s quiet. You can always find a place to sit.

28. Every Friday there are lovely, colorful flowers on every street corner.

29. We have so many tall trees, and they’ve all been planted by pioneers.

30. The malls are great for shopping and getting together with friends. The food is kosher.

31. Ilan Ramon was our first astronaut and gave us so much to be proud of.

32. The Iron Dome helps us feel safe.

33. We speak Hebrew, such an old and beautiful language.

34. Kubbeh, the Iraqi-Kurdish meatballs served all over, are such a yummy food.

35. Going to the doctor is free because we all have health insurance. Hospitals, too.

36. We’ve had so many wars, but we come back strong.

37. Going to university is affordable – not so for some of our relatives abroad.

38. We get to volunteer in the amazing Magen David Adom ambulances.

39. ZAKA helps the police and rescue efforts at the scene of disasters. Hatzalah, too!

40. After Passover, we wait for the Mimouna mafletot, a kind of pancake. You don’t have to be Moroccan to love Mimouna.

41. Yad Vashem helps me understand the Shoah and honor the Jews murdered in the Holocaust.

42. People on kibbutzim still wear sandals all the time.

43. Our national anthem is “Hatikva,” the hope.

44. Our new peace treaties, the Abraham Accords, are so exciting!

45. We’ll all get to vote when we’re 18!

46. Teens argue about politics because we know we’ll soon be voters.

47. Ben-Gurion Airport is super – attractive and exciting.

48. We have so much in our small country to show off to tourists.

49. We stand up to all those who hate us.

50. We have the most beautiful women like supermodel Yael Shelbia.

51. We have a great educational system.

WHICH BRINGS me back to teacher Rivka Gross. Her own English is from New Jersey. Her parents made aliyah with the family when she was 14, younger than her students. She has a bachelors from the Michlalah in Jerusalem and a masters in English literature from Ben-Gurion University. 

“I bring everything I can to class to motivate my students, be it a post on TikTok or something I’ve read myself,” said Gross. “I want to convey to them that their voices are heard. I like to brainstorm as a group. I was surprised and delighted with how quickly these young people – particularly going through a tough year with corona – were contributing ideas for how great Israel is.

“You might have guessed that they’d think America was cool or Europe was cool, but they were overflowing with appreciation for our country. They’re terrific kids with many ambitions for the future. Some want to be career army officers, others to be lawyers, artists and musicians. They all have different dreams, but they all see themselves as part of building this country that they love.”

G’mar hatima tova.

The writer is the Israel director of public relations at Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. Her latest book is A Daughter of Many Mothers.


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