Like every country, Israel has its advantages and its disadvantages. One of the former is its climate, which is on the whole pleasant (at least in Jerusalem) with sunny days throughout the summer, often with cool evenings and nights. It also has a long coastline giving most of the population access to the sea with all its benefits.
Considering its small size, the country encompasses a particularly wide range of interesting geographical features, with hilly areas in the north, and even mountains on which one can ski in winter. Going south there’s the Dead Sea, with beneficial health properties that have been known since ancient times, as well as the Negev desert, which contains interesting and unique geological formations, as well as a wealth of interesting fauna and flora. At its southernmost point the Red Sea provides a port and a seaside resort where it is always hot in both summer and winter.
You can hardly take a step anywhere in Israel without coming across some archaeological or geological site, starting with the origins of homo sapiens, and continuing through the history of the ancient Near East, with the events mentioned in the Old and New Testaments featuring prominently wherever you turn, resulting in a plethora of holy sites for the three main religions.
But what most distinguishes Israel is its population. Jews from all over the world have come to live here, bringing a wealth of genetic heritages that are mixing and mingling with one another. The population is far from homogeneous as regards both hereditary characteristics and cultural traditions, yet on the whole there is some kind of modus vivendi between all the different kinds of people. Notwithstanding, differences in background can often give rise to differences in manners and mores, and this can sometimes cause conflicts or disagreements, but the country somehow manages to keep going, no matter how deep the internal divisions.
The current political divide has the country split almost exactly in half between those who support the current government and those who oppose it. The political impasse has given rise to two general elections within the last six months and may well give rise to another one in the not-too-distant future. The prospect is dismaying for all concerned, but unless some radical solution is found that will be our fate.
But at a time like now, when the high holydays are being celebrated throughout the country, albeit in different ways and according to different traditions, there is an unaccustomed atmosphere of tolerance and even amity between total strangers.
Thus, as I waited this morning to be seen by an official in the Health Fund in order to arrange an appointment for a medical screening there was much good-natured grumbling among the waiting patients. But no-one raised their voice or protested, and no-one really tried to push in out of turn (as often happens at non-festive times of the year), and everyone wished their neighbour good luck, good health, and a good year as their turn came.
The best moment for me was when, after returning home with the precious referral in my hand, I rang the central Health Fund number in order to arrange the date and time for the screening. Today is the first working day after a very long weekend and so the line was busy for a long time. Eventually, however, one of the attendants at the call centre picked up the phone and was ready to hear my request. What happened next left me flabbergasted.
When I repeated my name, at her request, she said “Oh, I see that tomorrow’s your birthday. Have happy birthday!”
She really made my day, and it made me wonder whether that would or could have happened anywhere else in the world.