• Jodi Samuels

My Israel



I have been in Israel for seven weeks now and I have been struggling with a blog post. My struggle has been around the fact that I have so many ideas and so much to say that I could not find just one topic to focus on. I have experienced a country of unprecedented unity, a country at war, country mourning its dead and a people so resilient that life goes on no matter what the challenges.


Today, I read a heartfelt letter from a NY acquaintance that has spent 7 months in Jerusalem. She expressed her love for the land and her fear for the future of Israel. She expresses the sentiment that the Israel she knows will cease to exist in her life time. She writes a long, detailed and emotive letter sharing why she is so fearful. I read this letter with great interest because the Israel I have experienced is so different. My Israel is one where unity is truly amazing, a country that has 86% of its citizens support for the war, secular and religious divides have been overcome and an overwhelming feeling that Israel dodged the largest existential threat by identifying and destroying the tunnels just six weeks before a planned massacre.


I have seen statistics of the largest monthly in Aliya in July since the 90’s – olim chaddashim arriving during a war. These olim are made up of hundreds of Americans not just French and Ukrainians escaping anti-Semitism. I have so much respect for the olim coming from North America. They are leaving dynamic communities, day schools, kosher food and no anti-Semitism simply to come live the Zionist dream and contribute to their homeland. I have seen people post questions on Facebook “is anyone else thinking of Aliya?” and these posts getting hundreds of likes and comments in the affirmative. The financial markets clearly believe Israel is here to stay. A thriving property market and a stock market and currency that did not even so much as flinch in the last month.


How can my Israel be so different to the author of the other letter? In her letter she lists people she has spoken with and the media she reads. In Israel you can believe you are in different countries when you read the media on the left and the right. I purposely read across the spectrum from extreme left to extreme right. I want to understand the conversation. If you know Gavin and I, we have a very open home and truly live our lives exposed to many different worlds. We don’t just pay lip service to having diverse friends. My recent birthday party had 70 people from “black hat religious friends” to my non Jewish friends, my gay friends and friends with special needs. While I noticed my friends were not all comfortable in the same room I effortlessly floated across the crowds. My Shabbat table is equally diverse and in Israel just this past week we hosted a Shabbat in TLV in my left wing friend’s apartment. We have a great friendship that does not involve politics. Our guests included our good friend who is an Orthodox Rabbi, ladies skimpily dressed, secular work colleagues and everything in between. In New York, we recently hosted a Shabbat dinner for the Council of Young Jewish Presidents and we had representatives from AIPAC and JStreet. We happen to be staying in a very religious neighborhood in Jerusalem but send our kids to the YMCA camp where their counselors are Israeli, Christian and Muslims and the kids learn Arabic. Our friends live in the “settlements”, religious neighborhoods and in Tel Aviv. While in Israel I have done walking tours to Chassidic communities, right wing tours that support appropriating Arab land and left wing tours that explain why the land is Arab. These days you cannot avoid politics and no-one has ever expressed fear that Israel may cease to exist.


My parents who have been to Israel many times keep calling so worried about me yet they live in Johannesburg, one of the most dangerous cities in the world. While Jerusalem did not have many sirens my friend from Tel Aviv called to suggest we come stay at her while the rioting in East Jerusalem was going on as she thought Jerusalem was too dangerous. I received her call while sitting at an outside café and she had to stop the call to run to a bomb shelter! Everyone’s perspective is their reality.


We live in a world with so much media yet we fall victim to only reading posts by our friends and media that shares our opinion.


I invite all my friends and family not to just listen to one sided media, engage with only those that look like you and think like you. Like me I have no doubt you will conclude that Israel is an amazing country with vibrancy, opportunity and equality. Yes it’s a new country with faults and many issues just like old countries with faults and issues.


Originally published: August 6, 2014

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