The Real Israel: A Country That Keeps on Giving
Despite having a population of just 8.5 million people — and a landmass six times smaller than New York — Israel has blossomed from what Mark Twain once called “empty, destitute, and a barren desert” into one of the most highly-developed nations in the world. Israel’s innovations in medicine, cyber security, water desalination, hi-tech products, agriculture, economics, and even space travel are legendary, and have earned it the nickname the “Start-up Nation.”
This is even more impressive when you consider that Israel has accomplished all this while simultaneously fending off war from her neighbors eight times in the past few decades, and confronting terrorism from within her borders for at least 100 years. It boggles my mind that a nation beset on all sides by hostile forces still hasn’t chosen to crawl back into her proverbial shell, but instead extends a helping hand outward.
I was recently invited to an event at the United Nations that highlighted this exact point. Titled, “Israel’s Humanitarian Aid Around the World,” and hosted by Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon, the event brought together international ambassadors, dignitaries, and people from all walks of life to celebrate Israel’s humanitarian work.
And don’t think for a second that it’s just the political allies of Israel that are the recipients of this aid. Brigadier General Tarif Bader, the (Druze) Surgeon General of the IDF, shared with us how Israel recently stepped up to provide aid to Syrian refugees (even though Syria is technically still at war with Israel). He recalled walking down hospital hallways and seeing patients from opposing sides of the Syrian conflict laying in beds next to each other.
The highlight of the evening for me was a screening of the two-time Emmy-nominated documentary To Life: How Israeli Volunteers Are Changing the World, produced by the Christian Broadcasting Network. Easily the best documentary on the subject that I’ve seen to date, it masterfully explores the personal stories of volunteers from five Israeli organizations that provide vital humanitarian aid around the globe. As I watched the action on the big screen, I couldn’t help but feel inspired. I kept telling myself that if a country as maligned as Israel can still manage to keep on giving, then there’s hope for all of us to keep on choosing compassion over cynicism, as well as kindness over hate.
Yet, when most millennials hear the word “Israel,” they think of an image they saw on Facebook, or some depressing headline related to the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” When I spoke to Ambassador Danon, he told me, “Millennials are tied to slogans and hashtags. In social media, where mob rule determines the story, we are made out to be the Goliath, but in actuality, if you understand history, narrative, and context, we are the David.”
Avi Jorisch, author of the new book Thou Shalt Innovate, echoed Ambassador Danon’s sentiments, when he told me: “Millennials need to know that Israeli tech is improving the lives of billions, in areas of medicine, poverty, global education, artificial intelligence, and much more.”
Although Israel is rated by Bloomberg as one of the top 10 “most innovative countries” (the US recently dropped to number 11), Jorisch explains that Israel’s greatness is “not just about innovation, which is value neutral, but about what kind of impact for social good they’re using their innovation for.” In this regard, Israel is leading the pack, and Jorisch claims that it’s due to three fundamental ingredients in the country’s make-up. First, it’s an extremely diverse society with Muslims, Jews, Christians, and more all living together. Second, it’s proud of its secular institutions and its universities. Finally, it has a strong prophetic vision for its place in the world.
As Jorisch says: “You can’t have a people who have been repeating, for 3,000 years, the words of the Bible to feed the hungry, cure the sick, and make the world a better place, without it leaving an indelible impression on the national psyche of the nation.”
Over the past 70 years, Israel’s contributions have been shared all over the world and are far too numerous to list in this article. As a rabbi, it makes me proud that this tiny sliver of democracy in the Middle East is truly living up to her noble mission of being a “light unto the nations.”
Rabbi Levi Welton is a writer and educator raised in the Bay Area, and a member of the Rabbinical Council of America. He can be reached at www.RabbiWelton.com.