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Why I Love Israel...

By Paula Stern
12/18/2011, 11:12 AM

I write too often about the sad and the bad and not enough about the amazing and wonderful. After each Shabbat of down time, one of the first things I do is check the news. I've been a news-aholic for more years than I can remember. The first news I saw was of a terrorist attacking a soldier at the entrance to my city. Two rockets fired over Shabbat.

Only later did I go back and look again. The headlines speak of an Egyptian protester who was beaten to death by the police; of 30 bodies of dead Syrian protesters that were dumped and found; and finally, of a protest in Tel Aviv (peaceful, of course) for women's rights. Someone left a comment (thank you for being honest) saying that attacks such as this one (Ambulance Sirens) are why they are afraid to bring their family to live here.

So, it is time, once again, to explain that despite it all, there is no place I would rather be, no place greater where my children should be raised. The third of my five children is about to get married here. My soon-to-be future daughter-in-law is the first to choose, as we did, to come live here. The other two were born here.

So lest you think, even for a moment, that we sacrifice anything (including our personal safety) by living here, let me tell you the opposite is true. There is no safer place for the Jews than here in Israel. There is no better place to raise our children as fine human beings, as strong Jews, as Israelis - than here.

I have never, in all my life, felt safer than I do here in Israel - as a Jew, as an Israeli, but as a woman too. I can walk outside at night, at 3:00 a.m. without hesitation, without fear. I can send my 11-year-old daughter out - even in the middle of the night, without hesitation, without fear. I know that everywhere my children go, they have eyes on them. Not eyes of evil waiting to attack them, but eyes of protection (and I'm actually not even talking about God's eyes).

If my child is not sure where she is - without hesitation, she can go over to anyone and ask. Very few children in Israel are hurt or abducted by strangers here. There are no children's faces on milk containers here - not because the companies won't agree, but because there is no need.

My country rarely experiences extreme cold and even the heat is almost always bearable. Even in the winter, there are days like today where there isn't a cloud in the sky, the sun is bright, and the air so comfortable. Every day, we do acts of kindness, often without even thinking twice. Today, I drove through my neighborhood and saw a man who indicated he wanted a ride.

In America is it as stupid to hitchhike as it is to give a hitchhiker a ride. Thankfully, in Israel, this is not true. The fact is, I am very upset with the man who stood there waiting for a ride. In the recent past, he hurt my husband and my family with his insensitivity on two separate occasions, without shame, without guilt, without apologies. I have to admit, I hesitated for a fraction of second before I pulled to the side.

Without the shame I think he should have had, he asked if I was going past the mall. I answered that I was, and gave him a ride. I didn't start a conversation, nor did he. The air was uncomfortable in the car and I felt no reason to ease the short time until we got close and I asked whether he wanted the mall or the front of the city.

He said he was surprised by the traffic - a brief conversation. I let him off at the stop he wanted and he thanked me and wished me a good day. If there is anything that I did wrong, it was in that fraction of a second in which I hesitated. Giving him the ride is typical of Israel and Israelis - little acts of kindness that we do. This is my country.

Last night, the Chief of Staff of Israel's army went out to a restaurant for dinner. While he was there, a woman  experienced a health emergency. Benny Gantz approached and helped her while his body guards stood close by. The Chief of Staff, the highest position in the army, stayed there until the ambulance arrived. An act of kindness - my country.

Last night, Elie volunteered his time, as he does very often, to be on call for the ambulance squad in Maale Adumim. This morning, my youngest daughter took her turn as a crossing guard again to safely help younger children cross the street.

Last night, Gilad Shalit slept in his bed, in his parents' house. What nation in the world, other than Israel, would release 1,026 people - among them hundreds of murderers, for one young man? Today, Israel will release the last 550 of the list - among them more than 370 who were convicted of attempted murder. What country, other than Israel?

Would you trust Hamas to keep their word on anything? I wouldn't and yet Hamas trusted and the world knew that Israel would keep its promise to release the second group. And we are doing it. Should we? Is it in our national interest? Highly doubtful, and yet we do. We'll get nothing for this release. The rockets won't stop and some, probably many, of these 550 will return to terror. It is their way.

I love Israel because we hold ourselves to the highest standards of behavior and though I am continually disappointed that the world does not see this, I know that we do it for ourselves, not for them. This morning, I gave a man a ride to the mall. Ultimately, I did it because I'd rather act as I did, than act as he did.

He will have to live with his actions; but at least I know I can live with mine. A friend recently said to me that thinking back, she is amazed at how many family events we have had in the last few years. It is true and I recognize and thank my blessings every day.

My daughter met and married a wonderful young man - and now they have an amazing baby that just melts my heart every time I hold him. My son married a wonderful girl, the girl he has loved since before the army, before it was really acceptable for them to have made this connection. It was always her and that means so much.

Elie has met and will soon marry a most amazing young woman who took the time to remind me, "I was yours before I was his" because I have loved her almost from the moment I met her last year (and I just realized recently she has blue eyes!).

And my two younger children are blessed with their own celebrations and joys. Davidi has grown so tall - he fulfilled the promise I wanted for him - he's taller than Elie. He's so beautiful...and he has blue eyes too! For someone who never thought having blue eyes was genetically possible - I have two blue-eyed children! And Aliza grows secure and happy and free.

Weeks after we'd come to Israel, a 6-year-old Elie was talking to my mother-in-law about living in Israel, "Savta [grandma], I'm so free. I'm free." He said. That freedom is the greatest gift I have given my children by moving here when they were young and by living here all of their lives. There are national freedoms - that allow peaceful protests as happened last night in Tel Aviv and in the last few months in many places in Israel. There is no "Arab Spring" here in Israel because we don't need it.

And if police cross the line into violence as they did yesterday in Cairo and beat a protester to death, the Israeli courts and justice system will deal harshly with them; the government will not protect or excuse their behavior.

These are instances of national freedom - and in this sense, Israel is the only free country in the Middle East.

But more than national freedom, we are free as individuals. We live free of fear in a way that is unimaginable to most Americans. I have stood in the center of Jerusalem with a friend from the States and listened to her speak on the cellphone to her husband and tell him how peaceful it was. Cars honk, people yell at each other for how they drive, a store owner is nasty because the kids are blocking customers from coming in.

And then, a small child approaches the counter and carefully counts out his change to buy some candy. He is half a shekel short (less than 15 cents). The next person in line is just as likely to take out a half a shekel as the store owner is to wave away the money, smile at the child and wish him a good day. That is the Israel I love and the one that will bring me to tears a hundred times a week.

Yes, a security guard was injured at the entrance to my city yesterday. But I live a life time of days in which stories like the little boy come true. For those alone, I would choose again to live here in this beautiful land that cherishes life, its children, its soldiers, the sun and the land.

I love you, Israel - more and more each day, each month, each year.