"Unexpected Israel" – Stories you never read in the media

A review of the newly published, non-combative and definitive answer to those anti-Israel, BDS and other vulgar protests at AIPAC, colleges and anywhere else. Also a lovely way to learn the truth about the unique aspects of the Jewish state.

Rochel Sylvetsky

OpEds Rochel Sylvetsky
Rochel Sylvetsky
]Yonatan Zindel Flash 90

When G-d wanted to convince the Israelites that journeying through the desert for forty years while living on manna was worth the effort, He described the land they were going to reach at the end of the journey in glowing terms: A land of milk and honey, a land of seven species (wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates), a land of wine, oil and wheat, a land of springs and clear water in the valleys and mountains, a land of natural resources such as copper and iron.(1)

Centuries later, when Ezekiel prophesied about the future redemption, he called on the mountains of Israel that G-d had described to blossom once again, because their people, the Jews, are about to return (2).

And they have.

The mountains and valleys are blooming again, as the Bible described and as the prophet wished them to. The treasures of the Biblical description can be seen in agriculture, hi tech and research, roads, construction and industry.  The people's return can be seen in all of the above, but also in the readiness to serve one's country, to volunteer and to come to the aid of countries in need, as well as in all the cultural patterns, a kaleidoscope of ethnicities juxtaposed with unifying commonalities and old-new national traditions (including the all-pervading consumption of sunflower seeds), that make modern day Israel, young as it is, unique.

Post WWII and Hitler, Berthold Brecht famously said:  “Do not rejoice in his defeat, you men. For though the world has stood up and stopped the bastard, the bitch that bore him is in heat again.”  His words have the eerie ring of biblical prophecy today.

Beautiful, successful and beleaguered Israel is the country the world loves to hate, accusing it of every possible crime and despicable misdeed, from killing Arab babies, poisoning the water Arab children drink, killing civilians indiscriminately in Gaza to being responsible for 9/11 and ISIS, that last insane accusation from the demonstrators who attacked Arutz Sheva reporters outside the 2016 AIPAC Convention on March 20th as this review was being written.

One wonders if those leading the hatred-spewing, as opposed to those being influenced by it, know they are spreading falsehoods, whether their anti-Semitism is inborn or whether it is a result of money changing hands, but there is no use spending time on them. It's hopeless.

Israel has to get to those who would be neutral if left alone, to those who are being fed the lies and have no way of knowing the truth. If you know any of these people, you can do no better than to present them with a copy of "Unexpected Israel."

Ruth Corman, a woman who has made a difference in her own right, has made a significant contribution to this goal, creating a book, published by Gefen Publishing House, that shows the special side of Israel to those who are unfamiliar with it, but is also an enjoyable read for those who are already Israel-lovers, who will relate to her choices and reminisce about them, adding their own.  Corman, with the help of her guide Alon Galili and encouraged by the late John Harlow, chose the things she finds most unique in today's Israel, people, places and pastimes, writing about them with much love and gentle, but none the less funny and incisive for that, non-abrasive humor. 

Arranged somewhat whimsically according to the alphabet, the order of subjects has no real underlying order, making the book's  pages fun to turn. Not only is Israel unexpected in this book, one cannot imagine what to expect next, as the titles are puns coerced into being next in the alphabet. We have, for example, The Joseph Bau House followed by The Joy of Sax (and we colonials thought Brits were stuffy Victorians…) The Lido followed by Life's a Beach for the letter "L", Succoth holiday followed by the Sweet Science of Boxing for S. Go know, as they say in my native New York.

Some of the subjects, while making Israelis human and interesting to know, also did wonders for this immigrant's inferiority complex. Ruth's description of the method for washing floors in Israel could have been about me. My struggle with that impossible Israeli floor washing stick, until I gave up and left it for my Russian friend and helper (how come Ina manages it with aplomb if she is also an immigrant? Does it have something to do with her being a chemist?) seems to be more common than I thought.

Eating falafel without it leaking all over your clothes is another. Then there are matkot on the beach (read the book if you don't know what they are), the artic man (and just what is an 'artic', you ask? Hint: It is not a misspelled northern area of the globe, but is a temperature-dependent national necessity in the Israeli summer. And I already told you to read the book), haredi men's rain headgear ( I have seen Anglos burst into laughter when seeing this sight for the first time), Israel's non-existent queues as contrasted with its crowds waiting patiently for a green light,.All and more are described with affectionate discernment.

Israel is a country that cares and Corman captured that in a way that can go straight to the heart, if that heart is open to the truth. She includes a description of the IDF special needs soldiers ("This is an aspect of the IDF that, sadly, is largely unknown outside the country") young people's hair donations used for making wigs for children with cancer at Zichron Menachem ("when I wear my wig, I feel like I'm taking a vacation from the cancer" says a 14-year-old), Hatzala's 3 minute haredi-run motorcycle emergency relief that precedes the ambulances (and I have seen that time difference save a choking baby), the Hasadna music program for disadvantaged young people, a Bedouin medicine woman and even the ceremony celebrating the swift's return to the Western Wall in the spring.

Here too, this is only a sample of what makes locals proud of this much-maligned country and others, hopefully, understand that Israelis are decent and good people.

Walking in Israel is stepping into history, either that of the Biblical Patriarchs, that of the pioneers of the last century and everything in between. My favorite in that category is the kibbutz that hid arms manufacture during the British Mandate under its erstwhile laundry and is the stuff of legends, also a fascinating place to tour.  The story of Tel Aviv's Bauhaus architecture makes one want to see the buildings close up, as I love to do when walking around the city.

And readers learn how Israel is a country that literally stands still every year for a "chillingly emotional, deeply moving and totally unforgettable" two minutes on Soldier's Remembrance Day.

G-d's description of the land is not forgotten, nor are the holidays, with articles on the Temple Mount sifting project  (defeating  the Arab Wakf's purposeful attempt to destroy evidence of ancient Jewish life on the Temple Mount by digging illegally and dumping the earth which contained the history of millenia),  cultivating the ruby-red pomegranate of the seven species, renewing ancient balsam, growing today's oranges, and the profusion of protected wildflowers – just a few examples.  

Read the short articles to the end and you will be treated to the writer's charming, tongue-in-cheek closing paragraphs. Here is one, on challah, the bread baked for the Sabbath: "All I remember as children being told about bread making is that it was a very good way of cleaning one's hands. Later on I learned that other families used soap..."

I have my own loves in Israel, so I note that there seems to have been no room in the book for the Druze, for example, and for some of the things one might miss as a tourist because they happen once a  year, such as the Jerusalem marathon, Rikuddgalim (wait for the next book to find out what that is), everyone planting trees on Tu Bishvat, the burning of hametz and large vats of boiling water koshering dishes for Passover in the streets.

There is much more for you to write about, Ms. Corman, and we await a sequel.


(1) Exodus 3, Deuteronomy 8 and other biblical verses. Note:  The neighbors were nothing to brag about then either, nor were the child-sacrificing tribes living in Canaan itself at the time, later dispersed by Assyria, all of them, except for the Jews, long gone from the pages of history. And, Palestinian claims notwithstanding, no, they were not Arabs. The Arabs invaded from – you guessed it – the Arabian peninsula about 1500 years after the Jews had arrived and settled in the Promised Land.

(2) Ezekiel 36 and here.