Tuesday, May 10, 2011

10-May-11: Much to celebrate

We're just back home from taking part in thanksgiving prayers and preparing to do the traditional Independence Day family grill this afternoon. 

Let's take a moment to skim some of the achievements of this country and its astonishing society.

Start with the numbers. On its 63rd birthday, Israel's population is 7,746,000. We grew by 2% this year: 150,000 new residents joined the team. 5,837,000 of us, or 75%, are Jewish. 178,000 babies were born into Israeli families this past year, and 43,000 people passed on. New immigrants totaled 24,5000, while some 12,000 chose to leave. More than 70% of Israel's Jews were born here and more than half of native-born Israelis are themselves the children of native-born Israelis. 14 Israeli cities have more than 100,000 residents and six (Jerusalem, Tel Aviv-Yafo, Haifa, Rishon Lezion, Ashdod and Petah Tikva) now have more than 200,000. 

A few additional thoughts inspired by the Janglo website: In the last few months, Israel has been called the seventh most thriving society in the world, the world's hottest real estate market, the 15th best in terms of quality of life, the world's 24th strongest economy. Our two major cities Jerusalem andTel Aviv are each recognized as major tourism capitals. Though Jews may not have seen themselves as athletes during these last 2000 years, Israel's men's and women's basketball teams each reached the EuroLeague championships this year. The women won in March, the men lost earlier this week. Immigrants are arriving here to settle (making aliyah) from some of the world's most comfortable countries.

The energy you find here is remarkable. Our country has less than one-thousandth of the world's population, and is not even in the top one hundred by size. And yet Israel's $100 billion economy is larger than those of all our neighbors combined. In absolute terms, Israel has more startup companies than any other country in the world after the United States: 3,500 of them, most in various technology fields. There's a show-stopping list of technologies here that originated in Israel and that have impacted the world. 

These are achievements that any self-respecting person would find uplifting. But the concerns that come with them are weighty too. Daniel Gordis captured some of these very eloquently in this Jerusalem Post column when describing how our celebration...
"takes place this year under the cloud of an awareness that the Jewish state’s future is tenuous and fragile. Consider this: There is no other country about which the following two predictions can be made with equal plausibility. The first prediction: In 50 years, Israel will be a thriving democracy, at the cutting edge of technology, medicine and education, a First World country in every way. The second prediction: In 50 years, Israel will not exist.There is good reason to put stock in the first. Israelis receive far more Nobel Prizes per capita than any other country, boast a hitech industry second only to the United States, have cutting-edge military power, medical care and research, and universities that are impressive by any international standard. Israel today exceeds by far what anyone in 1948 could have dared imagine. This could be but the beginning of our greatness. But the second possibility is equally plausible. Increasing numbers of academics and diplomats, as well as rank-and-file Europeans, now assert that the creation of the Jewish state was a mistake. Polls show that Europeans rank Israel close to North Korea as a threat to international peace. Israel is the only country that British academics are eager to boycott. No other country’s “right to exist” is openly debated in the pages of the New York Review of Books. It is not out of the question that the world could end Israel’s Jewish character or bring it to its knees altogether."
So we will continue to give thanks for our many, many blessings. And we will continue to ask the Master of the Universe to keep us under His watchful care as, thank Heavens, he does and has done. 

Hag same'ach. Happy birthday, Israel. 

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