Rabbi Berk’s sermon given on Friday, December 18, 2015.
On Sunday our 11th graders leave on Beth Israel’s Shearn and Linda Platt Teen Trip to Israel. I can’t tell you how proud I am of Beth Israel for developing this program; how grateful I am to Shearn and Linda Platt, who love the State of Israel, Beth Israel, and the Children of Beth Israel so much that they have generously endowed this program, and how proud I am of our teens and their families for maintaining a strong connection to our synagogue since their B’nai Mitzvah and for travelling to Israel at this time. The bummer is that they are going to have a life-changing experience and I won’t be there to see it unfold.
I thought tonight I’d just share with you all, including our students travelling together, something that I hope will inspire you and get you excited about this tiny and utterly amazing country. I want to share with you some of the things that I love about Israel and take great pride in about what our people have accomplished on that small spot on the planet that is our historic homeland.
I know you’ve heard lists like this. And I know that these lists sometimes obscure the considerable problems Israel has. But to me Israel is not like France – and I love France. But, Israel is family; so I take pride in her accomplishments as a Jew, and as a rabbi I am keenly aware how these are the accomplishments not just of the State of Israel; but the Jewish people.
So here goes:
Did you know that the Middle East has been growing date palms for centuries? The average tree is about 18-20 feet tall and yields about 38 pounds of dates a year. But Jewish date trees in Israel are different. In Israel, date trees are now yielding 400 pounds/year and are short enough to be harvested from the ground or a short ladder.
The Chinese have been growing cotton for thousands of years. After a few years growing cotton in the arid land of Israel, Israelis were in China teaching them essentially how to grow cotton out of rocks.
Israel is roughly half the size of Lake Michigan
Israel is the 100th smallest country on earth, with less than 1/1000th of the world’s population, but it can lay claim to the following:
Practically inventing the cell phone, Windows NT and XP, the Pentium 4 and Centrino processors; voice mail; the only Research and Development facilities for Microsoft and Cisco outside the United States; text messaging, the 4th largest air force in the world; an economy larger than all of its immediate neighbors combined; the highest percentage of home computers per capita in the world; according to security experts, the most impenetrable flight security of any airline in the world that Israel now is sharing with the United States; the highest ratio of university degrees to population in the world; the most scientific papers per capita than any other nation by a large margin, as well as one of the highest per capita rates of patents filed; the highest number of engineers per capita in the world; the highest number of PhD’s per capita in the world; the highest number of physicians per capita in the world; the largest number of startup companies in the world; the largest number in absolute numbers of startup companies than any other country in the world except the U.S.; the highest concentration of hi-tech companies in the world – apart from the Silicon Valley; more venture capital funds than any other nation except America; the largest number of NASDAQ listed companies outside the United States and Canada; the highest average living standards in the Middle East; a higher per capita income than the United Kingdom; the largest number of biotech startups on a per capita basis; more university degrees than any country outside the US and Holland; the third highest rate of entrepreneurship – and the highest rate among women and among people over 55 – in the world; the world’s second highest per capita of new books; the most independent and free Arabic press in the Middle East; more orchestras per capita than any other nation in the world; the most museums per capita than any other country on our planet; the first ingestible video camera, so small it fits inside a pill and is used to view the small intestine from the inside; the first fully computerized, no-radiation, diagnostic instrumentation for breast cancer; a new device that directly helps the heart pump blood, an innovation with the potential to save lives among those with heart failure; the highest number of scientists and technicians in the national workforce; a new acne treatment, the Clear Light device that causes acne bacteria to self-destruct — all without damaging surrounding skin or tissue;
Israelis, per capita, are the world’s biggest consumers of fruits and vegetables. Israel has more in-vitro fertilization per capita than anywhere in the world, and it’s free. Israel’s dairy cows are the most productive dairy cows in the world.
Israel is the only liberal democracy in the Middle East. It’s one of only three nations on earth that have never known one moment of government other than democracy.
Arabs serve on the Supreme Court of Israel. It was an Arab Supreme Court Judge who sent the President of Israel to jail for sexual harassment
Arab women are trained as physicians.
Israel is the only country in the Middle East where Christians, Muslims and Jews are all free to vote. Israel is the only country in the Middle East where women enjoy full political rights.
Unless you are a wealthy Saudi; the safest place for Arabs in all of the Middle East is in Israel.
The only country in the Middle East in which Christian population has increased is Israel.
Gays serve openly in the military (Tel Aviv has been called the most gay-friendly city on earth).
In 1984 and 1991, Israel airlifted a total of 22,000 Ethiopian Jews – Operation Solomon and Moses – at risk in Ethiopia, to safety in Israel. William Safire said that was the first time in history that white people came to take Africans out of Africa TO freedom. In the years before, the Israelis negotiated with the Ethiopians to stop their Civil War just long enough to allow the Jews to leave. This was at the same time the British were debating whether to allow 100,000 wealthy and healthy people from Hong Kong to immigrate to Britain before China resumed sovereignty there. At the same time, Israel was pleading with the Ethiopians: if you won’t let us take all the Jews, let us at least have the old and sick first.
When Golda Meir was elected Prime Minister of Israel in 1969, she became the world’s second elected female leader in modern times.
To become an ophthalmologist at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem you had to spend at least a year in Africa helping cure eye diseases.
When the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, was bombed in 1998, Israeli rescue teams were on the scene within a day — and saved three victims from the rubble.
Israel beat America to Haiti after the earthquake and set up what others called the Rolls Royce of medical facilities.
In the Philippines and even in New Orleans, both suffering from natural disasters, Israeli rescuers sought out the most isolated dangerous places to save people; specifically asking to go to places where no other nation would send their people because the risks were too high.
During the crisis of the Vietnamese Boat People, Israel took in more Vietnamese refugees than the entire country of Canada.
Relative to its population, Israel is the largest immigrant-absorbing nation on earth.
Golda Meir was once traveling with a bus load of diplomats in Africa that came to the border of Zimbabwe. The blacks were told they had to leave the bus. Golda got off with them. She was the only white to join the blacks.
Israel was the first nation in the world to adopt the Kimberly process, an international standard that certifies diamonds as “conflict free.”
Israel is the only country in the world that entered the 21st century with a net gain in its number of trees, made more remarkable because, this was achieved in an area considered mainly desert!
An Israeli company was the first to develop and install a large-scale solar-powered and fully functional electricity generating plant, in southern California’s Mojave desert.
That desalination plant that just opened up in Carlsbad: Israeli technology supplied by an Israeli company.
All the above while engaged in regular wars with an implacable enemy that seeks its destruction and an economy continuously under strain by having to spend more per capita on its own protection than any other county on earth.
And so to all of you and to our teens travelling to Israel, I say: be proud of Israel. It cares about human dignity and equality and fairness. It’s given to the world unfathomable advancements in so many areas that have improved life for every human being on earth. It’s got a long way to go. But its accomplishments so far are breath-taking.