Despite many challenges, Israelis seem more content with their lives than most people in the world, including most Western countries. While the Jewish state cherishes its past, it is firmly focused on the future.
Israel is situated in a very tough and hostile neighborhood. The climate is harsh and water is scarce. Internationally, Israel is still subjected to widespread bigotry and hostile double standards. Domestically, Israelis are no strangers to disagreements and complaints.
Surprisingly, 89% of Israelis are still reportedly happy with their lives, according to new findings from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics published this week. In the 2018 World Happiness Report, Israel was ranked 11 out of 136 countries. By contrast, the US was ranked 18.
Despite many challenges, Israelis seem more content with their lives than most people in the world, including most of the advanced western countries. How to make sense of these seemingly contradictory realities?
According to the Peace Index published by Tel Aviv University, 89% of Israeli Jews doubt that there will be any breakthrough in the Arab-Israeli peace efforts during the upcoming year. Yet, 85% of Israeli Jews and 89% of Israeli Arabs feel safe and have no fear of going out after dark.
Ironically, Israelis who live in the most brutal neighborhood on earth, feel safer than many people in Paris, Stockholm, London, Los Angeles or Chicago. In general, Israelis also enjoy good health and among the longest life expectancy rates in the world – 84.6 years for women and 80.7 for men.
Reborn Israel stands out as a unique country in the world. It is one of the oldest civilizations on earth with an ancient history, culture and with the revived Hebrew language of the Bible. However, Israel is also very much the land of the future. While the Jewish state cherishes its past, it is firmly focused on the future.
Facing seemingly insurmountable challenges from day one, improvisation and innovation quickly became the DNA of the struggling Jewish state. Lacking most natural resources turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Israel. While the Arabs drilled for oil, the Jewish state patiently invested in education and science. Modern Israel’s founding father David Ben-Gurion strongly believed that Israel had to overcome its inferiority in quantity with first-rate quality. Behind Israel’s success as a technological and economic powerhouse, is a unique Israeli spirit to turn disadvantages into advantages.
While there are many challenges to face, most Israelis are optimistic about the future. The most powerful expression of Israel embracing the future is the fact that Israel enjoys the highest birth rates among the world’s advanced OECD countries.
In his book, “How Civilizations Die”, American economist David Goldman argues that when civilizations stop believing in themselves, birth rates collapse and societies decline. This is happening in much of the West but also in the Muslim Arab world. By contrast, tiny and threatened Israel continues to prosper and grow in strength.
While most Israelis support genuine peace with the Arabs, Israelis have accepted that it will not happen any time soon due to Muslim Arab hostility. Despite the absence of peace, Israel is thriving. While many challenges remain, standards of living in Israel have reached European levels and continue rising. Personal security in Israel is in general better than in Europe or America. Culture in Israel is booming and Israelis are among the most educated nations in the world. While most of the Arab world is stuck in the past, the Jewish state is confidently embracing the future.
When Israel and the Jewish people celebrate the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah 5779, it is a time for reflection and potentially a new beginning. Israeli impatience and self-criticism reduces the risk of complacency. However, a few times a year, Israel and the Jewish people should stop for a moment and reflect on Israel’s spectacular achievements despite facing many serious challenges. The American author Mark Twain described his travel experience in the Holy Land in 1867:
“….A desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action….We never saw a human being on the whole route….There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of the worthless soil, had almost deserted the country.”
Imagine Mark Twain’s reaction if he could visit the technological, start-up and military powerhouse that Israel has become today. More than 200 million trees have been planted in Israel. Millions of Jews have returned to their ancestral homeland.
At the heart of this spectacular progress against all odds, is a unique Israeli Jewish spirit of defiant optimism and embracing the future.
Daniel Kryger is a writer and a political analyst. He lives in Israel.