The last couple weeks have brought news of another flare-up on Israel’s border with Gaza, but they also brought other news that I think is a much better reflection of life in Israel as experienced by those who live here and millions of foreign visitors. Such happenings involve good weather, great food, beautiful landscapes and astounding cultural diversity.
But perhaps the most important gauge of the quality of life here was reflected in a United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network report last month on the measure of happiness in Israel compared to 156 other countries. Israel came in 13th, ahead of the United States in 19th place. The list was topped by Finland. South Sudan finished last. The study gauged happiness based on a number of variables: income, freedom, trust, healthy life expectancy, social support and generosity.
Truth be told, Israel slipped two notches from the 2018 study, but one way or another, I think it reflects something exceptional about a country that is just 70 years old and has developed a thriving and vibrant life for its people against incredible odds. And there was other news of Israeli excellence on a world scale.
Newsweek magazine published a list of the 10 best hospitals in the world last month. As a Cleveland native, I was proud – and not surprised – Cleveland Clinic made the list, finishing second in the world behind Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. In 10th place worldwide was Sheba Medical Center outside Tel Aviv, which Newsweek noted “is a leader in medical science and biotechnical innovation, both in the Middle East and worldwide.”
Perhaps what has inspired me more than either of those news items is Genesis, the Israeli lunar space module on its way to the moon as I write this. It’s a great example of how even the sky isn’t the limit when it comes to Israeli imagination and how success can even come in the face of failure.
The project began as submission to Google’s Lunar X Prize challenge, an international competition to develop a plan to land a spacecraft on the moon. No one won the competition. But in typical Israeli fashion, the trio of Israelis who entered the contest refused to give up. They decided to pursue the project on their own.
Through the generosity of individuals such as businessman Morris Kahn, who donated $40 million, and with help from the Israeli government, the unmanned lunar lander – which has already sent back pictures of the Earth – is due to land on the moon around April 11. When that happens, Israel will join the ranks of three superpowers – the United States, Russia and China – as the only countries that accomplished the feat.
Israel really is an exceptional place where people are pursuing and realizing their dreams on a daily basis – a country with a truly outsized role in the world considering it has fewer than 9 million people.
Israel is also such a contrast to much of the rest of the Middle East, which in recent years has captured the world’s attention as a result of civil wars and the brutality of the region’s dictatorships. That makes efforts at lasting peace with Israel’s neighbors all the more fraught, but I remain an optimist that ultimately, Israel will have full diplomatic relations with the other countries in the Middle East and with an independent Palestinian state.
And I can only imagine the amazing life Israel will offer its citizens when that happens, if this is what the country has accomplished – despite the difficulties – up to now.
Cliff Savren is a former Clevelander who covers the Middle East for the Cleveland Jewish News from Ra’anana, Israel. To read more of Savren’s columns, visit cjn.org/savren.