I’ve given numerous lectures delving into the various factors that make Israel so special. There almost seems to be no end to the list you can create of all that makes the Jewish homeland unique. There is the feeling a Jew gets when they walk the streets, knowing they’re stepping the same steps as their ancestors, there’s the sanctity of the land, and the feeling a Jew has knowing that while in Israel, they’re home.
Today’s Israel is a truly unique place. It is the only country in the world that hosts an ancient people who once called their land home, were exiled, and has now returned to its ancestral homeland to restart its nation. I’d like to recount three short stories to explain what I think makes this land so special – the people.
In 2014 our family went viral. On a trip to Alabama we found seven pairs of tefilin in a store that sold items people lost on airplanes. The tefilin were lost to their owners, who never expected to get them back. We bought the seven pairs of tefilin, posted pictures of the seven pairs on Facebook and asked people to share them until the pictures reached the owners.
Within one week of posting the pictures we had found six of the seven owners. The last pair of tefilin had no name on the bag, and no one claimed it. There was a sticker on one of the boxes from a tefilin store in Israel. A friend of mine in Israel took the initiative to drive to the store, show the owner a picture of the tefilin bag and ask if he knew the owner of the tefilin. He did, and the tefilin were returned.
A few years later, our family had been living in Israel for a few years and Aliza and I took a day off and went to Tel Aviv. We took a taxi from the Port to a museum and we left Aliza’s wallet in the taxi. We had no way of tracking the taxi down and figured the worst. Later that night Aliza got a call from the taxi driver that he had her wallet and would deliver it the next day.
The taxi driver had opened the wallet, found Aliza’s ID card and saw she lived in Mitzpe Yericho. He called the phone company and asked for a Pilichowski in Mitzpe Yericho’s phone number – but we don’t have a home phone. Using ingenuity, he asked for Moshe Cohen in Mitzpe Yericho’s phone number. He figured every town in Israel must have a Mitzpe Yericho, and our Moshe Cohen would know Aliza’s cell phone number. There is a Moshe Cohen in Mitzpe Yericho and he knew Aliza’s phone number and gave it the taxi driver. Aliza had her wallet back in one day.
This year our son Moshe found a bus card on the street and he knew when you see a lost object you can’t just look away, you need to pick it up and find the owner. The chances of finding the owner didn’t look good. Moshe and I went into a Sefarim store and asked the man behind the counter if he recognized the person on the card. Not only did he say he didn’t know the owner, but told Moshe to just throw the card away; everyone loses their bus card.
Moshe didn’t agree with the Sefarim store clerk and kept the card. He took it to school, gathered his friends and asked them to come up with a plan. Wouldn’t you guess it, only in Israel, but the card owner was one of Moshe’s friend’s cousins! A few phone calls later and the card owner knew not to get a new card, and his card was returned to him.
These three stories mean the world to me because they demonstrate the uniqueness of today’s Israel. What makes Israel so special is its people. These stories could’ve happened in New York, Paris or Moscow – but these stories rarely happen as often as they do in Israel. The combination of a small country, people closely related, and the unusual being usual here makes stories like these almost likely.
Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion famously said, “In Israel, in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles.” This is truly a land of historic and contemporary miracles; while almost all miracles are Divine in nature, many of today’s miracles in Israel are manmade. I’m not referring to Israel’s military victories, I’m discussing the miracles of unlikely odds like the returning of the tefilin, wallet and bus card. It’s the Israeli people, the miracle makers, who make this land so special.