Don’t Worry. Be Israeli!

It’s rare to think of Israel in any terms other than negative ones these days. Our unenviable geographic position, our corrupt government, the almost daily rocket attacks on us, and the current water crisis all give more than ample cause for despair. But then someone like the author of this article comes along and casts an entirely different light on Israel, giving us renewed faith in ourselves and our purpose on earth.

The foundation for the author’s analysis of Israel’s happiness is twofold. He plots a chart (reproduced above) which reflects the suicide rate on the x-axis, and the birth rate on the y-axis of 35 industrial countries; as you can see, Israel is a dramatic outlier on this chart. He also focuses on Israel’s faith and values, contrasting them with those of other modern societies, including Europe, America, and the Muslim world. In all, it’s an anecdotal argument, but rings true nonetheless.  Here are some of the highlights:

Envy surrounds no country on Earth like the state of Israel, and with good reason: by objective measures, Israel is the happiest nation on Earth at the 60th anniversary of its founding. It is one of the wealthiest, freest and best-educated; and it enjoys a higher life expectancy than Germany or the Netherlands. But most remarkable is that Israelis appear to love life and hate death more than any other nation. If history is made not by rational design but by the demands of the human heart, as I argued last week , the light heart of the Israelis in face of continuous danger is a singularity worthy of a closer look….

Israel’s love of life, moreover, is more than an ethnic characteristic. Those who know Jewish life through the eccentric lens of Jewish-American novelists such as Saul Bellow and Philip Roth, or the films of Woody Allen, imagine the Jews to be an angst-ridden race of neurotics. Secular Jews in America are no more fertile than their Gentile peers, and by all indications quite as miserable.

For one thing, Israelis are far more religious than American Jews. Two-thirds of Israelis believe in God, although only a quarter observe their religion strictly. Even Israelis averse to religion evince a different kind of secularism than we find in the secular West. They speak the language of the Bible and undergo 12 years of Bible studies in state elementary and secondary schools….

The faith of Israelis is unique. Jews sailed to Palestine as an act of faith, to build a state against enormous odds and in the face of hostile encirclement, joking, “You don’t have to be crazy to be a Zionist, but it helps.” In 1903 Theodor Herzl, the Zionist movement’s secular founder, secured British support for a Jewish state in Uganda, but his movement shouted him down, for nothing short of the return to Zion of Biblical prophecy would requite it. In place of a modern language the Jewish settlers revived Hebrew, a liturgical language only since the 4th century BC, in a feat of linguistic volition without precedent. It may be that faith burns brighter in Israel because Israel was founded by a leap of faith.