“I have a dream,” wrote a young Israeli, Naor Narkis, several years ago, describing the life he would love to have. Now the 25-year-old is leading a social protest that is making him a role model for many young Israelis, even though for weeks he kept his identity a secret. Narkis, who served in a prestigious unit of the Israel Defense Forces, currently lives in Berlin — not because of the Gaza war or any other security issue, but because it’s too expensive to live in Israel. His movement has been called the “Milky” protest, named for a popular pudding that symbolizes his outrage over the high price of food in Israel.
So why is food so expensive in Israel?
1. VAT (value added tax) in Israel is higher than in other industrialized countries;
2. Kosher food is often more expensive and many Israelis are looking for kosher products;
3. The Israeli market is small — only 8.2 million citizens (unlike Germany or the United States, for example);
4. There are not enough food manufacturers in Israel, creating a narrow market;
5. There are high taxes on imported food because the government wishes to protect local food manufacturers. This is actually the main reason for the high prices.
It’s no secret that Israel can be a very expensive country to live in. But let us recall other times, when people like my grandparents and others of their generation gave up all their wealth to fulfill a 2,000 year-old dream and live in their ancestors’ land, with much less than we have in our generation.
I loved reading “Akiva’s Orchard” by Israeli author Yochi Brandes. It took me back years, to the days when I was studying in religious school, bringing to life the ancient generation who established religious Judaism, such as Rabban Gamaliel, Rabbi Akiva and the Sanhedrin. It revived all the midrashim (interpretations) I have learned over the years, connecting them into one enjoyable novel.
Blogger Liora Sophie calls it “an important book if you are interested in Judaism or Jewish history,” adding that it is “engaging from the first page to the last.” She explains that when we read about the various rabbis in scripture, it can be hard to remember who lived when, whose student was whose, where they taught and how they are related. “One can easily get the illusion that they sit around a table and discuss things, although many of the characters at that table lived in different times,” says Sophie. But this novel, set in 70-135 A.D., makes each character so unique, she says, “it is impossible after reading this book to forget who Rabbi Akiva studied with and who his students were.”
Family of chesed (kindness): it’s now been several months since a Tucson family first hosted my family for Shabbat dinner, but the special feeling I had that night I will never forget. They welcomed us like you welcome close family members, not strangers who just walked into your home for the first time. We were invited with a few other guests and after half an hour I felt like I was home. I helped serve food and clear dishes from the table. My kids were treated like their grandchildren. It reminded me of the way my parents used to host almost every Shabbat, with friends, family members, IDF soldiers and others. Since that night we’ve spent many Shabbat and holiday dinners together and I am always amazed by their huge hearts — they are like Abraham and Sarah; their home is always open and filled with Sarah’s laughter.
Oshrat Barel is Tucson’s community shlicha (Israeli emissary) and director of the Weintraub Israel Center.