A life well-lived

This week I had the privilege of attending a ceremony at the President’s House honoring a distinguished gentleman who I’ve indirectly worked with over the years, Smoky Simon.  He’s 97 years young and at the ceremony I finally had the chance to hear his life story.  I cannot do his story justice in a few lines, but I can provide a sketch. He and his wife came from South Africa as volunteers to fight in Israel’s War of Independence (1948-1949). He was part of the first group of soldiers that eventually became Israel’s Air Force.  After the war, he and his wife stayed on for another year and a half.  Then, since they were just young volunteers, they went home to South Africa to start their family and save money for aliyah.

They came to Israel in the 1960s. He built his business and they raised their family (that now includes 15 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren).  He became the president of the World Machal organization (Machal is a Hebrew acronym for “overseas volunteers”) and since 1993 he has been the treasurer of the Menachem Begin Heritage Foundation.  He was not a guy who did things for glory or accolades.  He did what he thought was right and just got to work.  In his speech, he shared the important parts of his life and only at the very end could you hear his voice shake with emotion as he thanked the president of the State of Israel for honoring him.

This post isn’t actually about Smoky.  But his story is important.

As we’re approaching the end of 2017, we might make resolutions to finally get to the gym or meditate more or finish writing that novel or manage money better or … We’re all just trying to be better people.

Then you hear a story like Smoky’s and the questions you ask yourself change:

  • Are you living a life based on your principles?
  • Are your choices reflective of your best self?
  • Are you having fun?
  • Does your life have meaning?
  • Do you have any regrets?

The key is to live so that your 97-year-old self will look back upon your life and say, “Indeed, it was a life well-lived!”

Happy New Year!

May 2018 be the best year yet!


August in Israel

When people talk about the quality of life in Israel, they are not talking about the variety of things you can buy or the overabundance of choice in all things.  Quality in Israel is intangible.  I often mention rhythms of life – for example, businesses are closed on Saturdays and Jewish holidays are part of the national calendar, which means people can be home with their families, out in nature, or just take a day for themselves.

“Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28)

God may have given the command, but he didn’t consider childcare in the twenty-first century and how all people, no matter their job, should be able to spend time with their children.

And so we come to August in Israel.  Daycares shut down in August.  All of them.  This allows daycare providers to have a vacation to spend time with their own children.  However, since we live in a modern society that doesn’t just shut down in August, parents have to look for alternate solutions.

Israel has a booming day camp business in August.  Every kind of day camp you can think of can be found catering to most age groups.  If you can’t afford camp (and many people can’t) the other option is to take your vacation days in August.  Parks are filled with families; I’ve seen mostly ultra-religious families with their half-dozen or more children.  I remember when I was a kid in the US, you could take yourself to the local pool and cool off in the summer.  Jerusalem doesn’t have outdoor public swimming pools and the indoor pools require expensive memberships, so you see many kids playing in public fountains.  Independence Park has a water feature that looks like a stream and there are dozens of children playing in it every day with families nearby picnicking on the grass.

Downtown Jerusalem is crowded and I hear mostly Hebrew in the streets (unlike other times when I hear a lot of English and French). Families take advantage of cool Jerusalem evenings and stroll late into the night with their children.  “Bedtime” must be when the kids collapse because it is certainly not 8pm.

Those not taking vacation days in August or sending their kids to camp look for other solutions.  Some people can rely on their parents to take care of the kids (often they joke that this is “Grandma Camp”), but others have to juggle other options.  August is “take your child to work” month.  I’m working in an office these days and since it’s August, I’m getting to meet everyone’s kids.  This is completely normal and accepted; both mothers and fathers bring kids to the office (usually only one and not every day so as not to totally disrupt the office environment).

On the surface, August seems unnecessarily complicated.  People have to work.  That’s how a modern, capitalist society functions, right?  So, if you want people to work and have children, then daycare should be available.  Let’s say instead that the value is not just having children, but actually spending time with your family.  Then August starts to make sense because it imposes a work/life balance.  Quality of life doesn’t mean an easy life.  Often it is the things you work the hardest for that give you the most value.


I had the chance this week to see Shakespeare’s Macbeth in the park – with lots of kids, who enjoyed it for the most part.  No sets, minimal costume, no mics, and the audience moves around to different locations in the park with the scene changes.  Over the years, I’ve seen Richard III, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Macbeth.  It’s not Broadway or the West End, but it’s Shakespeare and it’s fun!