When the going gets tough, Israelis get going

Just like their symbol the sabra, they don’t just survive in the face of adversity, they thrive, write Michael Dickson and Naomi Baum


Israel flag with a view of old city Jerusalem and the KOTEL- Western wall

February 19, 2021 15:49

What is life’s most in-demand skill in these dizzying times? Resilience. It’s the trait embodied by the nation once admired by Princess Diana as “a plucky little country” and its people – who have not only persevered but thrived through the most challenging of circumstances, and have much to teach us all.

National symbols can provide a shortcut for understanding national character. The English are identified with the rose. The French are represented by the fleur-de-lis. Holland is associated with the tulip. Israelis have the cactus.

To be more precise, Israelis are often referred to as Sabras. A sabra is a cactus plant and, like the prickly pear, Sabras are known for their thorny exterior and their soft, sweet interior.

Israelis are, by and large, proud of this description and they have needed to be tough. Located in the most dangerous of regions, Israel is a tiny country, just a few miles wide at its narrowest point. The challenges that the reborn State of Israel has faced since its inception in 1948 are enormous. These include conventional war, terrorism, the absorption of millions of immigrants from different parts of the globe and a concerted effort by regional enemies and their global allies to malign, sideline and isolate the only truly free, democratic nation-state in the region.

Despite constant polls ranking Israelis among the “happiest” of world populations, life in Israel is insecure. When the chips are down and Israelis feel their collective back is up against the wall, both the exterior and interior characteristics of the Sabra take centre stage.

Things do not always go Israel’s way; far from it. Danger, including very real existential threat, is always just around the corner. Following each terror attack, border skirmish or all-out war, Israel in general and Israelis in particular go through a grimly recurrent cycle of picking themselves up, dusting themselves off, and carrying on with life. That’s called resilience.

The term resilience, or, as it is known in Hebrew, hosen, refers to the ability to withstand difficulties, bounce back after troubles, and continue on, even in the face of gathering storm clouds. Israelis routinely carry on with their day-to-day lives not just when things are calm and peaceful but when rockets are launched at them, through stabbing intifadas, during official conflicts and wars and unofficial waves of gruesome terrorism. Imbued in the DNA of this nation is the understanding that survival isn’t optional – it’s a necessity. And they don’t just survive – they thrive.

We have just concluded an inspiring journey meeting with Israelis of all different backgrounds and learning the keys to their resilience. Were they born that way? Were they raised that way? The answer to both those questions is most probably yes. But one thing is for certain. They all adopted a resilient mindset, which gave them the strength they needed to move forward and succeed. Israelis are inculcated with a can-do attitude, expecting success, with no challenge too great 
to overcome.

Our conclusion is that aside from giving each other support as a community, the keys to Israeli resilience are being conversant in one’s emotions, being flexible enough to change course and 
having the ability to find meaning from even the worst of circumstances.

Each one of us faces setbacks and adversity. We all have the ability to turn lemons into lemonade. The question is, how? The next time you are challenged, when an obstacle is placed in your path, when you are feeling lost or overcome by the circumstances you are confronting, recall the three keys to staying strong and moving ahead – empathy, flexibility, and meaning-making. These are aspects of resilience that we can grow from, impact, and possibly control - lessons that we can all learn from the extraordinary Israeli people.


ISResilience: What Israelis Can Teach The World by Michael Dickson and Dr. Naomi L. Baum, is 
out now


February 19, 2021 15:49

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