- Published on Friday, 11 January 2013
Different, but oh so similar
I was probably one of the last people in the U.S. to know the results of the presidential election in 2012. At the time, I was arriving in Alaska for my first visit to the Final Frontier, busy removing my coat from its suitcase while everyone on the ground was rushing to the nearest TV screen.
The next morning, sitting in my hotel at breakfast in Anchorage, a snapshot of Alaska society was gathered in the bustling dining room. Life continued as usual regardless of the election results. Everyone from local politicians and activists, to reporters and businessmen, assembled. It was as if I had visited one big family—the coldest state with the warmest people! Indeed, the overwhelming warmth and hospitality—which I was privileged to receive—reminded me of my home. Although Israel and Alaska are geographical opposites, I learned that they share many striking values and characteristics.
I was impressed that Alaskans express a need to explore every inch of their territory, and are just as excited about the North Slope as Israelis are about the Dead Sea, the earth's lowest point.
Second, we, the Israelis, have learned to be extremely resilient and self-reliant. I was heartened to notice Alaskans are identical in this regard. I felt a strong familiarity with a community fully committed to national service, which knows what it means to have sons and daughters serving one's country.
Meeting Chancellor Tom Case of the University of Alaska Anchorage, I realized how his career mirrored that of Tel Aviv's mayor—from fighter pilot, to general, to headmaster in one of the premier high schools. The chancellor could have been a typical Israeli, and I look forward to the day when he visits Israel, certain he will feel at home.
Third, Alaskans possess the same profound respect for human life that permeates the Israeli soul. I was not the first Israeli to observe this keen sense of social responsibility. Two of my compatriots came to Alaska earlier this year to assist the isolated town of Kivalina and its Inupiaq inhabitants, who face the threat of climate change. Their work demonstrates the growing relationship between my homeland and the 49th state.
I am thrilled by the great potential for collaboration in many sectors, including technology and emergency response (Israel is one of the world's leaders). We traditionally had to rely on brainpower to build a flourishing state in inhospitable land, but now, for the first time, Israel could be energy independent. We can learn a lot from Alaska's highly skilled work force, and the specialized programs in its higher education system tailored for the energy sector.
Alaskans' jovial, informal attitude is akin to Israelis', and I felt right at home, both when speaking at the university to many bright students and when meeting the small but long-established Jewish community of Alaska, the "frozen chosen." I was deeply impressed by the leadership of Alaska with whom I met—the community leaders, the elected officials who display a singular dedication to the people they serve and the officers who guided me around Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
My other trip highlights owe a great deal to Alaska's rich habitat. We Israelis are blessed with a Mediterranean seashore, and consume a lot of fish, but nothing compares to Alaska salmon and halibut, which I savored at Anchorage's fine restaurants.
While Alaskans dig for energy from the ground, a different kind of energy—an adrenaline buzz—suffuses Israel. I will definitely return to Alaska to show my family its unspoiled beauty and hopefully witness the northern lights. But when the winter chill sets in, I personally invite you to re-energize yourself in Israel, and draw upon its wellspring of creative spirit. After all, for all their apparent differences, Alaska and Israel are more familiar than meets the eye.
Dr. Andy David began his appointment as Israel's Consul General to the Pacific North-West in August 2012. Dr. David has lectured at many universities in Israel and in the U.S., and pioneered a new cooperation initiative in the field of Homeland Security together with different agencies at the federal, state and local levels in the U.S.