Ask any Israeli (certainly the under-30 crowd) who Asaf Goren is and he will tell you the same thing: “He is Israel’s Ninja champion.” In case you’ve been asleep the last few years, this new sport is sweeping the world. Yes, when I hear the word “Ninja,” I still think of guys in black costumes swinging swords or turtles named Michelangelo and Leonardo but that just shows my age. Today’s world is much different. The modern-day ninja is an incredible athlete who uses his/her strength and agility to successfully pass a rigorous obstacle course. This attraction has turned into a sport with millions of followers, as the ninjas compete against each other for serious prizes.

Two weeks ago, Israel held its Ninja competition, and it was the number-one most-watched show on TV. I have to admit that it is quite exciting to see these athletes perform, since I know that I couldn’t even pass their first challenge! The strength they have seems super-human, and it is amazing to see what the human body (not mine, of course) is capable of doing. Well, after a very tough competition, the winner of “Israeli Ninja” was Asaf Goren. His last obstacle was to run up a wall, make it to the top, and press the winning buzzer. His first try did not succeed; but on his second attempt, he raced up as far as he could, grabbed the top of the wall, and pulled himself up by his hands. He then raced over to the buzzer, pressed it – everyone screamed that he won – and then… standing on top of that wall, in front of live spectators and millions of fans watching on TV, he placed his hand over his eyes and screamed out: “Sh’ma Yisrael, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad!” (By the way, he said the real Names; I just wrote “Hashem” for this article). In short, the Ninja said Sh’ma!

Growing up in New York and being an avid sports fan, I was used to seeing baseball players cross themselves as they stepped up to home plate. I also remember NFL players – such as Tim Tebow – who took a knee and made religious gestures after a touchdown. But all my hours of watching baseball, football, hockey, basketball, tennis, wrestling – and almost everything at the Olympics – did not prepare me for seeing a Jewish athlete stand tall and proud to publicly say Sh’ma – with the complete hand-over-eyes technique! And then it hit me: I no longer live in a Christian society; I live in a Jewish state.

Whether you like it or not, life in America – even in the most sheltered communities – is life in a foreign, non-Jewish country. You can close your eyes as much as you want, but you will still see hundreds of Santas in December and hear Jingle Bell songs on the radio. You will trip over Halloween ads in October and will see Easter Bunnies in April. Taking vacation on Chol HaMoed is often problematic, and so is leaving early on Friday in the winter. Let’s be honest: There’s not much you can do about it, even with a US president who has religious Jewish grandchildren!

Life in Israel is much, much different. Yes, we have our problems, and we need to solve each and every one of them; but despite all the challenges facing Jews in Israel today, life in Israel is life in a Jewish country. The media and modern-day “m’raglim” (spies) always try to paint a depressing picture of life in Israel, and many people are indeed brainwashed by the negativity; so I have taken it upon myself to simply focus on the positive. Trust me, I don’t ignore the problems or make believe they will just “go away”; but even though I fight them, I don’t focus on them. My concentration and focus are on the positive aspects of life in Israel and, baruch Hashem, they are all around me!

I have always said that, in Israel, you cannot run away from a Jewish life, and even the most secular person you meet will know that he/she is a Jew. Every door has a mezuzah, everyone wishes his/her friend Shabbat shalom on Friday, every bakery in the country is already displaying hamantashen, every hospital has a shul, every school and university is closed for all Jewish holidays (including Chol HaMoed), and Purim (not Halloween) costumes are for sale everywhere you turn.

But it runs much deeper than that. Shuls across the country are full on Friday night with people you would not expect to see in shul. Bnei Brak on Erev Shabbos and Erev Yom Tov is packed – not just with chareidim, but with not-yet-religious Jews buying all their Shabbos/Yom Tov needs. Have you ever talked to these people? I have, and they’re amazing. They will admit that while they try to keep the laws, they are not perfect, so they buy ready-made food in Bnei Brak to make sure frum family members are comfortable. As I wrote above, the media loves to report about the negative and how everyone in Israel hates each other, but nothing could be farther from the truth. I feel a tremendous sense of unity – with complete strangers – that you cannot buy in America for all the money in the world.

In conclusion, Israel is a Jewish state, and it is a great honor to live and defend such a country. We are all brothers and sisters here, and it’s a privilege to help build and strengthen this homeland. Dearest friends, do whatever you can to join us in the Promised Land. This is where Jewish history is being written, where Jewish unity is felt, and where simply being Jewish is everywhere you look. Heck, even our ninjas are Jewish!

Am Yisrael Chai!

Shmuel Sackett is a 100% product of Queens. He was born in Middle Village and moved to KGH shortly before his bar-mitzvah. He graduated from YCQ (1975) and YHSQ (1979). He was Havurat Yisrael’s first Youth Director (4 years) and started the first 2 NCSY chapters in Queens. Shmuel made aliyah in 1990 and co-founded Manhigut Yehudit, together with Moshe Feiglin. His website is  Sackett is married with 6 children and 4 grandchildren. He lives in Herziliya Pituach.