For whatever reason, most people agree that everything Italian, is, automatically, bellissimo. It doesn’t matter whether one’s referring to the linguini, the gelato, the focaccia, or the pizza; whether to those tiny little cafés that specialize in minuscule cups of espresso, those magnificent piazzas graced with flamboyant marble fountains, the fashionably-dressed local population or the leather! Worldwide consensus holds that if something’s Italian, it’s simply magnifico!!

So when the Giro d’Italia landed in Israel last week, lock stock and barrel–sporty little cars decorated in bright colors and sporting bold logos representing one team or another, tens of bicycles finely tuned and lined up at the ready, hordes of young men in colorful lycra with enormous quads, calves and glutes–we, the locals, welcomed it with jubilation only on par with the greeting of the Pope at the Vatican on Easter morning.

Much of the excitement was, no doubt, due to the event itself, albeit unless viewed on television, this experience was primarily  characterized by much time spent standing in the middle of a crowd sporting an overabundance of pink Giro gear and clutching cell phones preset on video mode in anticipation of the actual peloton. The race itself, boiling down to an impressive procession of escort vehicles, a smear of bright color and the clacking of gears, lasted something in the range of twenty seconds.

Despite its brevity, the Giro had an extraordinary effect on its spectators who, whether family, friends, teammates or complete strangers, were seen actually smiling to one another, having shared an experience that did not disappointment. Those fleeting seconds had provided one hell of a mood booster!

This is because it wasn’t entirely about the race. It was equally about how the fact of the Giro gracing our land, if only for a handful of days, enabled Israelis to put aside the stresses incumbent to living in the Middle East, the frustrations of politicians that don’t represent their constituents, and an ever growing list of ordinary irritations, and pull together as one. Standing along a dusty road, perched atop a bridge overlooking the highway, nestled alongside a pack of camels on a desert bluff or squeezed among the hordes lining one of Tel Aviv’s more glorious boulevards, we, the people of Israel, became a whole: one pack of admiration, excitement and positive energy. For once, we became quite like others in countries all over the world: letting everything else go and basking in the pride of what our wondrous nation has to offer. What a blessed change!

The fact that this world famous sporting event, the second largest cycling race after the Tour de France, was taking place right here in the Holy Land meant that Israel was, quite definitely, on the map! Okay, STOP! I know. We’ve been on the map before. In fact, if this “map” is based on the news, we’re on the map just about every day. But this time was different. This time it wasn’t because of military strikes, the stagnating peace agreement, or BDS. It was, plain and simple, because we’d stepped up and joined the rest of the world, becoming just one more country to host the stage of a very famous European race. Imagine that: for once, we were just a venue!

I was delighted to hear that Sylvan Adams, the man who organized the entire production, will be nominated for the Israel Prize. The immensity of his contribution to Israeli culture, the significance of his efforts to elevate Israel’s global reputation are obvious to all. Thank you, Sylvan, for helping us truly see the beauty in this gorgeously-varied landscape we call home. Thank you for helping us draw together as one. And finally, thank you for letting us strut our stuff.

Yes, this was our first Giro, but I pray it won’t be the last.