Friday, April 22, 2011

Slavery, Freedom, Cliches

Another Pessah, the theme of which is "me-avdut le-herut" (from slavery to freedom), a motto with rich potential.

Of course the traditional discussion around the seder night table on this mighty theme is supposed to revolve on the story of Exodus from Egypt but the theme is too big to be contained by just one story, however epic. On one radio programme, a lot of people were using the Pessah motto to express the hope that they would find their way out of job slavery or possibly into a better paid version of it.

Another association this Pessah is of course what is happening in modern day Egypt. Shimon Peres wished the Egyptians well in their Exodus out of the repression of the Mubarak regime but also expressed the hope that this wouldn't lead "in the wrong direction". Meanwhile a group of distinguished recipients of the Israel Prize demonstrated outside the site of Independence Hall in Tel Aviv, where Israel's Declaration of Independence was made, to express support for a Palestinian state and their liberation (as well as ours) from the occupation:

[...]  "We call on everyone who seeks peace and freedom for all peoples to support the declaration of Palestinian statehood, and to act in a way that encourages the citizens of the two states to maintain peaceful relations on the basis of the 1967 borders... The total end to the occupation is a fundamental precondition for the liberation of the two peoples," read their statement

I found myself googling the lyrics of the famous spiritual 'Go Down Moses'. In one version this carries the line: 'Tell old Pharaohs to let my people go' (as though more than one Pharaoh was involved). According to Wikipedia "A Hebrew translation of the song is a common element in the Passover seder in Israel," but I doubt if that's true. Singing 'Go Down Moses' is not part of the local culture and (strange but true) the word 'Moses' fails to appear in the Hagaddah at all!





None of this was of the slightest interest to the vast majority of Israelis who celebrated seder night, like they always do, with a series of cliches and rituals that have been cleverly collected intio a short sketch by the comedy troupe Hagdud Ha-Ivri (for Hebrew speakers only).

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Not Up Up and Away

A big, airless balloon lying on a field near Kibbutz Ruhama

In honour of our "120th birthday" kind and generous friends bought us a special present - a trip in a hot air balloon, including an overnight stay in a 'tzimmer' (guest house), a champagne breakfast and a massage. This weekend we finally got round to using the voucher.

Since what our friends had bought us was what's called chavila (parcel of services), this first involved coordinating with every contact person  in the chain: Hadar for the balloon trip, Gil for the tzimmer, Guy (who turned out to be a lady) for the evening meal, and Hanita for the massage. To cut a long story short, yesterday we took the massage (deeply satisfying), ate Hanita's supper and drank wine (excellent), stayed at Gil's tzimmmer (delightful in its stylish simplicity) and at 5.45 this morning were racing along the deserted, misty roads of the northern Negev towards Kibbutz Ruchama. The "ground crew" there had already called and told us to arrive chik-chak. And since the last thing we wanted to do was to disappoint the ground crew, we stepped on the gas.

An hour and a half later, we were still on the ground. The weather wasn't right, too much cloud cover and general poor visibility. Moran, the on-the-ground flight coordinator, told us that it was a rule that you had to have eye contact with the ground. Safety first. We'd be able to use our ticket for another flight another day.  

Sixteen of us were supposed to get into this upturned basket, shown here with burners at the ready but with green light ever given
The prospect of flying up to a kilometre above the ground on a bright spring morning (with a camera in my hand!) dissolved into the reality that we were standing in a soggy field surrounded by mist. I thought of using this lead balloon metaphor for how turbulence surrounding Israel contrasts with the stultifying lack of diplomatic movement... but I'll spare you.
So... instead of the champagne breakfast, we picked up some sandwiches at the nearest gas station and headed back to our tzimmer (La Paz) on Moshav Sdeh Yitzhak where we bumped into one of the local residents.


Naturally, the visibility picked up as the day wore on and, heading home, we took a dirt road between Kibbutz Ruhama and Kibbutz Bror Chayil. This crosses a nature reserve which someone decided to call the 'Ruhama Badlands' on the English sign. In fact, at least in the height of Spring, after some decent rain, they weren't so bad at all. The land was green and the wheat was standing high in the fields. We saw eagles, a snake, a tortoise and what may have have been a fox (and may also have been a rabbit).
At the gas station, a Bedouin signed us on a petition to free Gilad Shalit and tied a yellow ribbon on the car.


This is a wide open landscape that goes on for as far as the eye can see. In a month's time it will be turning yellow. Caught in the Tel Aviv Bubble, you forget that there's a country out there.